Is It the Voice or the Volume? (Or Something Else)

Today, I have to ask you a critical question: Are you offended by my voice or my volume? This morning, I had a breakfast meeting with my friend, fraternity brother, and photography client Greg E. Hill. Now, I’ll admit it, Greg’s voice carries. So does mine. So do the voices of a lot of people when they’re discussing things that they are passionate about. Greg and I were talking about goals for 2019 and how we could work together to accomplish something bigger. Toward the end of our breakfast, an older white man stood up, and, as he walked by our table, said “I guess I’ll move to a quieter section.” It was obvious he said it with the intention of being heard by us because he glared at us after he said it. He proceeded to move to a table about 25 feet away, directly beside a fairly loud group of older white women who were laughing about whatever joyous stories they were sharing. Needless to say, he didn’t choose to relocate again.

My question to you is, whenever you choose to boldly stand and relocate, do you do it because of the voice or because of the volume? Do you find offense in the blackness of my voice? Keep this in mind as you move because, if it is the voice that offends you, maybe you should bite your tongue because, if it’s not coming from a place of love and it’s not constructive, you should likely keep it to yourself. But, if the issue is actually volume, which most people can adjust much more ethically than their voices, we’re all adults and it’s very easy to approach someone and say, “I’m trying to enjoy my coffee. Could you speak a bit more quietly?”

Then again, looking at the side of town we were on and the demographic make up of the restaurant, maybe the “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us” patches on my jacket combined with G’s black-on-black attire and natural hairstyle was more problematic than anything we said at any volume.

 

Make taking an honest inventory of your motivation a priority.

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It’s Not About Money

“It’s never ’bout the money ‘cuz I burn bread. It’s the principalities like Big Worm said” — Fabolous

Some people get so caught up with the dollars. I could care less about what my bank account said if I knew I lived in a nation that cared enough to make sure that I didn’t ever lose it all. I’ve been there and I can say that pursing happiness can be pretty tough when you can’t pay your rent/mortgage, don’t have health insurance, and are working a job you hate just to make ends meet.

Bankruptcy and poor credit don’t only affect those whose names they are attached to, but also the people attached to those names. Families get evicted, children lose memories as a result of going from home to home, and those things that could’ve grown to mean the world to a person end up in a storage auction never to be seen again. Or, worse, uninsured people enter a hospital only to be told they will be helped only to a certain level and, after that, they’re on their own. What makes any one human more or less deserving than another to receive quality medical care, housing, or nourishment?

America, if you take anything at all from this blog, know that it’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. Money just provides security. But what if (imagine this…) community provided security? What if we didn’t let our neighbors slip through the cracks? Or if we buy things to fill the voids we created by not giving our family time? What if we taught integrity before integers? We shouldn’t be privatizing education. Actually, we should be doing the opposite and equally distributing the resources that elite institutions (private and public alike) have.

If we want to make America great in the truest sense, we have to teach love and empathy. Yes, we have to take care of our own households but who will really want to kill us when we show them love? Proposing a truce (within reason) isn’t weak in the eyes of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a toxic school of thought. I am a vocal proponent of self-defense but let’s have a little faith in God’s ability to put the humanity in mankind. And, in our everyday lives, let’s exhibit that humanity. We should not let anyone be homeless or hungry. Our children ought not learn untruths that the school system teaches. We can change this world together, one neighbor at a time.

And if you think me telling you to love your neighbor is too political, you probably don’t understand the denotation of the word “politics.” But there’s a wonderful book someone put together once that’ll explain that to you if need be.

 

Make money an avenue to improve the world as opposed to a goal in and of itself.

APPL’s Stock Struggles, NFLX’s Bandersnatch, and Where We Go From Here

Yesterday, Apple’s stock closed at a major deficit, causing the overall market to take a hit. If you want to know more about the stock side of things, check out the NYT or WSJ. They can explain it better than I can. What I’m here to talk about is the trajectory of American business and the role we, as young professionals and creative minds, need to be focused on playing.

Innovation is the name of the game but how do you innovate when everything you thought could be done is being done. Seriously, we just reached Ultima Thule (no, that’s not a car by Nissan) and a manned SpaceX rocket could take off as soon as 2019 (Oh s***! We’re in 2019!). Smartphones (or smartwatches or tablets or whatever other piece of tech you always have with you) are extensions of ourselves, essentially making us cyborgs, minus the inserted chip. It is an amazing time to be alive. But it’s also a confusing one. What is the final frontier? Where do we go from here? What are humans if we’re not continuing to push the society around us forward?

That is an issue that Apple is obviously struggling with. Yes, trade issues between the East and West were pinpointed as the reason for Apple’s terrible finish on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (yes, I looked up what NASDAQ stood for so you wouldn’t have to). But, Apple users, let’s be honest: the advancements we’ve seen lately are disappointingly underwhelming and increasingly overpriced. Why does a new iPhone XS, at $999, cost 77% of what a Mac Book Pro does? (I intentionally chose the least expensive versions of these items. Bells and whistles cost more, of course.) I know, I know… I can do almost everything with an XS that I can with a MBP but it still doesn’t change the fact that I’m paying so much for cellular phone. And, not to mention, the new features to the phone aren’t that great. I wasn’t inclined to upgrade my phone this time and I probably won’t be unless A) some major changes come out or B) the updates stop working (which usually happens after a few generations).

