Normalizing Failure

9 Oct

I think you sense a theme here 🙂 My partner once told me that he filters the associates he wants to work with by seeing if they’re the type to run towards a fire or run away from it. Well I know that I’m the kind to run full speed towards the fire, take my sweater and beat the shit out of the fire in order to put it out. Call that what you will, but what you can’t call me is someone who would run away from a challenge. Or the possibility of failure.

I had the joy of being a guest speaker on Scott Hanselman’s podcast where we chatted for <1/2 an hour on Normalizing Failure. I humbly believe that you will relate and find it refreshing.

Con mucho amor, much love, all the time:

– Susana AKA Miss Chingona, La Mera Mera, La Coder, La Honey, La que / the one that will always keep it real with you. I hope you enjoy!

10 Things to Manage Stress

2 Oct

How to manage your workload and goals amidst a pandemic

The pandemic and shelter in place orders have been a massive stressor on all of us. Personally, this Spring I was carrying 20 engineering units at Stanford while caring for my 4yo and helping my two teenage kids with their sudden online learning. This Summer I started a new job, moved back to LA from the Bay Area, had to find schools and register my kids, and experienced remote work for the first time. These stressors have a compounding effect as it adds to stress you already had.

Needless to say I was stressed. Stressed to excel at work while managing all of my parenting responsibilities. Stressed by the move (we did it all ourselves to minimize contact). Stressed to find a new doctor and therapists. Stressed about dental work I had to get done.

Stressed, stressed, stressed!

gif of SpongeBob SquarePants stressed out

Stress caused weight gain, troubled sleep, difficulty unplugging from work, and it made my memory and recall slower, short temper, and a constant feeling of no matter what I do, I feel like it’s not enough.

Stepping Back and Assessing Your Situation

My brain felt cluttered, unorganized, and slow. I felt like I was at risk of burnout. I finally asked myself, what do you feel? I made space for those feelings which allowed me to approach the issue with some distance and curiosity. I then wondered, why was I living like this?

I realized that I have lived under extreme stress my entire life. Since my childhood, to being a single mom of two, to working at high pressure companies, to studying CS at Stanford – it has been nonstop go go go. This made me realize that some of my stress was self-induced. I was working at capacity needlessly. I had to adapt to my new situation and find my sense of agency. I pushed back on meetings, delegated work, reassessed timelines, and most importantly I was kind to myself. At night I tell myself, “Yes you’re right, you have a lot do do. You also accomplished a lot, just look at your checklist!” This allows me to reframe the panic in my brain to a gentle self-assurance that I will get to it tomorrow.

Structure & Routine For Ambiguity

Reflecting on what was on my plate made me realize that I had to think big picture and invest in myself. I thrive under structure and routine – probably because I didn’t have any as a kid. I’m also really good at dealing with emergencies, projects with ambiguity, and am a great strategist.

By planning ahead and setting up my framework and processes, I created structure that maximizes my capacity, allows me to remain creative, and gives me the intellectual and emotional capacity to deal with issues that come up unexpectedly.

Creating Structure At Work

I love my work. It’s my first job where I feel valued, mentored, and like I belong. It’s also comes with the high investment of self and juggling of responsibilities that startups are associated with. To manage my long term and short term goals I did and led with the following:

