Black People Are Still Burying Stories of Everyday Racism. We've got to Stop | Opinion

When my family moved into a largely white area, certain neighbors wouldn't speak to me. They had no problem speaking with my husband, who's white. But they made clear that my daughter and I weren't welcome. Instead of a gift basket at our doorstep, someone put dog feces on the door handle of our cars. Then, the night Trump was elected, someone put dog feces on the ground right where I would have to step into my car.

My husband wanted to report it to the police. I was reluctant. I told him that if I took all the racism I experience seriously, I couldn't operate in the world.

But the culprit continued every day for a week. So my husband and I finally called and reported it. The police officer who came to the house looked exhausted, and tried to discourage me from filing a report. "If I file this, the news is going to descend on you," he explained sadly. "At least don't do a news interview. Right now you're dealing with one crazy person. If you do an interview, you'll have hundreds." He said the police were dealing with similar issues all across the city.

We filed the report. But when I heard from news agencies, I declined to do an interview.

I've been thinking about this lately, amid the protests following the murder of George Floyd and so many other unarmed Black people. There's a reckoning under way in America. Millions of Americans have opened their eyes and their hearts to understand how profoundly different our experiences really are. Unfortunately, it's also clear that many people still don't understand how rampant racism is. (FiveThirtyEight reports there's "a huge gap" by political party, with only 45 percent of Republicans believing Blacks face "a great deal" or "a lot" of discrimination.)

There are many reasons for this. It's hard to accept a truth that unfurls your sense of self—or of your country. In America, we are being forced to come to grips with the idea that police may not be the heroes we were raised to believe they are. We do not have the whole story. Many Americans know more about horrors inflicted elsewhere—from Auschwitz to Rwanda—than about the Tulsa Massacre. Flawed opinions are built when we do not have the truth.

In recent weeks, I've come to accept that I am part of the reason that the whole truth isn't known. Until now, I haven't widely shared my stories. Honestly, calling out racism is draining and expensive. But it's time.

Some other Black executives are making a similar decision. Many are now sharing their experiences with racism with White co-workers for the first time, The Wall Street Journal reports. "These experiences stayed private, some said, out of concern that calling attention to their race would hold back their careers or that white colleagues wouldn't understand or listen. While some black leaders are still choosing to keep their personal lives out of the work sphere, others said they feel compelled by the moment."

But our struggles against racism aren't confined to the sphere of our personal lives. We've faced racism in our careers as well.

Take the time a senior leader invited all of the white colleagues sitting around me to lunch, leaving me sitting there—and no one said anything. Or the time an executive vice president called me into his office, praised me for being "one of the smartest people" on the team, and then proceeded to tell me that "a Black person can't make it in this business," so I should go look for another role.

When people ask why I didn't complain or report these instances, I explain the long list of reasons. Many people would not have believed me, or cared. There was no one to advocate for me. I would have gotten a bad reputation, lost job opportunities, and hampered my career.

Even now, I'm still wary of opening up about some of these experiences, but not because I fear reprisal. I don't want to do anything to take attention away from the specific struggle against racism in the criminal justice system. I'm not convinced that we are capable of multitasking on the journey to equality for Black people. Also, I wonder how much people will care since, sadly, history has shown me that America has required images of physical violence to act against racism—from Emmett Till to George Floyd.

I'm clear that I have to push past these concerns. My part of this struggle is to share my stories, widely. People won't join the fight against racism in these other arenas if I don't help them understand how widespread the problem is. In a way, it's like expecting a doctor to help heal me without honestly saying what all the ailments are.

I'm a big believer in the power of storytelling to help create a more inclusive society. As the African proverb says, as long as the hunter writes the story, the lion will never be the hero. Our stories are essential to the accurate understanding of the American experience. I'm ready to start telling more of mine. I hope America will listen.

Denise Hamilton is author of Do Something: An Ally's Guide to Changing Themselves So They Can Change the World (Aug 2020) and the CEO and founder of WatchHerWork, a multimedia platform closing the achievement gap for professional women.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​