We have been so achievement oriented - but what are we trying to achieve? in the end, what does recognition even mean when the job is still not getting done?
The job? our job is to provide shelter. to provide home. home for whomever needs to perform whatever activity they need/will to in that space.
there are TOO MANY WITHOUT the above to claim that our job is ever finished. some of us have yet to even start the job.
I am from India, an immigrant. I was told that I would never get a job here in the US because my cover letter has grammatical mistakes/ bad English.
I was told by white male old architect that I should focus on getting English lessons first before trying to look for a job, or take my licensure exams. My portfolio and skills didn't matter.
I came from India. English is not my first language, but at University, in a certain architecture course, I was penalised for not British English in an essay instead of Canadian English.
Mind you, the sentence was 100% correct but I was still penalised because I wrote in a language (same as theirs) that the colonisers forced on us. -@supportblackdesigners
I have a paranoia that I'm
That what I'm saying is unvalued ~ less valued
That there's no reason
never a reason
to disrupt a beautiful
Where did this come from?
Constant streams of words
Sadness and anger repeatedly rejected.
Injustice cloaked with positivity and optimism -
toxic silence thrives.
Is to survive to be numb?
Now, the silence is undeniably violent.
The reason I’m not saying a thing about Breonna Taylor is because at the end of the day this isn’t news to me. There is nothing new or exciting about this. Just another tired violent rerun in this sad existence.
This isn’t me acting like I’m smarter than anyone; I’m fairly stupid and my worldview is limited. However, I will say I am very tired. It’s exhausting having to see this repeat day in and day out.
It’s always the POCs job to extend the olive branch but at some point we have to admit that the lesson isn’t working at all.
This will continue to happen because this is inherent to the identity of this country. I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to leave this country, let alone this entire planet. I get it. There are days when I feel beyond hopeless. There are days when I feel nothing. I empathize and if in any way you doubted it, I am obviously Black Lives Matter until the day I shut my mouth and put down my guitar.
Last thing before I’m done; stop pretending the other side is arguing in good faith. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. Ignorance isn’t real. These people like to be mean and they like that people are out here dying.
Stop playing with kids gloves. Stop thinking that people will see the light. They won’t. Cut them off, there’s a revolution going on outside, evolve or die. - @verypublicretirement
I just put notice it at my job because, regardless of how hard I have pushed myself to study and obtain my license, it went completely unrecognized at work.
Furthermore, I am on production 100% of the time. I asked my PM to let me attend meetings and he told me “If you’re at the meetings, who will be drafting?” I am an actual architect and he, while more experienced than me, is not an architect.
Why was I not being given a chance to sit at the table where decisions were being made? Why did they see me as nothing more than production, seeing no value in my education or my thoughts, offering me no way to contribute to the projects in a meaningful way?
I don’t even have another job lined up, I just couldn’t take it anymore.
To be successful as a creative professional in an overwhelmingly white culture - one that equates only whiteness with beauty, innocence and greatness - you have to create work about your own marginality in order to allow a white mediator to "recognize" it and thereby occupy the role of a savior.
Or, you need to fundamentally alter your definition of success while working to educate a new type of audience. - Waqas J. @waqas_jawaid
I am sad. I am mad. I am deflated. Another life shattered irreparably for no reason. Another glaring racial injustice. Jacob Blake was shot in the back SEVEN TIMES. SEVEN. He was unarmed and breaking up a fight. He was glad the police showed up so he could take his children home.
A white shooter walks through police lines with a semi-automatic weapon, shoots 3 people and gets to go home, sleep in his bed, and plan his escape.
IN THE SAME CITY.
How is it possible to be a good, loving, and decent human being and not see the double standard? Not see fear and hatred? Not see the glaring inequality?
I am sad. I am mad. I am deflated. And yet, I remain hopeful. I will look for love in the face of hate. I will speak up and out. I will listen and act. I will learn and strive to be better, kinder, and respectful. I will love more.
Jacob Blake deserves better. His children deserve better. Breonna Taylor deserves better. Her family deserves better. Every human being deserves better. We all do and until we stop making excuses for systemic patterns of hatred, change will not come. #BlackLivesSTILLmatter. This is a movement, not a moment.
Be on the right side of history, the one that love has chosen. - Tanya Piazza-Hughes
Male coworkers told me that it’s okay if I don’t pass ARE because the exams are hard and English is not my first language. I always thought I don’t pass because I didn’t study. I never blame it on the language itself.
I once had a job, where I was the head of design, and we were pushing towards a deadline. While in conversation with the CTO/co-founder of the company (a white cis man), we were acknowledging that we'd have to work through the weekend, when he said, "and probably Monday too, but it's okay because Martin Luther King's Day isn't a real holiday."
He laughed, I laughed.
Sit with that. And think about the layers of survival mechanism, desensitization and removal from one's identity that informed me laughing at his statement.
I spent most of my teen hood and early 20's saying things like, "I don't really experience racism."
Confronting the reality of your experience is sometimes a weight too heavy, because guess what?
You have to go back to work the next day.
A caucasian male colleague jokingly commented that our company’s racial justice committee asked me to join because I am a minority. This is 2020, stop making tactless jokes. No one is laughing.
I'm a cis white woman, so my experience is what I've observed. I've witnessed so many microaggressions...things like not being able to distinguish one Black person from another, despite incredible physical and personality differences. There is also pervasive dog whistle language. One Black Latino project manager I work with is consistently called "lazy" for delegating, despite being consistently being a top performer and being the last one out of the office most evenings.
What's worse, to me, is how I've seen white designers behave with BIPOC community members who are the end users for the projects they are designing. One design principal I worked with greatly offended a client when we were working on a project in Mexico City by asking repeatedly if we would have security escorts so we wouldn't be kidnapped, and by wearing those Skymall money and passport belts. On another project for a public housing project, I witnessed a white designer repeatedly talking over the community members during design brainstorming. When addressed privately by the project manager, the designer said, "Well, they've lived in public housing their entire lives. They can't possibly understand what else is possible."
I worked as part of the steering committee for a design competition to rebuild a community garden in Chicago's West Garfield Park neighborhood. We thought we had smartly centered the community in the design competition, as the winners of the design competition were required to partner with the community to refine the design during implementation, and we had a community leader as part of the jury. The rest of the jury was a group of prominent architects. During the deliberation, this community leader was vying for a particular concept to win, as it best met the program and operating of the garden. Instead of deferring to this person, a prominent Chicago architect on the jury actually said to her, "Well, the second phase is community involvement. You'll have your say then." While another jury member (a Black architect) smoothed things over, the community leader's choice still was the second place concept.
I regret not speaking up so many times. I had told so many of these stories to other people, saying, "Can you believe this happened?" But that itself is evidence of complicity. I clearly recognized at the time that something was wrong, and I did nothing to address it. Our silence allows these toxic communities in the design industry to flourish, whether it's racist, sexist, ego-centric, or all of the above.
As a 9 year old, the summer of 1991 is permanently imprinted in my mind. It is the summer that set me on a path to architecture.