  1. Create a work plan. Excel template here. The goal at the top of the sheet is to find out what you want, what you need, your goals, and generally come up with your North Star and Mission. I go over this with my boss during our daily check-in and update the goals I have at the top, as well as changing priorities and progress. It makes it easy for them to see that I am handling things and what my capacity is. It also makes it easy for me to remember any questions I need answered.
  2. Daily Checklist. I use my notes app as a daily checklist and include everything I hope to achieve that day. I copy over items I didn’t get to the next day. I love checking off things I get done. I also include a short blurb on what I did for exercise, what I did to prep my daughter for school, etc. This allows me to remind Myself What My Capacity Is. It’s helpful to see everything you do and reminds you that you are managing a lot and doing so amidst a pandemic.
  3. Gauge Priority Level and What is In Your Control
    • Ask Is this a Priority Today?
    • Ask Is it in My Control to Push Back the Deadline?
    • Communicate your priorities and updates to those involved.
    • Use your work plan to show everything on your plate.
  4. Tracking Your Growth, Communication, and Transparency: I use a google doc for my Update and Insights Report. This includes the milestones, wins, and learnings (e.g. what went well, pain points, and ideas) from the past week and the Next Steps for the week ahead. I keep a Susana Notes doc for daily notes on meetings and projects, my daily priorities, and brainstorming sessions. Everyone in the company has access to both docs. Both of these documents, along with my work plan, help me track my progress and my professional growth. It communicates what I am up to and provides full transparency into my output – This is especially important for companies (and startups in general) new to remote work.
  5. Calendly. This is critical for me since I average 20 client-related meetings a week.
  6. Add 10 Minute Buffers to my calendar so I can take a bio break, stretch, get a snack or coffee. Before I did this, I was regularly ending up with solid back to back meetings from 9AM – 5PM with no opportunity to do any of the above.
  7. Block Off Time for Lunch. I’m going to admit I am not good at taking breaks but it, at minimum, allows me a break from meetings and calls.
  8. Respect your Needs. I have therapy once a week. I have a Hard Block for this time with a buffer on each end so I am not late and to provide a break for me to process. I have to pick up my 4yo from preschool by 5PM so I schedule 30 minutes so I can walk over and get her. I avoid early morning meetings because I exercise, work from bed with my daughter cuddling next to me, and get breakfast and my daughter ready. I like to shower and get ready unrushed as well as have everything on my desk that I need (coffee and a lot of water). I burn my palo santo, meditate, and do my affirmations. It’s important to know what works for you.
  9. What Activates You. I have a heavy workload and take a lot of video calls. To stay energized and reset I:
    • Brush my teeth (The minty flavor is revitalizing)
    • Satisfy any bio, food, or water need: when you meet your body’s needs, your mind has a lot less to worry about.
    • Run cold water on my wrists: shake off sleepiness
    • Play 90s Hip Hop: I mean do I need to explain? 😀
  10. What Calms You. When I find myself starting to get overwhelmed and anxious I:
    1. Walk out to my balcony and people watch
    2. Think of a specific memory with someone I love and loves me back
    3. Hug someone or something you love
    4. Call my sister or husband, talking it out or just hearing their voice is soothing.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a go-getter, a hustler, a chingona, a manifestation of everything Little You could never dream you would be. You may be mining for ways to do even more. But I hope the above serves you and everything you want to accomplish while not losing your sense of self, your boundaries, and your health.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Honoring The Sacrifice

17 Sep

“Bring something from your favorite sports team or cultural event,” said the prompt. It opened a box of deep and rich memories associated with my Dodgers. It reminded me of why I love the team so deeply and why I could never love another team as intensely.

LA Dodgers Jersey

My dad and I did not speak more than one word to each other once I turned five. He still held my hand when we walked if I reached for it – on the walks home from school when he would pick my sister and me up from elementary school. I still smiled when we stopped at the liquor store to buy his brown paper bag-covered drink and chips and a juice for us. And all throughout my child and young adulthood I still ached for his approval, for him to say something – anything – that showed me he still saw me. Somehow I knew he loved me in his own way, he was just too sad to show me. Too sad to show anything at all.

As a kid I used to break into his safe when he was away at work. I would pull out articles that he collected. Trophies, medals, and certificates of academic achievement, sports, and volunteerism that I racked up as a kid. I would flip through the pictures he kept – of me – and wonder why he kept them and if he ever looked at them. And then I found a picture of a chubby little two year old with dark hair wearing a Dodgers uniform and I knew it was me. It made my heart stop in anticipation. He bought me that uniform. Back when we spoke and hugged and openly loved one another. I wonder now if all those years I actually remembered running through the house and into his arms in that uniform, or if I just procured it out of thin air from sheer desire.

As complicated and painful as our relationship has been, I love my father deeply. My chest hurts, even at this very moment, thinking about all he sacrificed to stay here in these states that he never craved. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month I reshare the story of how my father came here to stay. And stay too long I think, so long that he lost himself.

