Leading as a Black Woman in America

Nichole Jordan

COO

Nichole Jordan (bottom left) at the Remix Customer Forum in Melbourne, Australia with customers from Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

The following post contains an image that is graphic. The image is not intended to be gratuitous, but rather intended to provide a visual example of what the author is speaking to.

As a Black woman born and raised in the United States of America, I’ve been blessed with living the “American Dream”. I am the first in my family to go to college and proudly possess two degrees, a BS in Civil Engineering from U.C. Davis and an MBA from the Wharton School. I own a home in the San Francisco Bay Area and I am the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a technology startup.

I’m also exhausted because I am a Black woman born and raised in the United States of America. I’ve experienced racism my entire life. At times it manifested as micro-aggressions like being followed around a retail store while shopping or someone touching my hair (without permission) and exclaiming how “soft it felt”. Other times, it was more blatant, like the President of a philanthropic community organization telling me in a scholarship interview that I wasn’t college material (despite having a 4.2 GPA) or recoiling at being called “nigger” the first time by a classmate I thought was my friend. But the exhaustion I feel now is deeper than all of this.

Lives are at stake. America has a history of devaluing Black people that traces back to our enslavement. We were property. To be bought, sold, traded, used, and viewed as chattel. When James Byrd Jr. was dragged by a truck in Texas by white supremacists in 1998, it reminded me that we weren’t far gone from the days of lynch mobs. This is America. The book “WITHOUT SANCTUARY: Lynching Photography in America” brings to life one of the darkest periods of American history.  The picture below depicts the lynching of Rubin Stacy, July 19, 1935 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. What’s most disturbing are the smiling faces of the kids in the photo, some of whom may still be alive today. Black Lives DIDN’T Matter.


The heart wrenching picture of the lynching of Rubin Stacy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1935.

Today, we could recreate the pages of "WITHOUT SANCTUARY" and add the lives of those recently lost. Eric Garner. Oscar Grant. Philando Castille. Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. Atatiana Jefferson. Botham Jean. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. We not only have photos but video footage of both Ahmaud and George’s lynchings. Their deaths were unwarranted, unprovoked, and reprehensible. Their lives mattered. Again, what strikes me as disturbing isn’t solely the act of murder, but the witnesses and smiling faces of those that are okay with it.

My ability to compartmentalize challenging situations has served me well as a COO. I’ve had to make tough decisions about financial and business operations in light of COVID-19, and my job involves daily calls with customers and team members. In the past when I’ve felt sad or depressed about racist happenings in America, I’ve sucked it up and showed up to work - seemingly unbothered and ready to demonstrate how resilient I am despite all that’s going on. I was accustomed to suppressing my political viewpoints and focusing on the work at hand.

But last Wednesday, I couldn’t cope. I hit an emotional wall and needed a mental health day. I was (and still am) exhausted. I’m scared for my family members and friends. I’m sad about the families impacted by loss, especially since I’m still raw from losing close family members. And I am angry that most of the outrage I saw in my social media feeds were from people of color.  As a leader I couldn’t be silent.

At our company All Hands last week, I explained that I took a day off and why. I let everyone know that I wasn’t okay. In doing so, I demonstrated vulnerability in a manner that opened up space for a broader dialogue with the team. I am encouraged by the way Remixers have offered support not only with private messages to see how I am doing, but also by offering up ways that they, as non-people of color, can take more action as allies. We are supporting anyone who wants to attend a peaceful protest, offering mental health days for those that need them, and holding a candlelight vigil and tribute in honor of lives lost. We are also creating space for dialogue around what more we can do individually; an example is that one of my teammates is going to have conversations with family members who have racial biases. There are also resources being shared company wide for those that want to take deeper action - whether contributing financially or volunteering. In addition, I’ve talked to quite a few Remixers about reading more African American history and stories told from our perspective.

The response I received from the Remix team gives me hope.

It drove home the importance of having someone like me, specifically a Black woman, on the leadership team. My voice matters. My life matters.