My neighborhood, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was predominantly Hasidic Jews, Black Americans that were a part of the Great Migration, and Caribbean immigrants. My school - on the corner of New York and Empire Avenues - was located at the cusp of growing tension between the Jewish and Black communities. While I was unaware of the economic disparity between the communities, it was evident to us kids that we don’t “mess with them.”
On August 19, 1991, a year before the LA Riots and 23 years before Ferguson, a classmate of mine, 7-year-old Gavin Cato, was run over blocks from our elementary school. The driver was a part of an orthodox Jewish motorcade, racing for the changing light. His car struck two children playing on the sidewalk. This was the spark of the 1991 Crown Heights Riots.
The peak of the riots would last approximately 3 days, but August 21, wouldn't be the last day of violence. Eastern Parkway was in the middle of the war zone. Businesses were forced to close. Traffic was diverted. Fearful, my mom did her shopping in a different community and would take us with her by bus and cab to work. Within a few weeks school re-started and I remember being frisked for the first time as I walked into the building. It wasn’t the children doing the rioting, yet our school had created new security measures to ensure safety; the majority of our teachers were young white women.
Not long after, while waiting at the bus stop, I witnessed a driver have a verbal exchange with a group of students in the crosswalk. It went from “0-100, real quick, real quick, whole squad on that real shit.” Within minutes the group of teens became enraged and attempted to remove the driver from his car. The crowd surrounding the car got larger. They encircled and destroyed the car like it was a pinata giving out candy. The vehicle would eventually end up upside down, ablaze, with the driver still in it.
The closed businesses, traffic diversions, lifestyle changes, new school safety measures, and a man afraid to leave his car created. - Ibrahim G. @ibrahimthearchitect
One day my Pratt professor, unprompted, announced that Jews have all the money and run the world. I’m Jewish. It was the last day of class before reviews so I was too uncomfortable to call the person grading me out for perpetuating false anti-semitic stereotypes.
The comment was in response to the professor’s dislike of an unusual design by a well-known architect with a Jewish-sounding last name.
I grew up in a single-parent household with very modest means. I felt like a fish out of water in arch. school. My design ideas and perspectives were often not supported by professors or welcomed by critics.
My use and re-use of materials from previous studios of from other student’s discarded pieces was mocked because I couldn’t afford the pricey model materials and 3D prints.
I still kept designing public & civic spaces for communities instead of the assigned private residences for the 1% and was penalized for it in my reviews. Turns out I was stubborn enough to get my BA and M.Arch. (With the help of a Pell grant, work-study job, part-time job, and a boatload of student debt.)
I love what I do and it turns out I’m good at it in real life!
The bottom-up approach in my opinion involves literally reversing the pyramid of hierarchy and authority. A role reversal. We don’t need an invitation to the table. We need them to come to our table and be thoroughly immersed in our truth. We need to not approach others but have them approach us. We need work to be done on our behalf - and at our direction. It’s the most expedient and efficient way to achieve balance - but that requires some sacrifices from current leaders managers employers and owners, which are not going to be offered up selflessly in the circles that need the most change. We need to force their hand.
So how do we do that when there is an unwillingness to even acknowledge that racism exists?
Money. It seems they respond to capital and the lack of it - in reference to corporate donors, and investors. It seems like pressure works in some cases (Washington Redskins) but perhaps not in others (Facebook ad boycott). Politically - we start with every local public office. Attention focused at the local level will hopefully bring balance to the way funds are used, because without being able to secure those funds, there will be a lack of resources necessary to make the changes we need. Defunding the police breaks up an inflated budget that if redistributed to other facets of local government, will put power in the hands of people wanting to solve problems with good intentions, not racist violent ableist bullying dehumanizing tactics.
In the private sector, the public-oriented markets are easier to change because of things like boycotts - if people stop giving money to a company they are almost always going to notice that. But in private offices and industries, there is no way to apply financial pressure, unless you already hold enough power to choke the cash flow of your office or industry - things like unionizing and strikes are internally focused and without widespread attention, the company is unlikely to care.
It’s obviously a very involved question. And I think it takes everything. Do everything. Do all the things. Relentlessness. It’s exhausting but the racist corporate industry is constantly working against us 24/7 in the courts, in the board rooms, in the polls, in congress, govt agencies like ICE and the FDA and the FCC etc.
This won’t be so fatiguing if we are all involved together. We can each share the workload in a way that allows us to live our lives with enjoyment - because we shouldn’t lose sight of that - black youth deserve childhoods, not indoctrination into lifelong activism without end.
I think the scale of what’s happening is important because this movement has been around since the dawn of America but it was never given the kind of attention it’s receiving today. That fire must not be extinguished and more importantly it cannot be allowed to die out into embers. -Gautam B. @10000hz
In light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the assorted human struggles associated with justice combined with the quarantine brought on by COVID-19, I’ve been by myself a lot more. And I love it. But it’s caused me to project into the future and ask- what do I do now?
Skipping the discourse of how this came about- I’ve been wondering how to move forward with my non-Black friends, particularly my white friends who seem to not notice that the world is in such upheaval. Except for one in particular, I hadn’t spoken to my white friends in about 35 to 40 days. Do I hold them accountable? Do I call them out? Do I slide back into the realm of complicity? Do I lose contact with them and blame it on the pandemic?
… I feel like I’ve been lying since the friendship began. If you are a person of color, you know what I mean. The codeswitching. The making sure you’re appropriate for white people. Wondering if you’re too “whatever” when dining at a table with your white friends. Not understanding how to cook white American food and having them laugh about it. Watching them not understand the microaggressions as they happen. Knowing deep down that they’ve never seen you being who you actually are, and constantly policing yourself in white spaces so that you don’t become a target. Comments that are meant to be supportive but really highlight the differences in how we walk through the world. For me, it includes noticing how your body is different when shopping… Comments about your figure, your hair, your makeup. Knowing damn well that the reason why men prefer hitting on me in the club instead of in public and not under the cover of night is because I’m Black and they’re ashamed. Casually mentioning the coded language that ensures that you don’t get a promotion or interview. And having to cover all of that up for your white friends so they digest it well because they’re so fragile.
There is so much mental, emotional, and physical labor in being friends with white people.
My best friend who is white, revealed to me some years ago that they were queer, and then later on non-binary. I read so much about how to support them, on my own time, because it completely broke my heart that many things I thought were a point of enjoyment for the both of us (makeup, clothes, etc.) were really hurting them and contributing to their body dysphoria. We’ve been best friends for 18 years, and they felt like they were lying to me constantly, every day. But I say this because while I did that work for my white friend, I confessed to them that I was lying too. About being Black. I relayed all that labor I was doing for them, which was similar to the labor they were doing for me. It was very honest. And we’re better friends for it. So now I’m going to offer that same honesty to the people who follow this account.
#1 – It seems like my only purpose is for comic relief. The ways that I’m actually funny aren’t up for public or friend consumption, and yet here we are. I don’t post my silly videos to my sister or share the jokes I send to friends. I hate when people think I’m funny and just say “haha, that’s Yaminah!” Why?