Undocumented It All Started with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This is for all first-generation American-born children of Latinx immigrants (and immigrants everywhere) who have felt that their words and love got Lost In Translation.

Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken: Efficiency and Flexibility Lead to Higher Productivity

15 Sep

This post was sitting in my drafts for 5 years when I was still working as the Business Development Lead at Latham & Watkins running their Technology Transactions, IP & Privacy Group!

It’s nice to look back and reflect on how I thrive under a personal routine that includes waking up at 5AM. I would not have been able to accomplish everything I have if I slept in.

It was also nice to take a look at my professional rearview mirror, see what I accomplished then and what I have accomplished since then. I was so tired of constantly having to prove myself to folks – show them I could do things even without a degree. But that was exhausting and demoralizing. I make sure to remember that when interviewing candidates.

The classes I allude to below were community college classes I took while regularly working 60+ hour work weeks. If I hadn’t attended those classes, I would not have transferred to Stanford to get my CS degree and I would still be longing for a degree. Time passes whether you want to or not – why not change with it?

_______________________

Winding down from an incredibly busy Summer schedule of taking my first Computer Science class in addition to another Summer class, setting up a stay at home Summer Camp for the monkeys, revving up for my Tech group’s practice group retreat, training and generally kicking ass at work I thought – why not try to sleep in?

I am a morning person. I doubt I was naturally wired that way, I think it was more to do with my parents always being out the door by 4:30 AM to go to work while we were growing up. If I wanted a morning hug, I had to sleep on the sofa to make sure I would stir at the sound of showers, blow dryers and my mother doing dinner prep. Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of my mother bending over me on the couch, as I pretended to be asleep while inhaling deeply the calming mixture of perfume and coffee, to whisper in my ear that I could sleep on their bed. If I was up early enough, I could catch her while she put on her perfume and applied her lipstick as I snuggled up in their bed, the blankets still warm from their bodies. I would inevitably fall back asleep until my older sister would nudge me to wake up and get ready for school.

Years of that routine shaped my sleep cycle. When I got older those early mornings were replaced with early morning swim practice, then early morning work schedules, crack of dawn runs and then generally getting up early to be a mom.

So against the wisdom that I know best what works for my body I decided to listen to others and try sleeping in. Instead of my usual 5 AM alarm I woke up naturally to the sunlight prying my eyelids open. Okay maybe not naturally. It was actually pretty awful. The later I tried to sleep in, the more tired I felt. Mornings are my only free time for running and Insanity workouts so my later schedule cut into my exercise regime.

Finally I stepped onto a scale and almost levitated in shock when I saw the number (lack of exercise). The very next day, okay no the day after, I went back to an earlier wake up schedule.

I woke up at 5:30 AM and felt amazing. I got up and made myself a soy latte with my Nespresso machine and read through work email from London, I watched some YouTube tutorial videos relevant to a project I am working on and the went for a 4 mile run. I didn’t try to get back to my usual 5 – 6 mile runs without stopping. I stopped to walk when I needed to and ran when I could. It just felt so good to be out.

I felt alert and relaxed.

I got to work by 8:15 AM and jumped right into my various projects and calls.

First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper #GHC19 Part 2: Planning, Strategies, Networking

10 Sep

Welcome back! Continuing with my First Timer’s Guide to Grace Hopper series. Make sure you read Part 1 and A non-brief Interjection Latinx in AI of the series.

Before I get chatting about the day, let’s get some strategies down first.

Sourcing sponsor events strategies:

  1. Find everyone that you know that is attending and promise to share info on company events (This didn’t help me find any events at first but I shared everything I found via Techqueria’s Grace Hopper Channel, Write/Speak/Code similar slack channel, and to friends I knew were going.
  2. Market Yourself: Include the #GHC19 tag on your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. I received invites from companies to interview, visit their booth, and/or attend their events
  3. Scour the web
    1. This by far netted me the most events. I checked Twitter, LinkedIn, and Techqueria’s slack channel regularly for #GHC19 events. I found out about the Twitter and the Google events in this way
    2. Google Github + GHC19 Events
      1. I found out about many events this way. Big thank you to the maintainers of these lists. MUCH LOVE ❤️
    3. University Student / Scholarship Recipient: Ask whoever is sponsoring to attend to forward you all events
      1. Make a groupme chat for everyone that is being similarly sponsored and share info here. I found out about dinners for small companies / startups I wanted to meet with in this manner

Remember to pace yourself during the week. The conference is shock full of programming, interview opportunities, networking, etc. It’s incredibly easy to overdo it and exhaust yourself.

