I have spent hours and days trying to find the right words in response to the grief and uprising that is happening all across our country and consequently around the world, due to centuries of racial injustice.
As always, I try to be authentic and transparent, and in the last few weeks, I have simply been without words. As a company, we work diligently to be inclusive and to always remember the shoulders of those that we stand on - with deep respect and sadness for the injustices that have been done.
All of the "corporate" messaging that I could come up with, fell short, it felt hollow and it did not feel authentic to who I am as the CEO and who we are as a company. The only thing that rings true, is to share my personal story - because it is our stories that matter. And while a story about racism from a middle-aged white woman may not seem relevant - it is important to share our experiences and mistakes so that we can learn from each other.
I grew up in a small rural town in Oregon, we lived on a little winding creek and a new family had just moved in down the street, they had a daughter my age, and I was elated to have a new friend. Within the first month, our families became close and we spent countless days and evenings together. One night I was sitting in the living room watching TV with my family when a large rock came crashing through our window and then another and another - my father told me to get down and get into my room. You see, my new friend Mylia was black. My parents never spoke of it and it never happened again, I am not sure what my father said or did, but it worked. Mylia and I never knew what happened and continued to be best friends until eventually, their family moved out of the area.
After I graduated and moved to Portland, I attended college in a predominantly black area, I made great friends and met who would be my future husband. This is not a story about "not seeing color," I did see color, I saw our cultural differences and I enjoyed the diversity within my friend groups. What I didn't see clearly or understand was racism.
This was in 1986 and as I mentioned I grew up in a very small town, I guess that no one spoke about racism because there wasn't a need to. I knew the history and in my naive mind, thought that racism ended with slavery - of course, this was long before the internet and my only source of information were school, books, and the nightly news - in short, I lived in a bubble.
My college sweetheart and I were married in a very small ceremony, we were broke and I was pregnant (antibiotics and birth control don't mix.) I was remarkably naive as to what we would soon face.
It was our first night in our little house and we heard a rock come through the side window and as we looked outside, our car was being ransacked, and this was just the beginning. It was at that moment, I understood the rock that was thrown through our window as a little girl, and my eyes began to open.
My husband was pulled over repeatedly when I was not with him, and when I was, I was questioned about my safety. I was told that I didn't "act" like I was married to a black man, and when my daughter and I went to higher-end department stores, I was asked if I was married to a Basketball player (as if that is the only way I could afford to be there.) My husband refused to leave my parents home when we would visit them for fear of what would happen. On one particular trip to see my parents our car had a flat and we were stuck on a dark freeway in the middle of nowhere, the fear coming from my husband was palpable.
I slowly learned the frustration that sat below the surface in my husband, and regardless of my efforts to understand it, it was impossible, and the more I tried the more I pushed him away. It was selfish to try to relate to or impose my opinions on something so deeply personal, what I needed to do was just listen. Somehow I believed that the color of my skin could help change things, when in fact, that is racism in itself. I needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with my husband as he walked through the challenges that he faced and not try to whitewash our life.
I came away from our marriage ashamed at how naive I was, I was also mad as hell.
I learned that in parts of the country, it was still illegal for my husband to marry a white woman. You see, racism isn't a thing of the past, it wasn't until 2000 that the ban on interracial marriages was repealed in Alabama, and it wasn't due to it being an old law that just was never dealt with, they attempted to pass the bill in 1999 and it didn't pass the legislature. Let that sink in...
I also learned to be highly alert when it came to my daughters' experiences, people that I chose to date, and friends that I had. I also learned the sad truth from the questions I was asked, "is her father still in her life?" "where's her dad?" "does her father work?" Her father fought me tooth and nail over fair custody, he is her best friend and hero.
We cannot continue to live in our bubbles and expect things to change, education is key and with all things, information is power. The color of our skin does not indicate that we all share the same story, all black people do not share the same story, assuming that is another form of bias. It is the collective stories that matter. It is the facts that matter, in a day and age where misinformation is rampant, let's take the time to seek out the truth, learn from it, and champion change.
We are listening and we stand beside those that face injustice, pervasive racism, and inequality. We cannot pretend to understand, but we will use our voices and actions to fight for change every day and in every situation.