A. I feel like it’s my job as a Black friend to alleviate awkwardness. To transform the tension of others around me into something laughable. To take pain that I’m feeling in public and make others feel comfortable about it. Why, when experiencing an overt racist act in front of friends, do I take them through the motions of how to be calm about it? Most of the time, the “haha only Yaminah” catchphrases sound like someone’s pesky little brother in a sitcom about a white midwestern family. It makes me wince, inside, but I never call attention to it.
B. I also realize I fill spaces with words where I’d really rather not speak. I say things completely out of left field to deflect, to underline that I don’t want to talk, or to get people to stay away from me. I make you feel awkward on purpose. I don’t like people actually knowing what’s going on in my head. It’s a defense mechanism.
C. Why does my joy feel like I’m in a circus? If I dance and sing because I’m happy… why do people turn that into a spectacle? No one shares in the joy- they point at it. It feels like they’re laughing at my joy instead of taking part in it.
For the aforementioned items… The solutions aren’t easy. I hate that I do these things. And yet the solutions are not easy. But I’ve decided not to let people transform me into being a buffoon or to compel me to be defensive. Also, my joy is not a spectacle.
#2 – We all know the term “fair weather friends” or friends who only want you around to help or pity you. I keep them at arm’s length on purpose. However, I’ve found, in the past couple of weeks, that I have a category of friends who only want to be connected to me in order to compare themselves to me. Not in a “keeping up with the Joneses” manner, but in a manner slightly more sinister. If they perceive themselves as being better than me, they derive a sense of self-worth from that. If something good happens in my life that I call good and choose to share, they ignore it. But if something they perceive as negative occurs that I share, they are quick to latch onto me and try to guide me through it.
A. Example. Lots of people reaching out when I was furloughed. So many notes of sympathy. No one wanting to hear about why I was happy about it. I never said I was upset by the furlough. I even included a funny GIF about it.
B. In the age of mid-COVID and mid-BLM, this is particularly insidious. Why do people see my humanity only when it’s connected to negativity and pain?These are themes within a lot of my screenwriting and advocacy within storytelling- why is Black humanity only seen when it’s tied to pain? There is something particularly human and beautiful about joy, and yet… That’s not seen as something worthy of praise.
I’m not complaining. I, probably more than most, understand the idea of playing things close to the chest and refraining from sharing. I get it, the “hustle in private” thing. These concepts aren’t limited to white friends either- I have family who treat me like this… Black friends, other friends of color… However. If these are my friends… what have I surrounded myself with? What, after we’re allowed to roam in a post-COVID world, will I go back to? And it’s funny- my best friend, who, again, is white, advised me to just throw all these people away. That it’s just not worth the effort. My mentor has said the same thing… My parents have said the same thing. I haven’t decided what to do… I have other, bigger things going on. But I’m posting this video and raising these discussions because even though our policies, governments, schools, companies haven’t changed yet… Our minds have. So once you’ve opened your eyes to a truth, how do you incorporate and live out that truth?
How do we, as Black people, move forward now that the jig is up and we can no longer pretend that white people don’t know about this nonsense we deal with on a daily basis? How do we, as Black people, approach our friendships with other people of color? How do we, as Black people and as other people of color, hold the white people in our circles accountable for their previous and continued complicity in white supremacy? What’s the next step? Who do we invest our time in? What relationships do we divest from? What behaviors do we have to discontinue in order to assert our right to humanity?
These are things I’m thinking about while still in quarantine. These are the things that keep me up at night, along with unemployment, writing, supporting BIPOC efforts, painting, my family, making videos, launching my business, and the general ridiculousness we see on TV. I’m worried that this is just a fad. It isn’t, but I know the mechanisms that make up our society continue to perpetuate that this is a trend. I’m not willing to let this become that, at least not for me and the people I interact with. Like I mentioned in other videos, y’all are gonna come correct to me from now on. -Yaminah M. @etherealcure
I love being Black. I love being an architect. But being Black in this industry can be a hard circumstance to love. Here’s why.
On the Profession We Love
A couple years ago a set of photos went viral within the architecture and design world. You probably saw them. The images showed architects working on drafting tables in the days before computers and design software. For many people in our profession, these images offered a nostalgic look into architecture’s past. For me, the photos brought out a different set of emotions—confliction, despondence and a bit of heartbreak.
Looking through these photos I wondered: Where are the people who look like me? (My female colleagues probably asked the same question.) These photos support the realization that there are systems within the profession that mirror that of our nation. Architecture, like many other institutions, has been complicit in the systemic exclusion of Black people for way too long.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the men in these old design studios were prejudiced or that the people looking at these images now and feeling a sense of nostalgia are prejudiced. What they have in common, I’d argue, is privilege. A privilege that allowed them to explore their passions, grow their careers and build equity while their counterparts in Black communities were fighting for equality. I then wonder if this is the reason why today fewer than 2 percent of U.S. architects happen to be Black?
As author Darrell Wayne Fields noted in his book Architecture in Black, one could look at most modern architecture firms and see little has changed in terms of the number of Black designers and the weight of architecture’s homogenous history. “Black people and architecture don’t mix,” wrote Fields in his 2000 book. “This is not to say that blacks can’t do architecture or serve in every facet of the regime, but when they do, they are practicing the whiteness of architecture as condoned by white history, white theory, and white practice.” I take this as a call to action. We have work to do.
For those with privilege, code-switching is the simple and temporary act of learning a few new words to sound “smart” on a subject. For me, code-switching is so much more. It is needing to shift my demeanor upon walking into the office. Having to realign my thoughts to ensure that they are calculated and quickened in an effort to always say the “right” thing. It’s failing to confront the barrage of microaggressions for fear of being misunderstood or mis-labeled as “angry.” I’ve even noticed how changing my LinkedIn profile pic ultimately led to me landing my first job. Not unlike a Broadway show, it is a production, a departure from my natural self that becomes hauntingly seamless.
I’m hopeful that we can do better. As I write this, we find ourselves in a “perfect storm” scenario with the coronavirus, unemployment, a lack of national leadership and yet another black life taken on camera. (There have been TWO killings by police since George Floyd’s murder: Rayshard Brooks and Elijah McClain.) Never in my 31 years have I seen this amount of outrage. Never, too, have I seen so many people looking to gain awareness and educate themselves.
It won’t be easy, but I see promise in the reconciliation of Blackness and architecture. Standing with your Black colleagues and employees is the first step on the road to meaningful change. Now is the time to learn and unlearn, acknowledge the system’s shortcomings and come together to address them. I hope you recognize how learning about racism, rather than experiencing it, is a privilege in and of itself.
My son Julian is six months old. I ask you, how might a photo of our studios today look to him in 30 years? What might that same photo look like to his son or daughter (my grandchild) in 60 years? How great would it be if they, too, felt a sense of nostalgia at seeing people like them working in the profession we love despite its challenges?
These are some of my questions. I’m sure you have some of your own. – Richard M. @alchemical_architect
Today I told my boss that this isn’t a personal problem, it’s a work problem. It took me all 6 years in this industry and counting and experience at 4 different consulting companies to say that to someone in a position of power. It was after 2 months racking my mind, my heart and my stomach on “the best way to say it,” I know for a fact I only said it out loud to her because she’s a woman and a person of color.