What is your Definition of a Successful Conference Experience?

I cannot stress this enough. It is easy to get lost in the massive career fair, in the massive conference space, and the countless events.

Now I recognize my extreme privilege attending Stanford University. We have aggressive recruiting from top companies on campus year round. That being the case I was not interested in spending much time in the career fair or having interviews eat up my first Grace Hopper experience.

My concrete goal:

  • Meet with my top 3 companies, make a good impression, walk away with invites for interviews.
  • Practice asking companies questions about their efforts in inclusivity and trying to assess workplace culture
  • Grow my network of women in tech, particularly in the space of Artificial Intelligence

Anything else was icing on the cake.

With that in mind, let’s get talking about Day 1!

Day 3:  Wed 10/2 First Official Day of GHC, Keynote, Networking, and Sessions!

I could not sleep due to the time difference so waking up early for the keynote wasn’t a problem. It may also have had to do with rooming with someone I just met. My roommate was amazing as we were both tidy and considerate but I can’t remember the last time I had to share a room with someone I wasn’t related to or in a relationship with. Welcome to college life. 🙂

at the busI was the first one on the bus shuttle to the conference and I felt my insides shake with excitement. My plan for the day was to attend the keynote, attend 2 – 3 sessions in data science / AI, take a peek at the career fair space (I heard that the first day was the busiest time to attend as everyone is there to get invited to parties), and save energy for the company parties I had been invited to. I had Google’s Women of Color Hop Up and Twitter’s #GHCBeachBoardwalk on my calendar.

The Keynote

As I arrived to the convention center, I walked as quickly as I could to find the entrance. I was there half an hour before the keynote started and there was already a loooooong line. I have a feeling that they host this in Orlando to get you in the Disney park mindset that you will be waiting in lines all the time.

What to do while waiting? Chat up those around you of course. Now you probably won’t believe me but I am an introvert. Being in crowds, talking to people that aren’t extremely well known to me, meeting new people = EXHAUSTION. But you can’t come to a conference of 25,000 women in tech and not push those feelings of discomfort aside. What helps me is thinking that I am doing those people around me a favor by being the one to initiate the conversation and make them feel welcome. I chatted with my line neighbor, connected on LinkedIn, and shared tips on what to attend. By the time we entered the keynote hall we were looking for seats to sit together.

Nothing prepared me for the incredible energy of this room it was like the hall was a heart beating to the rhythm of creativity, inclusivity, and warmth.

Please do look up videos of the keynote. I won’t post more than the below clip to give you an idea of the vibe. Note that I was early, every seat was taken by the time the keynote started.

The keynote speakers were 🔥 🔥 🔥 on it and knew how to fire us up. From sharing the vision of AnitaB.org, vision of the companies that were honorees, and personal stories of how they got into tech – the keynote is something not to be missed.

After the keynote I made my way to the career fair area to assess how crowded it would be but the doors were still closed but a monster line ~5 people deep across had formed. I patted myself on the shoulder for avoiding the madness.

Sessions > Career Fair: Why?

When the session sign-ups were released, I tried to sign up for as many Artificial Intelligence and Data Science sessions as possible. The system froze and kicked me off a few times so I missed signing up for some of the sessions I wanted but I still filled up my days as much as possible so that I had anchors throughout the week.

My first session was D3 Data Visualization that Sparkle. I made the incredibly rookie mistake of forgetting my glasses so I made a beeline to sit on the front row table. This was a session I signed up for so I was easily scanned in. Note that about half an hour before the session started the standby line formed.

