As a young Black man growing up in today’s America, facing adversity has inevitably been the norm for my everyday life. Allow me to share my experiences of dealing with the challenges of inclusion and empathy, and my hopes for where we can go from here.
Ever since I was born, my family and I were always on the move, relocating from state to state as my parents juggled the task of working tirelessly to advance their careers, all the while trying to give their four children every opportunity to succeed. They were building what most would consider to be the quintessential American Dream. In just 24 years of life, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in seven states which opened my eyes to the beauty of humanity and the importance of diverse perspectives.
As a kid, sometimes moving felt like a burden—especially when we moved to communities where people of color were underrepresented. But in hindsight, one lasting positive impact is that at an early age, life forced me to quickly learn the intricacies of people and adjusted my attitude to ensure empathy was present in every new relationship I made. This acquired skill has become a core part of my personality and served me well.
I live my life in constant search of “intentional serendipity,” which, when blended with my interactions growing up in a wide array of cultures, has helped me understand the impact that a lack of representation has on cultural awareness. My experiences growing up as often the only kid of color in my class or on my sports teams reinforced to me the value of diverse teams in professional settings and inclusive classrooms. I saw firsthand why as a society we struggle to coexist. In a world where the news is fueled by headlines and “trigger words” often elicit heated discussions—and sometimes activism. I’ve also seen white people and others who don’t self-identify as Black make the cognitive decision to blind themselves from the bigger picture of racial injustice. Even the phrase “diversity & inclusion” itself can be one of those triggers depending on the situation: How can you possibly have a worthwhile discussion about D&I in a room full of sameness?
As one of few Black people in every situation (school, sports, etc.), I often questioned how I could expect my peers to empathize with my culture and life experiences if all of theirs were similar? I’ll share with you every day micro-aggressions that cause frustration as well as more severe racial profiling that occur in the places I’ve lived that could have been mitigated with diverse representation and inclusive education:
- People wanting to talk about and touch my hair.
- People being drawn back by how “well-spoken” I am.
- Being told I look like ____ celebrity or athlete despite no real resemblance other than having the same skin complexion.
- Being detained and having to prove to law enforcement that I am not the person they’re looking for just because I fit the description of their suspect. That fit only being the fact that I am Black.
- Having to tell officers my level of education and what I do for a living before they entertain having a civil conversation.
Sadly, the list goes on and on.
With all this in mind, every day I wake up and am forced to assume two identities:
1. Drake Brown, to those who know and see me for who I am.
2. Another Black man part of a larger demographic of humans perceived as a threat, to an ignorant society whose view often stems from living in a monoculture or due their hesitancy to step out of their comfort zone.
This bifurcated way of existing illustrates the importance of diverse representation in every setting as it gives people an opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the world around them and encourages us as human beings to wrestle with the challenges and experiences of marginalized groups.
So how do we solve this challenge of systemic racism? While I’ll be the first to tell you there’s no concrete solution, there are tangible steps that civilians, members of government and law enforcement can take to enact change. Let me share a few I would like to see:
1. Encourage people to be curious and increase their willingness to build relationships with people who neither identify as the same race/ethnicity nor share similar interests.
2. Ensure all rooms where critical decisions are made are representative of all.
3. Hold education systems accountable for creating inclusive classrooms and hold educators accountable for teaching a curriculum that includes the stories of all people in its materials.
4. Hold members of law enforcement, particularly in the United States, to higher standards by reconstructing the entrance credentials. These positions also need to be more competitive, which in turn will make them more desirable among applicants. Those who are hired to protect and serve need to be passionate about caring for humanity; not just looking for a job.
2020 helped bring many of the issues people in minority communities face on a daily basis to the surface and highlighted the inequality and injustice that still pervades in the United States and even around the world. It’s up to all of us as a society to not put our problems behind us, but rather act on them with intention.