She empathized and shared she’s had similar thoughts about our leader’s silence on George Floyd’s death. She said good things like she doesn’t have all the answers. And she said hurtful things like Black Lives Matter is a political statement.
Why didn’t I tell her more about how the buildings we design exist within the framework of institutional racism or about the other coworkers I’ve talked to that are struggling with the company’s silence or about how since 2nd grade I was “chosen” to be a Latinx in STEM and it took me an Atrophysics degree, a Mechanical Engineering Masters and 6 years of academia at top National research institutions to get to the same spot many colleagues get to with HS degrees and a dad in the industry? Well cuz she’s not ready to hear that. She’s not ready to know what that means. For me this was a convo that took 26 years to birth.
So if you’re not thinking about how to even speak TF up now, well my 26 years of relative privilege is nothing in comparison to the 1000’s of years worth of oppression. I’m optimistic only because I know someone is gonna read this and start thinking about the conversation they need to have. Oh also, this is convo 1/? with my boss and the company. A convo that’s needed to happen since before I started working here (more on that another time).
And hopefully a convo that will lead to actionable change within this circle of influence (yes I have mannnnnny ideas). -@nextera_sf
You are mad at me for speaking. You are mad at Rosa Parks for sitting. You are mad at MLK for marching. You are mad at Muhammad Ali for not fighting your Vietnam War. But you are not mad at yourself for sitting idly by being incompetent, complacent, and silent.
The world didn’t give me this voice that I have, nor can they take it away. Stay planted with your mad ass, but we are awake. We are tired. We are risking our health to fight a global pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black people to fight police brutality that disproportionately kills black people. (Let That Sink In)
I want you to know that your silence is powerful. Your silence is violence and we hear you loud and clear and know where you stand on issues that don’t “personally affect you.”
I am committed to whatever sacrifices need to be made. In this work, there is no room for fear. And I do not fear anything while fighting for justice, a better tomorrow, and the future for our children and future generations to come.
Remember, what we do today will impact and reshape our tomorrow. “In order to get to tomorrow, we must fight today.” -Kason @little4elizabeth
Let’s talk about the career opportunities given to minorities versus white people in a work environment. It is a huge challenge when it comes to developing our careers under limited circumstances. You probably need that white mentor, the more senior the better, to open the doors for you so you can thrive in corporate America.
A while back, I was very excited to attend a conference that was taking place. I reached out to management asking if they could only cover the registration fee, I would take care of the rest. The response was heartbreaking: the spots are filled, maybe next year. I understand that there is a certain capacity to support employees’ educational activities. However, I did not even know these “open spots” existed in the first place. On the other hand, my white co-worker has been able to go conferences at least a few times a year.
Even though we have the same level of education, years of experience and specialized in the same field, I was never considered to be part of it. So, how can we secure the recognition and the opportunities we deserve when there is a broken system that constantly pulls us back?
Over the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed a deluge of articles, posts, instagram stories, and—perhaps most importantly—promises for change. Topics and issues centered around systemic racism towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have left me wondering… is now the time for our voices to not only be heard but finally acknowledged as equal? Companies large and small have promised to take steps toward correcting their role in systemic racism and eliminating inequality by “pledging to increase racial diversity” and “supporting black professionals in achieving success.” They’ve even formed diversity and inclusion committees, but how are we holding these companies accountable?
It is easy to post black squares on instagram in solidarity and issue grandiose statements on networking and social media platforms to “support” the movement. But this begs the question if in a month, or even a year from now, these statements will be realized in some quantifiable way. Will companies be able to say, “We have increased representation of BIPOC at a senior level by X%,” or detail the steps they’ve taken to make the workplace more hospitable and equitable for BIPOC employees?
Launching marketing campaigns to ensure you don’t get called out for being blind to the movement does not make you an ally. To be a true ally, you need to recognize your responsibility, explicitly define your shortcomings, and take measurable action toward creating a long overdue culture of change and inclusion. This change has to start with those at the top leading by example with the boldest and most meaningful action—by making room at the table for diverse candidates to fill positions at the highest levels.
Will your promises be real? -Rick S., @rick___julian
Over the past few days, I have been privileged to be included in wonderful spaces mobilizing designers to fight the unjust practices that the design community has been complicit in enforcing and upholding.
The work of dismantling systems of power and oppression is important and meaningful work and we are gearing up for a long fight. What has been weighing heavily on my mind is the approach often centers on us having these conversations and actions within the confines of the design community (a top-down approach). However, my concern is the “bottom-up” approach seems to be missing from the conversations. How do we as a design community, empower communities and individuals of color to un-design systems of oppression and injustice in the built environment?
We aren’t going to see the design community become diverse and inclusive overnight. We aren’t going to see the architecture/urban design/ urban planning schools dismantle curriculum centered around white supremacy next week. White principals and majority-white firms aren’t going to address and undo company cultures of white supremacy, racism and microaggressions tomorrow. But the need for a response is immediate.
We have the capacity to go to the community first and organize citizens, planners, designers, and advocates right now. Communities of color are already doing the work but this is an opportunity to amplify their voice and use our privilege as designers. If the systems within design are broken, why do we keep deferring to them?
This isn’t to pause or redirect the much-needed internal work that should be happening within design education and practice that work is also critically important and necessary. As a designer of color, I am re-centering my focus on who we’re all advocating for, not the very white institutions and firms that have gotten it so wrong for so long. If we as designers of color (and even allies) are not mobilizing our communities with the knowledge and privilege that we have, in addition to directly addressing the systems of power in control, we are advocating on the wrong behalf.
black.lives.matter. | black.communities.matter. | black.designers.matter. | black.futures.matter
All the times I worked so hard on a project only to be excluded from any client presentations then watching new white hires be automatically put in “client facing” positions.
It has been uncomfortable to call it discrimination but I don’t know what else it could be? -@blackatsom
It wasn’t until I got a phone call from another POC that I suspected something was relatively wrong with the system. I thought there was a semblance of diversity in our classes, yet, the words they told me permeated my psyche and has haunted me since. “Are you a person of color?” “Why does that matter I thought” “Well.. So am I”. We exchanged stories about academic dismissal, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that the majority of people placed in academic probation, and people who had left the institution were overwhelming people of color.
I fought internally for a while (still do), and oftentimes resisted the idea of this institution, and this profession to be inherently exclusive. “Are they overtly being exclusive?” or “Is it because most people of color aren’t equipped with the toolkit to survive in this field?”
My office is addressing the Black Lives Matter movement by making an internal statement 2 weeks after George Floyd was killed. The upper management allowed an office-wide conversation where the CEO (senior white male) pretty much detailed the entire conversation by saying immigration is questionable, calling people names is essentially ok, and claiming our office is so open and good that people feel comfortable enough to openly discuss racism in the office. I am completely terrified of saying one word to the office. I am afraid of retaliation. I'm afraid my office will fire me. My office has created an unsafe environment for me, a person of color, to voice my concerns.