At my table I was sitting with awesome women working at Amazon, Adobe, and a consulting firm. I connected with all three of them and was able to network in a relaxed setting where we were all in attendance with a common goal – to learn. There is no way I would have had the same intimate opportunity to make an impression at the career fair. In addition, the session was organized, well structured, and educational. Up for the Win.

My second session was one of my top favorites Three Tips for Better Predictive Models presented by Stephanie Yang at Foursquare. I also showed up early and sat at the front row and turns out I sat next to Stephanie who was the presenter. I felt good pumping her up before her session and when she got ready to start I started chatting with my new neighbor and ended up connecting with her as well. The presentation provided concrete and practical guidance and I am so glad that I attended.

Lastly – Enjoy yourself! This is a gift for yourself, an investment in what you want to grow and nurture so remember to seek the events that provide meaning and community to you!

Stain on Your White Dress

9 Sep

My hands twist together

grubby, brown fingers hiding each other.

It seems selfish to mar your fragile innocence,

your crisp, white, clean slate,

with my damaged truth.

You speak of your hardships

and I listen without judgement.

But I can’t help but feel dirty in comparison

so I shuffle my feet

and I bring my arms tight against my body

my hands under my thighs,

pinching hard.

It’s my turn to speak.

My voice catches in my throat,

mingled with the swallowed past trying to escape.

Like an overflowing trash can,

I push the garbage down and I blink away the sting.

I would speak

but I don’t want to be a pesky stain,

soiling your beautiful white dress.

Or worse,

a stain that doesn’t stick

and is washed away with water.

I want to linger.

My words remain inside,

festering.

But they remain mine.

First Job: How to Prepare for Professional Success

9 Sep

A First Gen Mexican American’s perspective

Recently I posted in response to my good friend Stephanie’s LinkedIn post asking for tips for her first post-college job. I encourage you to read it and to add any advice you’d like to add! Brittanny – another incredible friend, encouraged me to make it a post of its own. Tiene razón, let’s amplify our collective wisdom!

Picture of author Susana Benavidez with arms up in discussion

How To Succeed When You Don’t Have an Example

When I got an internship during high school at a high rise in downtown Los Angeles, my chest felt tight with pride as I walked through those sliding glass doors and pushed the button for a floor high above the fields, kitchens, and factory floors that my parents spent their life working at.

I didn’t have a manual on how to succeed in a professional (office) setting but after working in a variety of office settings since I was 18, I have a thing or two to share.

Your Personal Brand

You have to cultivate your professional brand from Day 1. Your performance and the impression you make in your first 90 days is crucial to your success. For those first three months you will be able to show who you are, what you can do, and how valuable to the company you will become. You want the company to pat themselves on the back for nabbing such a great hire.

What does this mean? Working hard is not enough. You need to go above and beyond to show what you have to offer. You need to be intentional of how you work and the work product you produce.

Always be prepared. When something is pending, spend at least a few minutes reviewing it so that you know the task and status. You don’t want to be asked about the one thing you didn’t get to and be at a loss for words.

Perception is what the majority of people use to make quick decisions on your abilities and how you fit into opportunities. If you ride in strong at the beginning you will have solidified your brand as someone who delivers, is dependable, and is hungry to learn.

Remember that you are cultivating your brand at work. This isn’t a reflection of who you are at home. Personally, I like to strike a balance of offering personal details and who I am in connection to the things that I can control. For example, I will share that I had a non-traditional path and how that helped me develop a strong sense of hustle and empathy for those still on the steep end of their journey. I share the joy I get from mentoring POC who are navigating community college and the transfer process. Would I share personal details about my dysfunctional family? No, that’s for me to vent to my close friends who know me and do not judge me. Sharing those stories can put you in a state of vulnerability while surrounded by uncomfortable silence. But that is my take – not words to live by.

Finding a Mentor

When you meet new people don’t only show up with questions – see how you can help the person. Whether it be by volunteering to help, providing an introduction that would be mutually beneficial, bringing insightful feedback, etc. People gravitate towards those that they can learn from and not only teach – ie don’t have others think you’re only a taker. You always have something to teach! You have the valuable beginner’s eyes and mindset so be creative with your ideas.

