Another sleepless night. The events of recent days and the agony of being forced indoors by the pandemic are having a cumulative effect on my emotions. I am treading water through waves of sadness, anger, frustration, and most importantly, shame.
Shame on me for being so involved in my own petty little problems to not pay attention to a bigger problem in society. Shame on me for shirking the moral responsibility to be more focused on inequality and injustice. Shame on us that we are so easily mocked by the Chinese propaganda machine.
I feel shame for my country — not the country of my birth, but the country of my love and my life. America is an opt-in for all of us who hope for a better future. It is the idea that a nobody can become a somebody. When I became an American citizen, I wrote:
In an immigrant’s heart, it is a belief that the future is almost always better. It may not be perfect and it is certainly not equal, but it still is one of a kind — the only place where an absolute stranger with a funny name and a funny accent with no friends or contacts can show up, work hard and actually get to do what he was destined to do.
I became a citizen in a swearing-in ceremony at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California. If I had been a better person, I would have looked around that same theater and realized that the dream I had wasn’t really an option for many of my fellow citizens.
“What causes the eruptions, the riots, the revolts — whatever you want to call them — is the despair of being in a static position, absolutely static, of watching your father, your brother, your uncle, or your cousin — no matter how old the black cat is or how young — who has no future,” said James Baldwin, in an interview with Esquire magazine in 1968. Nothing really has changed.
We have not been listening for all these years. We don’t listen when a person who is not of privilege says something that makes us uncomfortable. We don’t listen when a person of color suddenly starts to talk about how they feel. We don’t listen when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee. We mock him, destroy his career, and move on after the news cycle is over. We don’t listen, and we don’t ask, “Why?”
Why is he willing to risk it all? Why do we not listen? Why do we have to wait for video evidence of yet another person being choked to death by law enforcement? Why do we have to wait for Americans to die before we say something clear and true? Black Lives Matter.
Today, conversations are finally beginning about investing in black founders. It is no different than the conversations about investing in female founders and female representation in venture firms and boards of companies. Why is it that we don’t do these things when no one is looking? Why is that we need collective shame as a nation to do something?
It is because we don’t listen. If we did, we would have to acknowledge our shame.
June 3, 2020. San Francisco
Recommended Reading: Why we don’t learn from history. [Ben Carlson]