This is happening in Boston. Boston is one of the most racist cities in the USA. The level of systemic racism against BIPOC, especially black people is honestly disgusting. The second they get hired, they have the affirmative action label. Bullshit. Has any one ever considered that this person has qualified skills? Black Lives Matter. Not all lives matter until black lives matter. Shame on all those people who have ever passed on someone because they were BIPOC. Shame on you when you have doubts about someone because they are BIPOC. Shame on you when you see an image of someone, you identify their race first.
SHAME ON YOU.
For those of us that aren’t black or white, I see us fighting for and supporting the black community and it is absolutely our responsibility to do so – you know we’d be getting killed too if we weren’t perceived as easier to control or as good at playing nice.
Perhaps we have a luxury of not being the worst affected, while also not being the most complicit. But it’s our job to own up to our own privileges and biases and times where we let racism slide because it didn’t affect us directly. Where we just stayed quiet because its what’s been working for us so far or it’s what we were taught. Hammer and the nail and all that.
Listen to Black leaders and artists and activists and journalists. Watch the full 90 of the Lee Mun Wah doc. Donate to black run justice, community, bail, and medical organizations. Stay safe but join the protests and follow and listen to the black organizers of those protests. If you’re asked to stay peaceful, stay peaceful.
And after this, whenever that is, don’t stop. There’s plenty of racism directed towards us as well and we’ve got so many battles to go, but until black lives matter, none of ours will either. This note is as much for me as anyone else. -@dongpingwong
Architecture is volatile in regards to our own African cultures and representations. A thought that occurred to me just as I was entering high school. Before then, I was completely unaware that Africa even had its own architecture and was more of the understanding that architecture was from the white man. Hence, I focused more on French architecture due to its simplicity and beauty.
Due to conscious efforts from our teachers in school, I realized that our culture was dying slowly. I realized that the white man had so robbed us of our own ancient mindset that it was becoming completely discarded and due to this fact we became static and relentlessly unable to evolve. Ranging from our language to our dressing to our food.. everything we did were mere imitations of what the white man left us with and not with what our African ancestors had created.
Then I met Mrs. Nmadili Okwumabua who had been on this journey to recreate our environment with the methods, materials and language that was originally created by Africa itself. She made me understand that we’ve been silently robbed of the opportunity to understand what we are and who we are through our built environment. From the materials down to methods, from aesthetics down to suitability. We’ve been silent for far too long. It’s time to wake up. -@somto_martin
Telling you how disappointed I am by your silence regarding police brutality is pointless because you know that. Telling you how disappointed I am by the racism that remains rampant in your practices, schools and institutions is pointless because you know that. Telling you that I see through your fake public outcry with those shallow, lazy and porous social media posts is pointless because you know that.
You know and you have been well aware of the issues that black people in this country face. You know and have been well aware of the challenges black people in the architecture industry face. You know and have been well aware of the fact that black people only hold an inch of space in this mile long industry. You know and have been well aware of the racist foundations on which the architectural practice has been built and developed over the years. You know and have been complicit in the design and development of buildings upholding systemic racism.
Yet, you have kept on meeting deadlines for clients, winning prizes and championing some *community driven design*, unbothered. Today in the midst of a national unrest, you suddenly rush to express your *care* for black lives, from the keyboards of your all-white, non-black communications teams, your all-white with two blacks design teams.
You tell the world, *we fight racism*, thinking that you get an award for having a black receptionist but not a single black person in your leadership teams, among your faculties or leading the community projects your institutions collect millions of dollars for. You forget the numerous gaslighting, dismissal, overt discrimination and intimidation your firms, schools and institutions exert on black people who constantly have to prove their worth to you and swallow their frustrations by fear of retaliation.
You claim to be allies but you don’t offer space for black designers to share their experiences. You remain complicit, you remain unbothered. Until you do the right by the black people in your firms, schools and institutions, until you hire black people at higher positions, until you acknowledge and reject the processes rooted in white supremacy through which you go about running your businesses, and as long as you remain complicit by not addressing the racist ways through which your clients operate, no amount of posts, reposts or shares will matter to the black lives you pretend to care about.
Stop the hypocrisy, listen to black people.
In my time in architecture school at the University of Washington in Seattle, I remember being surprised that our cohort of 48 students was evenly split 50/50 male and female. It also felt quite diverse, we had Asians, Latinos, Europeans, Americans, older students, younger students, LGBTQ students, etc. But ZERO black students. None. And I always wondered why. I remember telling @micahblyckert about it back in the day and just being confused as to where they were. Did they not know about this profession? Was it not something they were interested in? Was Seattle just white AF? I felt very aware of the whiteness of Seattle having come from an international high school in Dubai where every single one of my friends was a different race.
Now I understand that the lack of Black students in the program was a result of systemic racism, and I will get into that shortly. At the time I felt like the main issue was exposure. Maybe Black kids weren’t as exposed to the idea that being an Architect or Interior Designer was a profession. Maybe their parents didn’t know much about it so how could they tell their kids about it?
At the first company I worked at in Seattle the office was 400 people, huge. It was very diverse since it was an international firm. A lot of our principles were people of color (although they were all men). However, of the 400 people I only recall two Black colleagues. Lots of white and Asian people but only two Black people. And we were by far the most diverse firm in Seattle, all the other firms were suuuuuuuuper white, which is one of the reasons I chose this one. So, in this case – that’s two Black architects who could potentially be parents and expose their kids to this profession.
And yes, you can be exposed to different professions through many ways, not just your parents. But if you think of life before the internet and social media, most people were only exposed to what was happening in their families and circles. No wonder for SO LONG this profession was dominated (and still is) by white men. The FIRST woman to win the Pritzker prize was Zaha Hadid in 2004. She was the only woman to ever reach Starchitect status and play with the big guys like OMA, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, etc. Then she passed away in 2016 at the young age of 65. The other dudes are still alive and well. I am still heart broken about the irony of it all.
SO, of course Black architects and designers are not well represented today if for hundreds of years they didn’t have access to this profession in the ways white men did. Not to mention, studying architecture is expensive. College is expensive as is, but then you add on studio fees, books, printing fees for the giant posters you have to present at final crits, model supplies, woodshop supplies, laser cutter or 3D printing fees, etc etc etc.
It makes it inaccessible to a whole demographic of people who can hardly afford college as is, thus perpetuating the upper/ middle class whiteness we see in the field today.
If we’re going to make our profession more diverse, we need to work on exposure and funding. More outreach programs for schools so kids can discover what’s possible, and more funding for programs or scholarships so they can actually afford to study it.
Personally I have been brainstorming how to do outreach programs using my own Studio, contacts and resources. I still have a lot to learn and understand about systemic racism and its many layers, but what I do know is how important education is. That’s where it all starts. You might be thinking, why is it important to have Black people, people of color or any minorities in the profession of Architecture & Design? It’s just another field of work, not something with a huge impact on laws and systems like politics.