Communication is Key

Efficiency and communication is key. I create mechanisms and frameworks to make what I can control as efficient as possible so that I can have the space to be creative. Ask others what their preferred style of communication is and following through on what they share.

Document Your Growth

Document your growth, questions, breakthroughs to be able to sell your accomplishments and not have to try to remember how your roadmap evolved. This can be especially rewarding when you feel like time is flying and there aren’t enough hours in the day. Take a look back and see everything you’ve accomplished! I send weekly updates on my progress to the team (in connection to a program I run) which allows them to see all the great work I am contributing.

What is your advice to your fellow gente? Comment Below!

Fireside Chat with WOC Community College Students: Sharing My Nontraditional Path

5 Sep

A Lifting Conversation: I had the honor of sharing my nontraditional path with a powerful group of WOC community college students and transfers ❤️

Ryan, one of my kindest friends connected me with Jenny Han who is working with Snap Inc. and LATech.Org to pilot a summer academy for Black and brown community college students studying computer science in the LA area.

She saw my many attempts and tour of failure in almost every LA community college 😂 The Importance of Normalizing “Failure” and Looking Back – The Path to Stanford and asked if I’d be open to speaking to a small group of WOC community college / transfer students who are studying CS. I said I’d be happy to but that I like to share my non-traditional path to show that even with all those setbacks, one can manage to get to where they want to – and how.

I was supposed to inspire them but they brought so much inspiration and energy to me. I know how hard it is to know that you are capable and able to accomplish great things but being held back by life circumstances. Ping me if you are looking for interns and would like to connect with these ladies!

Si Se Pudo?

12 Jun

A first gen/low income, mom, non-traditional undergrad perspective
B.S. Computer Science AI Track
Stanford University Class of 2020

This week was the last week of classes of the last quarter of undergrad.

For those of you with me since the early days, you know that I’ve been through so many ups and downs, and so many ups that were actually downs, and so, so many rock bottoms. Some day, I may tell you the full chisme, osea the ‘not the autobiography’ autobiography. Aveces, osea siempre, in my world, a way out is always a good thing.

But we’re here. We made it, no?

So many years of wondering if we would ever be able to say, I graduated from X college. And it just happens that our chingona self can say, “I graduated from Stanford with a mother-effin Computer Science in the AI track degree (with three kids in tow – what you do?!!)!” Okay maybe most of that will be in my head but you bet that I will be thinking it while staring down some condescending, mediocre cualquiera in the valley – not the LA valley but this fake Silicon Valley. Wait, does that translate to fake FAKE valley? 🧐

I have been whispering to myself, “just get that college degree” for so long that I never thought to think what I would tell myself once I actually got it. And maybe I’ve read too many inspiring stories of Black and Brown people that have “beat the odds”, that have “made it”, that have gone from homelessness to self-made successes. Because although I could relate to the raw pain of knowing you could make it only to be presented with a new challenge, a new way to prove yourself, I didn’t think about how lonely and angry it could make you feel.

We all love a good story. An inspiring story. But we NEVER respect, honor, nor SEE the person making that story.

We make certain people invisible in this world. We smirk, we look confused, skeptical – most of the time not bothering to try to figure the person out. We move on, we discredit their plans, we don’t believe them, we think ‘Oh okay, this person is all big talk’ if we even bother to think, or do, anything but roll our eyes. We are a cruel people. And we are a hypocritical people. Because when that person becomes “somebody”, we fall all over ourselves clapping and cheering on with tear brimmed eyes because it’s just so damn inspiring. We cheer only once the damn game has been won.

I know I’m incredibly intelligent, I’ve known that my whole life. But I’ve also had to prove that to everyone my whole life. I’ve never had the pleasure of having my answer accepted without an automatic, “are you sure? How do you know?” And that’s at the most polite end. I’ve had to politicize and strategize my words and work to manipulate those around me into thinking that my ideas were their own ideas. I’ve had to lead so many horses to water and convince the horse over and over again that they were the ones leading me. So maybe after so many years of telling myself that once I had that computer science degree from an elite university, that I would be free from that required humiliating and tiresome explanation. But now that I’m done, a sinking sensation has spread from my stomach to my chest to the bottom of my feet because even with a Stanford CS degree in the AI track – those people will keep finding a way to invalidate my accomplishments.

