Of the many triggers that Black Americans have, I didn’t realize “business as usual” would join a long list so soon.
As the domestic terrorist attacks unfolded on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC, my thoughts turned to my family, my friends and my work.
At home, on the outskirts of D.C., our neighbors quickly mobilized, coordinating to ensure that we were all aware and prepared. Living in a predominantly Black, upper-middle-class neighborhood, we went into protection mode, flashes of a potential Black Wall Street-like devastation sending shivers down our spine. How could we not with how emboldened these white supremacists were, not just at our nation’s capital, but inside the Capitol building. We were witnessing an insurrection, unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
Our home was quickly becoming a shelter for terrorized friends who lived in the city, and were fleeing for their own safety. And while their safety was our first priority, all of this was still happening during a pandemic. Our anxiety was sky high with the possible health exposures to our family. At a local Walmart, white supremacists harassed those standing in line, calling them “sheep” for wearing masks, and lurking around. As we connected with other friends whose family members serve in federal law enforcement, the same message resonated back: they were paralyzed with fear.
But, perhaps I was most shocked when I turned to social media. On one of the industry pages I belong to was a conversation occurring about how financial advisors should continue to keep the long view, not be distracted by the current events, turn off the TV and keep it “business as usual.”
This was not business as usual.
A Business as Usual Mantra Screams White Privilege
While focusing on work is an understandable coping mechanism for many, there is a clear disconnect between what I witnessed from white America, via this group of financial advisors, and the reality of the situation.
Best-selling author of The Memo, Minda Harts, hit the nail on the head on Twitter: “I go hard for WOC & Black women in the workplace because we have to work w/ people who stormed the capitol. Many are our managers and leaders, and those who weren't there donate money. These are the same people who you try and say don't mean any harm when we tell you it's racism.”
Let that sink in.
Racism has so many layers, as America is waking up to. It is not just propagated through overt hate speech and violence in person and online, it is institutionalized in the many policies that shape our education, access to health care and ability to build a life ... to achieve the American Dream.
While many advisors were talking about providing continuity for their clients by refusing to be sidetracked by the current events, few acknowledged that exhibiting emotional intelligence is actually a key tenant in preserving these business relationships, particularly those clients of color.
At its core, business as usual is a liberty enjoyed by white Americans.
Waking Up to the Reality of Two Americas
The comparison between the Capitol Hill riots and the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer echoed with a harsh double-standard. Many thought aloud and in private, why was the government so slow to send help, so placid in its response to the violence and discretion of the Capitol building?
As Black American culture bore the responsibility for any damage from a BLM rally, why were these riots being compartmentalized to only one group of white Americans? How does the Trump culture take responsibility for this? How does this reflect on the white race as a whole? And, how do we hold them accountable?
Shannon Sharpe, co-host of Skip and Shannon: Undisputed on Fox Sports 1 with Skip Bayless put it bluntly, “If you’re not going to treat white America like you treat Black America, can you treat Black America like you treat white America?”
This is white America's problem to own and solve.
The opportunity is tremendous to leaders in financial services. Even better, it can start with financial advisors themselves.
Emphasizing Emotional Intelligence in Financial Services
Like many financial advisors of color, I’m tired of being one of the few wearing the cape of promoting diversity, equity and inclusivity in the workplace.
As I like to share in my podcast platform, 2050 TrailBlazers, “By the year 2050, the majority of the United States population will be comprised of minority groups. This country is a big, beautiful melting pot-—but the financial planning industry isn’t a very good reflection of our rich and diverse population. Conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion have been happening in the industry. Entire panels have been formed! But we’re still struggling to find solutions for building a more inclusive profession.”
Our future clients will be more diverse than ever before. We must listen to their needs, understand their backgrounds and be able to empathize with their struggles in order to move the profession forward. America is no longer a “melting pot” where immigrants, and first-generation Americans are expected to assimilate; no, America is a mosaic where we must appreciate and accept various cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds.
I am a financial services professional, and candidate for wealth management services myself. And, I am not OK.
As the mother of a Black son, I am triggered anytime George Floyd’s name is discussed. I cannot just turn off the TV. Those images are not erased from my mind. People see my son as such a beautiful baby boy, but at one point in his life will he transition from innocent child to a threat to America? Studies like this one from the American Psychological Association show this could be as soon as the age of 10; Tamir Rice was 12.
As we usher in the Biden-Harris administration, let’s treat our clients and colleagues with the respect and emotional intelligence they deserve and we are worthy of upholding.
I cannot hold the world accountable, however, for the place I call home—my profession—I would like to feel safe. I would like for those who look like me to feel safe as well.
It’s time for our white colleagues to help us toe the line through conversation, acknowledgement and making our actions speak louder than our words. Black and brown professionals are tired.
These times are certainly not, business as usual.