Because, Architects and Interior Designers create the environments we LIVE AND WORK IN. It is an INSTITUTION in itself. The spaces we spend our time in deeply affect the quality of our lives whether we realize it consciously or not. For hundreds of years white men have been designing those spaces. Spaces we still occupy today.
I don’t want to go all Arch history nerd, but some of the city planning ideas proposed by the most celebrated white male architects in history were truly insane. They were steeped in Western ideals and a colonial mindset, and imposed on African or Asian cities as if they were their own. -@studiocadiz.co
Growing up being around my dad and his colleagues I saw architects & designers of all races. However they weren’t always treated the same. My dad who is the founder and CEO of an international, award winning Architecture firm based in Manila and Dubai OFTEN got mistaken for the “help” at big meetings and him and his team were even escorted through the back way many times, not the front of the building. That’s just one anecdote of many obstacles he encountered in being taken seriously as a person of color in this field.
The Western (aka white) firms were always put on a pedestal and taken more seriously by international clients because they assumed they were “sophisticated” whereas my dad’s Filipino firm was often seen as “second class” – more of the budget option even though their work is just as good if not better. There were many instances where the client hired a western firm and my dad’s firm to collaborate. I remember a specific time when the western firm dropped the ball, while my dad and his team picked up the slack. But the client kept them on the team because they wanted the “name” of that company on their project.
The preference for whiteness, in whatever form it takes is not just an American phenomenon. It spans the entire world and I’ve seen it first hand growing up in five countries. It’s not only white people preferring whiteness or western ideals, it seeps into brown cultures as well, especially those who were colonized and have a deep history of it. - @studiocadiz.co
It did not go unnoticed by me on my first day of work out of school that every single person in my ~50 person office was white, including myself. It was a delight that there were so many women, like myself, but a bit of a shock that there was so little diversity. I still appreciated this job and the energy of the people I was getting to work with.
That summer, we had a student intern who was black. She was quiet and kind, funny if you could get her talking. Because I was new and young, I worked to befriend her the best I could - I felt most comfortable getting to know someone closer to my age who was just as fresh to the working world as myself. Having gotten to know her pretty well, it was clear she fit into the culture of the office and would have been a great hire after she graduated.
Toward the end of the summer, she and I were talking in the break room and I asked her if she planned to come back to this town after graduation. She hesitated and said maybe, that she didn't know, that she might move to a bigger city. I asked if she did come back, would she want to work in our office. She told me outright that she didn't feel comfortable doing so because she didn't want to be the only black person in an office of white people.
It was eye-opening to me. I knew we had work to do at our office, but I think I had previously assumed that work was as simple as hiring more minority architects. It didn't click for me until that moment how alienating the entire profession could be to people of color. Years later, we still have a minuscule percentage of minority designers and we still regularly hire white people. It is my hope we as an office do better, we as a profession do better, and we as mentors and educators do better.
Unfortunately, I believe no significant change will come from this moment. Not protests, nor reforms, not new management, policies, slogans or logos will end the unjustified killing of Black and Brown bodies in America. Europe and the Americas were built on the exploitation of free labor, and that debt has not been paid. The power gained from this theft, and subsequent atrocities, is engrained into our country's founding and codified into law. This power is subtlety and often violently enforced by the racial majority, who are the primary beneficiaries of inaction.
I believe lasting change will come from a robust national reconciliation, reparations and integration program. Reconciliation begins to close the wounds caused by present and past trauma. Reparations acknowledges the theft of wealth and livelihood. And integration cannot be limited to public spaces. Integration must occur in our subdivisions, board rooms, city councils and beyond. Over time, the restitution to descendants and integration of people would create new paradigms of once disdained communities. A more equitable society would be realized. Simply put, Black people would be more able to build wealth. We’d be more able explore life and business opportunities. The property value of our spaces would increase. Crime would reduce. And ultimately, cities would have less of an excuse to encamp police officers in communities of color to “quell” the threat that is our existence. Reconciliation, reparations, integration… This is what it will require to stop the killings. To quote Jon Stewart, “you can’t argue for equity from a subservient position”. Corrections of past and current injustices and fair governing systems will allow us the freedom that the Constitution promises.
But the above stated path is a hard one. The racial majority and current power holders must be convinced that their potential personal sacrifice, via taxes, space and influence, will be beneficial to their lives. And I don’t think Americans have the constitution to do the required work. I believe we’re mostly good people, but even the good have and will continue to defend the status quo. The existence of this platform is proof that merely speaking of these issues is taboo or radical.
But I hope that I’m just jaded by a life lived as a Black American, and this spark, this martyr, will lead to something more.
Thank you for taking a moment to read this. May God bless us all.
I’m sure in my 29 years I’ve racked up more than a few stories, but not nearly as many as say my boyfriend, my uncles, my brother or even my father. The story that comes to mind first though, when I think of architecture, is one that I still find bothers me when a colleague innocently asks for me to print, or take notes, or write their emails.
It was on my first field visit at my first real Architecture job in the city; I dressed in my very best take-me-seriously-because-I-worked-my-butt-off-for-this-moment blazer, grown-up lipstick and hard-toe boots outfit. I mustered confidence as I entered the lobby of the Park Ave office project with the well respected, Armenian (I think) but white-looking (this matters) Principal Architect of the firm co-owned by his Interior Designer wife. At this early point in my career I had managed to work my way up to being the boss’ right-hand. So that day of the site visit, standing in front of the elevators, when the Contractors walked up and said, “Hey [Principal], your wife let you have such a pretty secretary?”
I felt all known words drain right through the soles of my feet. My boss stood up for me - more than that, he saved me from a situation I couldn’t save myself in and I don’t know if he ever knew how that moment elevated me. I don’t know if he ever understood that my race and sex had everything to do with what happened at that elevator. He looked beyond me to the far left, them at me, and then at the contractors. He responded sharply, “Who [Her], are you crazy, she is my Architect”.
I think it’s difficult because anything you say passionately and honestly will be considered angry. You’ll just be an angry black female or an angry black male. I know for my job position it’s important to be nice, sweet, mild mannered etc. How you’re feeling is not only irrelevant in most cases but not even considered. While this hasn’t been my experience at my current office, I have worked in corporate settings when things like this have come up and I had to go to work and smile through it because I know it was on no one else’s mind but mine.
At this point, in this time we’re in right now, I find myself not caring about being perceived as angry because that’s exactly what I am. My son will be 20 years old. I look at how intelligent and strong minded he is and I’m worried DAY and NIGHT because now he doesn’t even have to do anything, just his presence upsets some so much that they want to hurt him. This president and the direction that this country is going in has me BEYOND ANGRY and not just for my son but for myself and all of us. I’m so thankful that we’re having this movement while we are working from home because I honestly don’t know how I would be in the office at this time.
There's a white male in a leadership position in our office that only works with other young white men. These young white men then often get promotions, raises and are on the fast track to success. We all see it but no one talks about it, and the systems are in place to continue allowing this to happen.
These young white men will then become our new leaders and the cycle goes on all over again.