So forgive me for feeling tired and not feeling particularly celebratory while our country is gripped with having to explain the obvious to hateful racists and those who deny that they are racists while spouting hate out of the side of their necks.

Forgive me for feeling so fucking angry and exhausted at having to educate people that Black Lives Matter is not political. Forgive me while I recoil in disgust from White America and the communities of color that are just as racist.

I have my own experience with racism and with being judged as less intelligent or capable because my skin happens to be brown, but what makes me truly sick, what throws me into the deepest despair of depression is knowing that even with the shitty life I have experienced, is knowing that it does not compare – cannot come close to comparing to what Black Americans experience.

So no, I don’t think this is a moment to celebrate. I won’t celebrate what I’ve known all along I was capable of doing.

I will celebrate if these protests continue; if America’s short term memory can finally be seared with the present that never changes; if we do not look away until we all fight for Black Lives Matter no matter the cost to our own personal comfort.

I will celebrate when you accept that our system is fundamentally flawed. That our educational system is failing our children. And that incremental change and reform is not enough. That the broken inner city public school system is nothing more than a pipeline into stagnant water where a meek existence is considered success given the alternative is the prison system. And sure there are hairline cracks that allow a handful to escape and “make it.” But make no mistake about it, those cracks are there not by design but from the outward pressure of our own greatness trying to escape the crushing confinement of failure.

We are capable of running an equitable world.

I will celebrate when you thank us for only wanting equity.

The Most Deafening Sound is Silence

2 Jun

I’ve read too many tweets, threads, LinkedIn posts, etc. where as soon as a Black person posts about their pain there are comments by those in the Latino, Asian, and all non-Black communities that jump in and say “What about us?!” I’ve seen chats where females try to prioritize their trauma as sexual abuse/assault survivors over the Black Lives Matter movement.

I speak from the perspective of: a first-generation Mexican-American; a mother to three daughters; and as an Angeleno from Westlake / Boyle Heights / East LA. I speak as someone who was sexually, emotionally, physically abused by family throughout my childhood. I speak as a former single mother who has had to degrade herself in order to keep a roof over her kids’ head; as a domestic violence survivor; and as someone who has experienced a multitude of prejudice in the workplace/school/relationships for being what I was born as – a brown Latina.

Yet NONE of the pain from these experiences can remotely compare to the pain and racism that Black Americans have to grapple with throughout the entirety of their lives.

I am highly empathetic but I know that I can never fully comprehend the threat that Black people in America face every single day.

Like many of you, I have been on Twitter every waking hour to keep up to date with developments. And like many of you, I have woken up every single day with a crushing pain in my chest, the hurt choking me and making it hard to breathe. I am constantly lightheaded – as even my own self wants to slip out of this reality, and I have so much rage because this is not a new occurrence.

Racism is not new. Police brutality is not new.

Nor has either ever ceased to exist. Racism has actively harmed Black Americans since the founding of this country. We The Protestors tracks and visualizes all police killings since 2015. I encourage you to support their work and to see for yourself why Black Americans (and those who stand with them) are overwhelmed with the compounding effect of so many needless deaths – so many murders without consequences at the hands of police.

I used to question my own feelings as White and other non-Black people gaslighted me for my outrage, for my searing pain at the injustices that the Black community faces. But they were never in the right.

We have seen many instances on Twitter of White / non-Black Americans trying to squash the conversation around Black Lives Matter by saying that it is not appropriate to discuss racism in a professional setting or that it is unhelpful to demand of them to get involved.

They are doing what they’ve done for centuries – using their Whiteness/proximity to Whiteness and unearned power to condescendingly educate us on which is the right way to protest and not.

They continue to value the loss of property over the loss of life and pretend that they are two separate things, as if peaceful protests haven’t been carried out time and time again without producing results.

They continue to curl their lips in disgust at the vision of screaming protestors as if we were uncouth to march and stand for basic human rights and the just treatment of Black Americans. And usually (and time and time again in the past) this has worked.