What does this have to do with Bandersnatch? I’m glad you asked. Bandersnatch is Netflix’s movie version of the extremely popular show “Black Mirror,” a show that didn’t have enough episodes to satisfy my interest but hopefully they’ll bring it back. The good thing is I cannot give anything of substance away about Bandersnatch because I’ve only seen one scene so far but I will say this: even if the movie isn’t good, the concept is simultaneously out of this world and eerily nostalgic. Remember, as a kid, reading books where the ending was up to you? I want to say Goosebumps and Animorphs had some like this but I’m sure a ton of other series did as well. Bandersnatch is that in movie form. I can only imagine the planning and time spent in shooting, editing, and coding that had to go into making this movie work but, once again, Netflix has set a new standard. Only, this time, in order to look forward, it first had to look back.

Innovation is the name of the game but, as Netflix has shown us that the answers are sometimes behind us. Brands like Apple have spent so much time pushing the bar forward that they’re starting to hit a brick wall. So, why not look back at something pre-modern technology that changed an industry and reformat it to improve our modern lives? Just a thought for Apple, General Motors, and any other company that is having a hard time being innovative.

You may have a hard time teaching an old dog new tricks but maybe you can teach a new dog a few old ones.

 

Make innovation a priority.

Changing Language

I had a great talk today with a married couple that I’m friends with. They’re black (yes, in this conversation, that matters). Our conversation ran the gamut, from #EatPray10v3 to children and the sleep deprivation that accompanies them. Because of prior commitments and certainly not boredom or anger, our conversation ended on the topic of race in America and specifically the term “White Privilege.” The man in the couple (we’ll call him “Solomon” since he brought Ecclesiastes into the convo) said that the term “white privilege” may be a misnomer at this point and that it has served its purpose. If progress is to be made, we must focus less on the white privilege and more on the economic inequity that plagues the nation. Solomon comes from a less luxurious region of America where opportunities are difficult to find, regardless of race. He, as a professional black man who made it out of that setting, said that the overlooked white people in his hometown would consider it a slap in the face if he, with his “polished shoes and tailored suits went to them talking about their privilege.” The word, though unintentionally, is offensive when we are talking to those whites who have, as far as they can see, experience no semblance of the privilege that the mainstream so often speaks of and shames. Those white families who populate the mining communities of  America’s mountainous regions or the ones who must laboriously provide for their families in less than luxurious settings are not feeling the privilege that many of us speak of. Certainly, the media does not paint them as the faces of philanthropic need and government welfare but they overwhelmingly are and they’re angry. Are they being gunned down by a culture of policing that says “The black man is most likely guilty of something so shoot him”? No and, in that conversation, they do have privilege. But when we’re discussing generational wealth, a strong majority of whites are not much better off than blacks. There are, however, a gross number of white households who are doing as poorly as black households and those households have historically had less access to resources that will provide them with the upward mobility required to transition the next generation of their legacy into the next economic class. In short, there is a plethora of programs that I, as an underrepresented minority, have access to that will allow me to traverse America’s economic landscape (even against the system’s desire for me to). Poor whites don’t have that. So, in my lack of privilege, there is a sliver of privilege.

Don’t get it twisted, I still believe that, in the face of a trigger happy cop, poor and rich white people have a better chance of coming out alive than I do as a black man of any background. But, when we’re talking about having access to resources and education, poor whites don’t fare better than poor blacks (excluding consideration of cultural bias when it comes to names). Therefore, these unwealthy white people are upset because of what they don’t have when it appears that everyone else, including the poor blacks who society tells them that they are supposed to be doing better than, is making forward strides. This leads to things like the election of those who pander to their fears, the clinging to a hateful pride in a treasonous culture, and the dogwhistles that are reaching a low enough frequency for us all to hear.

Which brings me to the short, but direct, point: We must change the language. While white people have an indisputable cultural advantage in America (sometimes because of language but more often than not because of a propensity to engage media before we do people), white privilege is not universal in its application. I’m not sure what language we need to use or whether we need to be more specific when we speak of what arenas whites are privileged in, as opposed to using it as the blanket statement we’ve been using it as.

I won’t lie, I grew up around some rich white folks. I mean, RICH! There were Benzes, Porsches and Land Rovers in my high school parking lot. Multiples. In double digits. So I can relate to the concept of white privilege because I perceived white wealth and I came from, at times, a black family wrought with financial instability. But, the older I get and the more I speak with people of varying backgrounds, I see that, in affluent areas like NC’s Research Triangle, you’ll see quite a few well-off white people. These areas fuel the narrative of the rich whites. But, when you look across the nation, economic disparities even out across racial lines. Therefore, in an attempt to break down the barriers that the rich have built to keep the poor fighting one another, we must either be cautious or more specific when we speak of white privilege. We cannot build allies if we do not. How we do that is up for conversation but the fact that it must happen is indisputable.

