Black History Month: Reflecting On a Year of Learning and Unlearning
In honor of Black History Month, we asked members of our Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG)—an internal team which helps OBE find meaningful ways to be inclusive and transparent—to share their reflections on the past year. DIG meets monthly to reflect on organizational goals, best practices, and current events that lend a lens to both professional and personal growth. Dr. Beth Hopkins, professor of law from Wake Forest University, who recently spoke to OBE about pivotal female pioneers in Black History, said it best when she asked, “How are you going to plan for your future if you don’t know the past?” It is with this mind that members of DIG share insights into what they’ve personally learned and unlearned about racial equality in the past 12 months. Below is a collection of their responses:
David Hopkins – Account Manager
Learned - HISTORY. When will we learn that history is our tool to push us towards the future? We all have been fortunate to be educated in some form throughout our lives, but history seems to be the one area where we shortchange ourselves. As we have seen over the past few years, many of our bad habits have re-emerged in forms that history has proven will lead to severe consequences. At what point do we examine our history so that we avoid repeating parts of it? I learned that it is our time to truly learn all of our history so that we can not only move forward in a better manner but have a better appreciation for the DNA of our country.
Katie Schray – Technical Producer
My learnings and unlearnings have been tied together, because a lot of what I’ve been learning about Black history requires unlearning and reframing what I was taught in school. We’re talking about people who shaped history, and yet the way their stories and experiences have historically been framed and taught is through the lens of the (white) majority. MLK didn’t just “have a dream,” and everyone loved the speech and lived happily ever after. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the OG rock ‘n roll artist, not Elvis… there are many unrecognized Black people whose contributions have changed the world for the better, and it’s way past time that their stories are widely known and celebrated, beyond the month of February. This month, one of the people I learned about for the first time was Selma Burke, who was an American sculptor in the Harlem Renaissance and did a portrait of Roosevelt that was adapted and featured on the dime, and yet the Chief Engraver of the Mint denied that he was influenced by her work.
Jeff Yang – Director of Technology
For me it is less about what I've learned vs. where I’ve tried to put my energy. And this past year I have focused my energy on ensuring we always have diverse perspectives in our work.
Ariel Wilchek - Creative Director
W.E.B. Dubois described a “double-consciousness” that many African Americans are forced to confront. He describes this as, “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” With great resolve, he goes on to describe how he would neither “Africanize America” nor “bleach his Negro soul,” to further explain these dueling forces. This theme appears frequently in history and remains in our current consciousness. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. In fact, it calls us all to go deeper. To understand the subtleties of assimilation, racism and bias, and to simultaneously see each individual for their beautiful dualities, lived experiences and inherent uniqueness.
Unlearned: That being “not racist” was enough. It was naïve to think so. It stunted our growth.
Learned: We must be vehemently antiracist, and there is a seismic difference. It is required for progress.
Syreeta Stafford - Senior Production Manager
Learned - the power of forgiveness. Over the past year, through all of the unrest, injustice and brutality, forgivingness was a tough task/ask. I came to understand that forgiveness is a healer for me (the forgiver), not for the offender. I've been offended by our government, by the lack of respect and care for Black lives, and by the consistent display and acceptance of hatred! OFFENDED! But holding a grudge, carrying the anger and reciprocating the hate doesn't resolve the pain. The space that it takes up in my mind, heart and even actions is a reflection of me and my character. So, I've learned to forgive so I can be whole. This quote from Kimberly Jones resonates with me, "And they are lucky that what Black people are looking for is Equality and not revenge."
Unlearned - I honestly wish I could "unlearn" the falsified history that I was taught in school—education which glorified certain people and minimized MY history. Much of my education of the TRUE Black experience and contributions have come during my adult years and personal research.
"Eeya, I can't forget my history is her story, yeah" Beyoncé
Catarina Guimares – Associate Design Director
I learned how imperative it is to create a safe space, inside and outside of work, for Black colleagues and friends to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and reactions to situations.