The day my son was born, changed my life.
When they handed him to me, I was flooded with joy—joy that he was healthy and precious and beautiful—all the things that a mother feels when a child is put safely into her arms. But then, almost instantly, my joy turned to terror. Terror that I was now the mother of a black man. How would I protect him? How would I keep him from the sting of racial slurs and bigotry? From being targeted…questioned…beaten…jailed? But at my core I agonized with the primary question, how would I keep him alive?
And then, my terror became guilt. I had just brought a child into a world that will assess him and penalize him for the color of his skin. One where the first words that are used to describe him will always be “black man”. Where driving or walking through a neighborhood will cause him to be looked upon as “suspicious”. This is the America we live in today. It is a country I love and honor, but it is a country that is flawed. Equal justice is not equal.
The black community in the US has been devastated by the current COVID-19 crisis more than any other group. In Minneapolis, 35% of COVID cases are African Americans, even though they compose less than 20% of the community. Some have blamed this on obesity…or on pre-existing conditions. But the reason black people are dying of COVID at higher rates than other populations is rooted in slavery. Our legacy as a nation of enslaving black and brown people is with us still today. African Americans live in a rung of economic instability, they have less access to health care, education, and resources. The black population, in majority, does not have the wealth and opportunity to stay home to contain COVID. They have less opportunity to get ahead because the system holds them down—both literally, as George Floyd was, and metaphorically—as they are denied the privilege that is so naturally extended to others with a different color of skin.
I have shared with many of you that COVID is like a monster in a nightmare. As humans, we want to be able to understand the challenges and trials we face—to label them, to see and identify them, and to know how to overcome them. Yet, COVID is none of those things—it is invisible, it can come from anywhere, there is no known cure, and it is deadly. It is an ill that preys upon our greatest fears. This is a fear that brings out the worst in us, causing us to snap back to our most basic instincts and behaviors. In America, one of the most immediate reactions has been to strike out at people because of the color of their skin. We see this happening now. The acts of discrimination, xenophobia, racism, cruelty, and divisiveness are the dark that have always been with us—just now at a fever pitch. A woman accused a black man of assaulting her because he had the audacity to ask her to leash her dog; a man hunted down in the street while out on a jog; a woman shot in her home while she slept; a man murdered publicly in the street by a police officer, while begging for his life. This is what is happening in America right now. Yesterday, as we were watching the protests and violence I explained to my son, “a man was killed because he had dark skin.” My son looked at me and furrowed his brow and replied “Mommy, that doesn’t make any sense…no one would kill you just because your skin is darker than theirs.” I explained to him that yes, this does happen, and we must come together as humans to make it stop.
In America today, my son will still not be judged, as MLK Jr once dreamed, by the content of his character but by the color of his skin. It was me who did this to him—made him black—because my husband is white. I spent many years emotionally paralyzed by this— many nights weeping in my husband’s arms after I put him to bed. Why did I bring him into this world? How do I help him make sense of it all? How do I not scare him or undermine his self-belief? How do I build him up and make him see that there is good, and hope, and an opportunity for him to be anything he wants to be? I had condemned him to a potential early death due to racially motivated violence and inequity. No mother should have to feel this. This…nearly destroyed me.
Processing this over and over in my mind, I realized that this does not have to be my children’s reality. I picked myself up, steeled myself in my core and decided to get out there and fight. I fight to build a world where my son, my daughter, and all black, brown and African American children can see a beacon of hope. Where they can see someone who looks like them who has broken through the barriers, who has risen up against the injustices, and cracked the glass ceiling that holds a whole population back. It is why I go to work every day. It is the reason I walked out on stage at E3 after I was warned there would be hate-filled rhetoric spewed across social networks because of the color of my skin. It is the reason I chose to become a co-sponsor of Blacks at Microsoft (BAM). It spurs me on in every partner interaction, every negotiation, every time I turn up to a meeting or to represent our team. It is why I put myself out there in this world. It is why I am writing this mail. This is how I fight against the injustice. This is how I fight for my son, and for my daughter, and for our community. I do this to create opportunity for others, to give inspiration, strength, and courage so we can enact change.
While these horrible events, the death, the chaos, the destruction is happening, I feel something else – hope. We can stand up against this—we can fight this, together. My colleagues, my friends – I ask you to join in this fight. As I’ve said before, “progress is not inevitable, but driven by the choices that we make as individuals.” We can change this. And if it is this circumstance of our present time that gives us all the courage to collectively stand up and fight, then that is a gift. The gift of a better world for us all.