I didn't know it mattered till it happened. I was sitting on a Zoom call when it hit me. I had never worked for a Black-owned business, and I was about to. That felt like a huge, almost overwhelming moment. And it wasn’t the only one.
As I sat there, I ran through my working life in my head. The schools I worked for in France were owned by the municipality, and I don't even know who owned the first company I worked for in Barbados. The second was owned by a white Canadian, and the third, by an American. When I worked in the UK, I was often the only Black person in the office (there were a couple of places where I was one of two or three). I wouldn’t have known where to find a Black-owned business, and there was no Google to help me, either.
There wasn’t much difference in my freelancing life. While my local clients in Barbados were mostly (but not exclusively) Black, 99% of my international clients prior to 2020 were white. So the fact that I was meeting with the founding members of a Black-owned business felt like a major milestone.
But there was another one to come. Throughout my freelancing life, whenever there was a group call, or an online meeting, I was generally the only Black person there. I didn’t think much about it at the time.
This particular meeting changed that.
Like most meetings these days, it took place on Zoom, and as I looked around the array of small screens, I noticed something: everyone on the call was Black. It was a rare experience, and one I never expected in an international business setting. I've had calls with friends and family, of course, and one on ones with Black colleagues and potential clients, but never in the 18 years since Skype launched had I been on a video call where everyone else looked like me. It was mind-blowing.
When I realized, I exhaled a breath I didn't even realize I'd been holding. And clearly, I’d been holding it for a long time. That feeling of not being able to be fully myself wasn't there. I felt that these were my people, albeit from different parts of the US and the world. People who got it, to whom I didn't have to explain the fact of Blackness.
These were nine Black people engaged in a joint push to empower other Black people and build towards a positive future. It felt majestic, but also rare and precious.
I wasn’t the only one there to be slightly overwhelmed. I think we all felt - and commented on - the importance, the gravity and the joy of that moment. And many of us had the thought: if this could happen in my lifetime, maybe there IS hope. Maybe if we keep working, things WILL change.
I always like to leave you with something to think about, and today that’s the fact of this rare experience, and the feelings it brought up for the Black people who were on the call.
It’s not what most Black and brown people experience on Zoom calls where they are minoritized. Many report microaggressions, and being spoken over and ignored.
So I’d like you to recognize that your Black and brown colleagues can feel just as marginalized on a Zoom call as they do in the office. I urge you to be aware, and to ensure that you do your bit to eliminate or lessen any racism and the resulting trauma. Have we got a deal?
Thanks for reading
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.