In effort to spark the “uncomfortable” race conversation in my office…This morning, I (a white female) sent an email out to my colleagues, that contained information and links to events that address systemic racial inequality and its impact on architects and architecture. It went completely unacknowledged. I then took it a step further in a meeting later in the afternoon and made a comment about one of our presentations, that perhaps we could pay closer attention to our choice of imagery and select images that reflect a more diverse and inclusive culture. Again, I'm not sure my comment was entirely understood. There was an uncomfortable silence... certainly uncomfortable for me.
In this effort to take immediate action, I can’t help but reflect upon the fear/discomfort I felt sending the email… Had the information been related to sustainability or healthcare, I’d not think twice about sending the information, but because the issue of racial justice and inequality has, until now, been deemed taboo or a subjective political opinion by so much of white America, it feels frightening to me to potentially open myself up to scrutiny.
At this point in my career, sliding into mid-level management, I’m definitely in a position with enough influence to affect change, at the very least within myself and the people I work with. In truth, I work with a wonderful group of professionals who are all well intentioned and excellent mentors that I have the upmost respect for. I have no concrete assessment or opinion as to the level of racism or lackthereof that may or may not exist within my office culture. Judging from my own reluctance to even spark a conversation about race / I certainly have to look at my own level of complicity - remaining silent in a “that’s just how it is” culture that denies racism even exists and that to suggest such a thing would be inappropriate office conversation, certainly unprofessional. Or at least, that’s how I feel.
Now, it seems my fear of speaking out has been surpassed by my fear that nothing will change. And we must change. We have to do better. I have to do better!
I guess I’m just here, like so many others, trying to unpack my own cultural conditioning one uncomfortable communication at a time. It’s clear to me that there’s a long, emotional road ahead but I know in my heart it’s non-negotiable work that absolutely must be done NOW. Thank you so much for giving me a safe space to share my story.
I have never thought about my skin color and my privileges that come with it until I moved to the States. There were few factors for that, mainly coming from a Muslim - Middle Eastern country, we had bunch of extreme issues (such as rape, honor killings and lack of women rights) that as a woman I needed to fight against to survive. The irony is, I chose to run away from my country, from the oppression or possibly being killed just because of my gender and came to the States. Because this country was supposed to be "free". It's supposed to be a "melting pot", right?
It took me few years to understand that was not the case at all. I started to pay more attention to American politics to understand how this constitution works. I still struggled. Nothing made sense; the continuous violation of basic human rights against minorities, caging kids and immigrants, constant police killings of African-American community. However, I realized that I made a mistake. Instead of trying to understand the corrupted government structure, I should have started from the beginning. The history of how America was made. America was built from the blood, sweat and tears of people of color. I still have a lot of learning to do. But, as a Muslim minority, I have to do my part in this fight against systematic racism.
When I was an architecture student, I wanted to explore how intersectionality and design could work together to develop a series of strategies for a more inclusive community. I brought this topic to my instructor, who was a woman that was interested in these social topics. She welcomed discussion on it, and I felt encouraged and safe to speak out as a minority. My site analysis looked at one of the trendy neighbourhoods in our city which has a reputation for being 'inclusive' but I wanted to challenge this definition of 'inclusion' as it didn't reflect true integration of diversity.
A lot of people who live and visited the area were often white and upper middle class, and as someone who did not fit this criteria, there were not a lot of options or representations of the kind of food I ate, activities I enjoyed, or things that were affordable in the area despite being known as an 'inclusive community that welcomes everyone from all walks of life'. Now this community was not overtly exclusive, but it was complicit in systemic exclusion and oppression. This was a walkable community, but only for those who could afford to live here.
Growing up in a family of immigrants, we lived (like many others), on the edges of the city. We always had to drive everywhere or take transit. We never had many amenities around. There's not a lot of mixed-income and mixed-use neighbourhoods here. Large highways often divided us from other amenities, parks, local businesses. It took time and gas money, which were always a big deal growing up as we lived on minimum wage. This alone already worked against less advantaged people, while people who had much more income and power could save money on gas, not have to sacrifice time to take transit, and walk to a larger variety of businesses and amenities that would improve their quality of life.
This was the basis of my analysis and it was something I wanted to explore. However my professor had to leave, and her replacement who came in was a white man. I was hesitant to share my work now because his demographic was part of my site analysis critique, and I wasn't sure if he would take it personally. I tried anyway. I mustered up the courage, explained my project, and I was shut down. I was not encouraged to explore 'inclusivity'. Instead I was repeatedly asked why I was racist, and why I hated white men, and that this was a ridiculous idea. He sighed every time it was my turn to talk, or would roll his eyes. I was shut down. I felt stupid and discouraged. Of course not all white people are bad, but what I was trying to convey was systemic oppression is something everyone takes part in, and as a minority, it is even more difficult for me to speak up against someone who wields more authority and power over me, despite this being a critical issue.
I took time off from school after this. I was always a good student, had straight A's, had a stellar semester beforehand... it was extremely uncomfortable to speak with him each time and I knew he never took me seriously and I changed my whole project that semester. I felt I became stigmatized as everyone in my cohort thought I was a stupid designer... but this wasn't true. I came back to school the following year to finish my degree, and had straight A's or A-'s in my courses. Clearly I had valuable insights and skills I could utilize professionally. I even won scholarships. All this was reaffirming, but I'll never forget the pain and fear I felt against speaking up. It still scars me today.
In light of the protests now, I hope he remembers our conversations. There is more discussion on systemic racism now and people are taking time to listen. Systemic racism is much more embedded, subconscious, and less overt than how most people traditionally think of racism. Systemic racism is when the same people in power continue to deny and refute minority's experiences because they have never experienced it themselves. I am more encouraged that people are willing to listen and have these uncomfortable conversations. They're needed. I tried to have them many years ago, and it was difficult. I've had them with my friends as well, and they were not on board at the time but things are changing. More voices are speaking, more ears are listening. While there is a lot of work to do, I am hopeful that more change can emerge from this, and people can be included meaningfully, not just for the sake of filling a 'diverse quota', but to share, contribute, and actively participate as people with meaningful insights that can really impact designs that shape our built environment.
When leaving our office one day to go to our construction site to discuss a turbulent matter, a well intentioned co-worker said “make sure that ___ goes with you, you need a white haired man on your side”. (In hindsight, maybe he just meant "white man"). At the time I thought nothing of it, but when I got to our meeting I looked around at the table of owners, architects and contractors. Of our 15 team members, 11 were white men, 2 men of color, 1 white woman... and 1 woman of color (me).
We worked together for months but I noticed that some members wouldn’t address me, copy me on emails or listen when I spoke even though I was the main representative and point of contact for my company. I’m not sure if it’s gender or race that has diminished the value of my contributions but I have to work twice as hard and still may never earn their respect. It’s exhausting.
This injustice has been going on way to long. I grew up taught to be afraid of white police and white people in general. My parents always told me it’s too soon to trust them because they still don’t see us as real people. The system is designed to keep us enslaved and broken. As a child hearing this from my parents I couldn’t believe it! Why would people hate us just because of the color of our skin. I didn’t understand it. Part of me didn’t want to believe it because when you are a child you just see good and bad, not color.