 

Make using intentional language a priority.

Choose Depth

Today, I was reading a piece by a conservative political blogger who concluded that a candidate’s age combined with a non-threatening biological issue were good reasons for exclusion from the political process. No point of issues or integrity were made, simply the candidates rumored lack of bowel control.

A few minutes before, as I was working on my résumé, from which I had previously removed my home address because, at this point in time, it serves no functional purpose on a résumé (as it did in decades past). Actually, I am wrong. It does serve a function – It makes the reader comfortable with the fact that I do not live in abstract poverty, a shelter or under a bridge (which speaks to the point that we are more afraid of homelessness and poverty than of a megalomaniac running the USA but that is another topic for another day).

Now, whether running for office while supposedly wearing adult diapers or failing to put a place of residency on a résumé, my point is as follows: How many highly qualified individuals does our society toss by the wayside because they don’t live up to our superficial expectations of what success is? Because their body doesn’t function normally (but not in a way that will prevent them from performing exceptionally)? Because they don’t want you to Google the fact that they live in the “hood” (or wherever they live because it is inconsequential)? I vividly recall sitting on a university’s panel with an HR professional who said she Googles the addresses of job candidates because, if they cannot keep a home that looks respectable on the outside, chances are they cannot run a department. What message does this send to the first generation college student whose address on his résumé doesn’t reflect the wealth that he knows some of his peers’ do?

Whose standards of success are we, as Americans, subscribing to? Such schools of thought perpetuate the fallacy that you must look and live in accordance within a predetermined set of norms that were established by men and women who look nothing like me and whose culture worked violently to eradicate mine. So, in order to get ahead, I should make sure my body looks, functions, and operates like theirs? To succeed, my home, yard, and family should be mirror images of theirs?

There are some cultural concessions I choose to make for the sake of my family. Other things, I am working to actively unlearn and reprogram. I don’t want my spirit to model that of murderers, slavers, and rapists like America’s forefathers, no matter how much of an impact they had on the world. I am content with the peace that comes from knowing that my ancestors equipped me with the emotional, physical, and cultural fortitude to be myself and to offer depth over shallowness.

How about, at this moment in history, we begin to look past the superficial in order to find the substance? I am certain that it will take more time but, in the end, it will be worth it.

 

Make choosing depth a priority.

Taking a Loss

Yesterday, a divided nation decided that it would, in part, continue to go down a path that leads toward its demise. But, just because you’re going down the wrong path doesn’t mean you can’t pause, reflect, and commit to bettering yourself.

It’s time for us to demand more of our leaders. As I continue to prepare myself for elevated levels of leadership by taking on more roles and remaining a lifelong learner, I am adding more best practices to my arsenal. Today, as I was reading some of John Maxwell’s work, I was reminded that “(l)eaders lose the right to be selfish.”

We have to start holding our leaders, elected and otherwise, to a higher standard. Sometimes that means turning down campaign dollars from sources that lack integrity. Other times, it means foregoing a raise or rejecting a bonus so your support staff maintains its morale. Paying bills and engaging in self-care are not selfish. Shoot, even getting a bonus when everyone’s doing well is ok. But when, as a leader, you look out for yourself at the expense of those around you, you’re doing damage to the culture and community you’re suppose to be protecting.

Think of it like this: As a leader, if you do something selfish and stupid that jeopardizes your community’s reputation, you’re not only risking your job but also the jobs of everyone that supports you. Let’s look at all the companies that have gone down the drain because of poor leadership. The leaders were not the only ones affected. Their employees weren’t only affected. The employees’ families were affected. The generations that follow that employee are affected. Our decisions, as leaders, will have everlasting impacts on the world.

Yesterday’s election results, though some positive change took place, disappointed me on a large scale. The battle may be a wash but the war is far from over. Over the next two years (and long after that), let us, as follower-leaders, pledge to change the culture across political, economic, and social arenas. We have to get to a point where we can disagree without being mean-spirited and that starts with requiring our leaders to model that. We influence them by demanding more of them so that they can influence us. It’s a simple cycle.

 

Make selfless leadership a requirement.

But Did You Vote?

Tomorrow is it. It’s our opportunity to correct a tremendous blemish on this nation’s record. Whether we’re looking at legislative powers or impeachment and removal, tomorrow can be a turning point for America or it can continue down the same path it’s been on for centuries: One seeped in bigotry, hatred, and white patriarchy that is masked as progressive freedom.

Have you voted? If not, it’s ok. You still have a chance. If so, have you encouraged anyone else to? Cool. Well, encourage someone else.

Do I believe the process is flawed? Yes. But will not participating fix it? No. Participate and then, when it fails you, fight.

 

Make voting a priority.