Monday, May 15, 2017

Why I'm an Activist

I was in a meeting with a black coworker. He said he had to leave early to take care of a problem with his young son. I offered to reschedule, and he replied: “My son got called the ‘n-word’ at school. First time it happened to him. I have to address the issue with the school.”

I remember the discussion vividly, and I think about it every day. No one should come to work concerned about their children being treated that way.

In the Bay Area, an affluent community, an elite private school. Not that it matters where, it is wrong everywhere. It shocked me, it woke me up. This still happens, in the age of Obama! My coworkers cannot be their whole-selves at work. This was a moment for me, but a daily reality for so many.

I worked in companies where I could not come out as a gay person. I hid my personal life. It’s not the same, but it lets me respect and empathize with others who are struggling.

I think about what my coworker told me that day, and what it means for kids. Talks about how to respond to abusive words, how to appease police officers, how to rise up. Things my privilege means I don’t have to think about.

Since that conversation, Trayvon Martin was murdered. Charleston happened. Michael Brown was killed. Just this week, two in two days. More injustices than I can list. And after each, when my black coworkers show up, I cannot begin to imagine what is on their minds, as they think about their children’s safety, their own safety, and general state of being in our society.

Sundance showed “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets”, the movie about the murder of Jordan Davis. The whole theatre was sobbing. I was thinking about my coworker’s son, the tangential connection I have to the effects of everyday racism. The parents of Jordan Davis stood and pleaded for a call to action. I had no idea what action I could take. A $50 donation seems so small.

My work’s black employee network had an event, and I picked up a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. I wore the t-shirt to work. I thought, “Maybe I should wait until a something bad happens, and wear the t-shirt to show solidarity.” That morning, San Francisco police shot Jessica Williams, an unarmed 29-year-old black woman, as she drove a vehicle away from police officers. The chief resigned a few hours later. I looked in the mirror at the shirt I was wearing. Black Lives Matter.

I think about these events every day. I want to be an activist for my black coworkers, and help make the environment better so that my coworkers can come to work as themselves, and not worry about their children, or what might happen on their drive home. I want the black children of my adopted cousins to grow up with amazing opportunities, and not worry about whether the next time they get pulled over by a police officer for a traffic infraction will be their last.

But I don’t know what to do. It is a systematic, societal problem that feels too big to even make a dent. I want to direct my energy and anger towards making a dent. I am searching for the how.

This story doesn’t have a great ending yet. I’m still looking for what to do, to do my part. I am alert to microaggressions and biases. I get involved. I pay attention to @EricaJoy and other black leaders who I have met and befriended. I participate as an activist at work. That is all I know to do right now. There must be more I can do right now. I am searching.

Travis Wise
July 7, 2016