At least that’s what I thought but then the ugly truth came at the age of 13. One day my cousins and I went bike riding in Phenix city Alabama. It started to get dark after playing with other kids in the neighborhood we decided to go back home. As we stopped at the corner of street to cross the road with our bikes, a red truck with five or six white boys pulled up to the light. They started to call out to me and my cousins, “Hey n**** boys! Ain’t is past your bed time!”. Me and one of my other cousin were the oldest out of the three of us. We looked at each other and knew not to say anything so we could just go home. Our youngest cousin replied back to them saying, “Ain’t it past your bed time!”
Then, the reality of the world came crashing in at that moment. The white boys then said, “We are going to hang you n****s to night. They then ran the red light and turn the car around in the middle of the road. We began to bike so fast because we knew if they caught us we would DIE! We had to bike to a nearby school as the truck was chasing us. Once on school grounds we hide in parts of the school where the truck couldn’t reach us. But we could still hear the white boys screaming out, “We going to kill you n****s!”. At this moment my youngest cousin started crying. I had to hold my hand over his mouth to keep him silent. I felt like we were going to die that day. I felt this sickness in my stomach and my head felt dizzy. “Am I going to die here right now. I need to protect my cousins but how? Why is this happening to us! Where is my mom! I want my mom! I don’t want to die here please!” All these thoughts rushing in my mind as the sound of the truck going back and forth on the school grounds gets louder.
Finally, a moment of silence was in the air and we couldn’t hear the truck or the boys. We quickly got on our bikes and went to the very first house we could find to call our grandmother who’s house we were at before we stupidly went outside to play that day. The lady opened the door and said, “It’s very late, what do you want?” She could look at us and tell in that moment we needed help, something anything. She let us use her phone to call our grandmother and GOD blessed us because a cop was driving by. We then talked to him to see if he could follow us home and, in that moment, we saw the white boys drive by looking straight at us. We were saved! When we got home our grandmother was crying and cussing us out the whole time saying “ I told yall to never stay out past dark, these people only see one thing and that is your skin. They could have killed you. Yall could have died and no one would have arrested them for it.” All this being said to us as she was crying and holding us.
THE SMILE BEGINS
Fast forward several years later. I am a young man finally going to college. Super excited and top of my class with a 3.9 GPA (Well really 3.85 but I like to round up) coming out of high school. I didn’t do so great on my SAT and ACT test scores, but I was blessed to find a small college that accepted me with a full scholarship. My goal was to go to this college and transfer into a college in Atlanta. Either G-tech or SPSU. I was focused and so happy during those times. The pain of my past and memories seem to be almost gone now.
Soon word around the campus spread about me and my perfect grades. I was once again top of my class and I was taking 9 class per semester. I had to put in a special request with the school board to get that many classes. I had a goal to get out of that school in two years to start my life as an architect. Everything was going great.
Finally, I had one more semester left, and my grades were about to come out soon. I’m feeling great and it is almost Christmas. As part of my scholarship I had to volunteer about 60 hours per semester. I was short on some hours, so I offered to help with the school’s Christmas party coming up. During the setup of the party the Dean of the whole school approached me. The few people in the room went to go get more boxes for the party. The Dean asked me my name, and in my mind, I was like “The Dean wants to know my name, this is great!”. I told him, “My name is ********, what is yours?” The Dean said to me, “Hmm. I have heard of you. I didn’t know that was you making those great grades here. Well my name is ****** but I don’t like your name. I’m going to call you TOM. TOM go fetch that water for me.” In that moment, so much anger and hate came into my mind. It was like all my painful memories came back just rushing through my head. Why is this happening to me? Why are people like this to me? I couldn’t take it the rage was taking over! I wanted to fight back and say I’m tired of this! But as I balled my fist up to hit him, I saw him smile and, in that moment, I heard my step dad’s voice say, “THIS IS WHAT HE WANTS”. I then unbaled my fist and said, “My name is GIOVONNI REESE. MY name is not TOM but I will go get that water for you sir and then I’m going home.” I looked at him and smiled so hard even though I was holding back the pain, the disgust because I wanted to do something. I want to fight but I knew if I did the life I wanted would be over. His smile then became a frown and that’s how I knew I had won.
I went home and cried that night as I broke things in my room because I just wanted to feel something to make the pain go away. It was like a spiritual connection was sent out because my mom called me in that moment. I told her everything and that’s when the hiding behind the smile began.
Moving forward the Dean made my life very hard that my grades that semester somehow dropped almost a letter grade. Teachers seem to have misplaced some of my assignments I had turned in and gave me points off of things that were stupid.
The Dean was trying to break me, and my dreams and he had the power to do it.
I had to smile and come up with ways to get my assignments graded fairly the next semester, so I could transfer. I came up with a study group in my dorm where I let people cheat off of my work. By doing this I would compare my homework grades to theirs. It was so sad that I had to do this just to get the grades I worked hard for. I had one assignment were the other people who copied my work word for word made a 92 but somehow I got a 76 ( I just know it was 2 letter grade difference). I then had to go to the teaches with the others grades to fight to get the same grade.
This started working for some time but then dean made the students coming to my study group. I was once again on my own. Finally, a great person on the staff saw what was happening and helped me fight for my grades on my behave. I will never forget this woman’s kindness. I once again was on the Dean’s list at Andrew College and I finally got accepted into SPSU for the school of Architecture.
Every semester the Dean hosts a Dean’s list dinner at his house ( Right next to the campus he stays in a old slave house. The main town square has the old trees they killed black people in. It’s a land mark for the town which is just sick) For some reason I wasn’t invite ( I wonder why). A group of friends who made the Dean’s list because of me told me about it so I came just to make him upset that he didn’t win. That I played your game and won this time ( Some many people are not as lucky as I was). It was the best feeling in the world to know that I was about to leave this hell hole and I wanted to look him in his face just to see him upset that he didn’t win. Which kept a smile on my face.
My closing statements:
I wish one day soon I don’t have to hide behind this smile like most people do every day just to survive. We live in a great beautiful world and no one should feel unsafe because of the color of their skin. We are all beautiful human beings and to this day I still am judged because of my skin. I was pulled over 3 months ago by five cops and thought I stole my own car. Once again, I had to smile and beg them to let me go. This happens all around the world and it really makes me feel like why should I bring a child into this world just teach them how to smile so they don’t get killed.
I am blessed to have the life that I have and blessed to be great people around me. I have so many stories to tell as do many other people so please hear them. - Giovanni R. @Libra_arc_atm
This will trend for a while and then people will forget about it again. I am afraid that there will not be real, enduring change.
I've had a lot of awkward conversations over the past week, mostly with well intentioned people. The thing that really gets to me though, is the people that you think are more than just "co-workers" that haven't said a single word, or even acknowledged what the hell is going on around us. I'm ok with you putting your foot in your mouth, but I can't tolerate you not opening your mouth at all. Your comfort is no longer my concern. Taking names...
After all the protests, rioting and outrage not a person on my team has uttered a word of acknowledgement. I've heard longer conversations about the weather. How are we operating as if this is business as usual?