But we are seeing a shift. As soon as they are called out and see the backlash that can potentially harm their property (e.g. their employment, investments, networks, etc.), they are backtracking. They are apologizing on Twitter and donating to Black organizations. I hope that they are truly remorseful and that they use their privilege to educate their networks, family, and friends. I hope that they can stop seeing themselves as “US” and Black Americans as “THEM”.

The treatment of Black Americans has not changed. America has and continues to treat Black Americans as subhuman, as not feeling pain, as criminals, as a threat, as statistics. What has changed is that the nation is breaking under the weight of racism. What has changed is that the old mainstream views are becoming uncouth, unacceptable to admit publicly, and getting close to real consequences.

Before you make yourself feel better by claiming that you are not a racist, I want to remind you that racism does not exist in extremes or a vacuum. Racism is woven into the daily lives of a Black Americans. Racism is every: micro-aggression; continual requirement for Black people to justify their credentials and ability; time they have to prove why they belong on a space that is dominated by White people, time that they are stereotyped; pulled over; ignored by their doctors; “put in their place” by teachers and counselors; followed in stores; avoided in the street; stared at; seen skeptically; face betrayal when they are subjected to racist behavior by those who they trusted as an ally (and the list goes on and on). Racism is not experienced individually but as the build up of every racist instance they’ve had to deal with that day.

While the list of ways that Black Americans experience racism in the US is non-exhaustive, there are equally many ways you should make a difference in your daily life to fight racism.

Call out the colleague/classmate/boss/professor/investor who is passive-aggressive, who blocks promotions, who speaks condescendingly, who doesn’t invite them to outside of work socializing, who doesn’t hire them, who doesn’t invite them to panels, etc.

Be an observer when you see an interaction with a police officer and use your white privilege and the safety it affords you by policing the police.

Stop your family and friends when they use racist language. Educate them and don’t use the excuse that they are a different generation and “don’t mean it like that.”

Reflect on whether you are prioritizing your fight (as a non-Black POC, LGBTQ, and/or any identity that you belong to) over the NECESSITY of saving Black lives.

Listen and don’t make statements that invalidate their experience such as “I don’t think they meant it that way” claiming that you “give everyone the benefit of the doubt” as if you are being the bigger person. Black people do not have the privilege of blindly trusting everyone and believing that they won’t be harmed.

This is overwhelming but when you want to lean away from the subject because it is “too much” or you can’t handle that much pain – remind yourself that Black Americans don’t have the privilege of distancing themselves from their daily lives.

You don’t have to have the words that makes it all better because no one expects nor believes that your words or any words can make it all better. Don’t use that as an excuse to explain why you’re not saying anything on the matter.

Your silence hurts.

Don’t leave your friends and family wondering which side of the conversation you’re on. If you are not fighting against racism, you are part of the problem.

At minimum, donate to an organization that is listed in the Minnesota Freedom Fund and publicly share your donation while asking your network to do the same.

Don’t expect your Black colleagues / classmates / students to show up as if nothing happened. They are under incredibly painful and extreme duress and should not have to prioritize your pSets, exams, reports, code, etc. over the struggle to be seen as human beings and the grief at the continued murdering of Black Americans by police with impunity.

Actively lighten the load of Black Americans. This can be advocating for your Black colleagues / classmates / students (without requiring them to participate). It includes pressuring your boss or professors to provide paid time off or make assignments and exams optional (without requiring them to reach out). That last part is key. I’ve seen professors offering accommodations IF students reach out. Don’t do that – the onus is on YOU, not them, to realize that they are not in a space to even think about your classroom (nor should they have to).

I understand that the pain many of us are feeling can make us feel numb, detached, deeply depressed but I also realize that this pain will only go away with real lasting change. Quite frankly I wish that everyone felt this pain, maybe then they would demand change if for no other reason than to stop hurting.

As a Latina I particularly ask my Latino community to accept that anti-Blackness permeates our culture and that it is our responsibility to eradicate it. Here’s what NOT to do. Don’t make this about Latinos (and don’t forget that many Latinos are Black Latinos). Do the right thing and stand firmly (al cien) with the Black community in actively fighting for equal justice.

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