When conversations around race became more prevalent on social media during the summer of 2020, I had countless friends from high school and college reach out to me. They were looking for some sort of reassurance that my experiences growing up weren’t like the ones they were hearing about on the news and seeing on their feeds.
Because I had a lot of friends and was seemingly well-adjusted, people assumed that I was always unaffected by these issues. But I believe, like many other Black people in this country, I’ve gotten good at putting on a front just to survive from day to day—like pretending to laugh at a joke I don’t understand or adopting specific phrases when I speak to become part of the culture.
Especially in a virtual environment with increasing pressure to be on camera and appear enthusiastic and jovial, being sociable and high-energy all the time can get exhausting. Because how people present on the outside doesn’t always line up with what they’re dealing with behind that façade. And a brave face can easily overshadow what that person might actually be experiencing.
This can feel especially true at a place like Deloitte, where in our busy and intense environment, we often work next to others but don’t live alongside them. We may not put as much effort as we could into building meaningful relationships and developing a deeper understanding of who the people we work with really are, or where they’re coming from.
We need to think about all the different layers of a person. Not just their outward identity—or the identity projected onto them.
We need to understand where people are truly coming from— and what they may have sacrificed to get here.
For all of us to be more compassionate leaders, we need to spend more time getting to know the real people we work with, not just the identities they project. We need to understand where people are truly coming from—and what they may have sacrificed to get here.
When it comes to the retention of Black professionals, I wish leaders—both within the walls of Deloitte and beyond—would think deeper about personal experiences and the impact of racial trauma.
Racial trauma refers to any kind of a mental or emotional injury that can be caused by encounters with racial bias, ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. And while there tends to be greater acknowledgment of the harm caused by direct racism, oppression, and violence, things like witnessing the murder of people of color on social media can also trigger a traumatic response.
Your body responds to racism as a form of chronic stress. It can cause people to face a number of health issues, from increased depressive symptoms and chest pains to prolonged anger and insomnia. And for many Black people, our lives have been an extended period of re-traumatization.
So when we talk about wanting to increase diversity, it’s just as important to foster a safe space to support the mental and physical health of people—especially those who have experienced racial and other forms of trauma. And that trauma may not be evident on the surface.
We all have mental images of what we think grief or sadness look like. My stepbrother was a tough, popular college football player with a contagious smile and laugh. Nobody would have been able to guess what he was dealing with behind that strong exterior.
We have to start normalizing that everyone can experience grief and depression. You don’t have to be small and dainty or quiet and withdrawn to be someone who has real and raw emotions. And we don’t need to know someone’s story to show grace and kindness in the workplace.
Showing grace to others starts by simply showing grace to yourself.
Photos by Kirth Bobb
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