If you found this article through Amanda Munday’s Perspectives page, you may be wondering why it isn’t written by Amanda. In her own words: I’m taking a pause this month to amplify the voices of Black women entrepreneurs and use this amazing platform to make sure their voices are heard. Meet my friend and fellow entrepreneur Cheryl Sutherland, and her experience of life after May 26.
Hi, my name is Cheryl Sutherland and I am a Black woman.
I am also an entrepreneur, an amazing dancer and I have a delightful laugh and a smile that lights up the room, but what most people see about me first is that I’m Black.
Growing up in Canada, I’ve never really noticed how it’s affected my life. Understanding the reality that is mine, is one where the sky is blue and water makes things wet. The understanding that it’s my responsibility to make a police officer feel calm when I get pulled over, the understanding that when somebody is following me in a grocery store it’s for a very particular reason, understanding why that person would ask me for drugs at a party over everyone else. I just inherently know that people are going to treat me differently and that’s what life is.
Now when I moved to the US that was a different ball game. I had the opportunity to be with other Black people who have a very different experience of being Black. Where a valid reason not to get hired or to fire someone is because they wore their natural hair to work. Where you could never really own your achievements, because it often gets explained away as affirmative action. Where you should know someone at the bank when getting a loan, otherwise you’ll get a horrible interest rate.
What really frustrates me is when these things show up in business. This was supposed to be the space where I’m able to break the glass ceiling, make an impact in other people’s lives, and retire my Mom. Instead, there were new obstacles I had to learn to handle, only due to the color of my skin. To be Black in business for some of us means mostly selling our goods and sharing our story to people that may not look like us, who often ask us to present a different version of ourselves.
I’ve ignored many micro-aggressions and “seemingly” small details in the name of being in the same room of those who can deem success our way. Things like going to wellness events and being the only melanated person there and being pointed out as the one with the crazy hair when you wear your natural curls. Worse even, when people who don’t know you, attempt to tell you about yourself, your culture, your struggles, and what you need to do better while other faces awkwardly look away and say nothing.
Then May 26th happened.
I keep using this analogy of when I lost my dad. I was 22 when he died and I remember being in a room for the first time with people who knew. The awkward glances, the sad faces, the understanding of how completely broken my life was in that moment.
That’s what it’s been like to be a Black person since May 26. Our secret has been revealed. The badly kept secret that we kept telling and nobody felt “comfortable” enough to do anything about it. Irrefutable evidence that our lives were never the same, based on the colour of our skin.
Unable to be denied.
Things got awkward.
People lost friendships.
People made new friends.
People got angry.
A line in the sand was drawn.
For those who were unaware of this reality, there’s been a mad scramble and they are attempting to figure out what they should do, what they could do, how to not mess this up, and how to talk to their children.
So how are you handling this new normal?
The only thing I can say is that I have hope. Hope that enough people in power care enough to not let things go back to the way they were. I hope that people actually listen to what I have to say in all of my vulnerability and authenticity and understand that this is a reality that exists, even though it’s not one you may have experienced. I also hope that the opportunities that I’m getting are not because of guilt; they’re because now people can see me, finally allowing my work to be used in a way that it should’ve been seen 4+ years ago. I’m constantly asked for tips and tricks and the only thing I can really give you with this:
You’re gonna mess up and that’s OK. A baby doesn’t learn how to walk in one day. They fall and stumble and we never yell at them to give up, do we?
Everybody’s grieving right now and grieving looks different on everyone. Be nice to yourself and be nice to other people.
“The only thing I can say is that I have hope. Hope that enough people in power care enough to not let things go back to the way they were. I hope that people actually listen to what I have to say in all of my vulnerability and authenticity and understand that this is a reality that exists, even though it’s not one you may have experienced.”
Educate yourself. I’ve created a giant resource library with the help of my friends, and you can learn about the history they never taught you, learn to look inside, learn about what you can do in order to support the people you care about. Podcasts, books, movies, training, terms, history, and more. Check it out.
Not every person needs the same thing. I have an e-commerce company all about positivity and gratitude, and what I’m looking for are places to speak and do workshops, connections to stores that will stock my goods, and how to finally figure out inbound marketing for my website, PleaseNotes.com. It’s OK to ask people what they need, it’s not OK to ask them what you should do.
Help in your own way. Offer to support something you do for work or that you’re passionate about. If you’re a marketing professional, offer your service to a Black-owned business or offer to help in a way that feels good to you. If you have a huge platform on social media or otherwise, offer to elevate and amplify the voices of people who are just as good in this industry, but are continually overlooked.
To make this a long-lasting change, it has to be something that we can do easily and we can commit to, individually. From making monthly donations, signing petitions, visiting Black-owned markets, writing to school boards, or calling out the biases you notice with other people, and within yourself, this work is going to be ongoing. The people that came before us didn’t get a chance to do it yet and I would like this generation to be better known for breaking this curse than avocado toast.