Every morning I wake up and turn on CNN International to watch the news in the US because I want to stay in touch with how my fellow black men and women are holding up. I have received heartwarming texts from my friends asking if I’m okay and how I’m coping. The current events in the US may be happening far away but it is incredibly close to me.
In the past week, I have been paying close attention to posts on Facebook and IG. I was and still am surprised and deeply hurt to see numerous responses on Black Lives Matter from people who never had to endure racism. Without any proper debate, I am seeing random replies such as #AllLivesMatter, or “there is no such thing as systemic racism!” One of the worst responses I saw related to the George Floyd memorial was a post that said we lack “motivation and ambition. Really?! That’s the cause of our problem?
In light of all these comments, I felt compelled to share my story. The reason for this write up is not to change people’s minds. A simple post like this won’t do that. But I do want to give you my perspective.
I’m a black man and venture capitalist, living and working in Asia, and I’m emotionally tired. Exhausted. Tired of having to excuse myself for being black. Tired of explaining to my 8-year-old daughter why someone is calling her names because she’s black.
I have been raised to work hard and give it my all. My dad (God rest his soul) always told me and my sisters we should never rest because nothing is given. These words kept me motivated, even in the toughest situations. But the events of the last week have made it extremely hard to find that motivation. There is a part of me that honestly hates writing about this but I’m doing it anyway because it is important that people understand all of the different ways racism manifests in black lives. I feel compelled to share my experiences in the hope it provides perspective and encourages better understanding.
My work (fortunately) requires me to travel frequently, but that also has a downside to it. In 2015 I went to Baku, Azerbaijan, to speak at a conference. As expected, there weren’t too many black people walking around Baku, and I was already used to the stares, monkey sounds, and jokes about my thick lips. During my professional career, I grew immune to all the racial insults. I decided having a thick skin would help me cope better whenever I find myself in situations like this. Here is an example of what happened to me in Baku. My meeting with the CEO of a telco company started very strangely, to say the least. I was asked if I wanted a drink and decided on tea. One of the CEO’s assistants walked in with the tea and, unaware that I was able to hear her said, “I assume this is for the n*****.”
On another occasion (in 2018), I was attending a Kauffman Fellows module in Palo Alto. A few classmates and I decided to rent an Airbnb a few minutes from the Kauffman venue. I flew in from Singapore that day and arrived late at our Airbnb. My classmates were out that evening, so I parked my suitcases outside and proceeded to enter the house. Within 5–6 minutes, a police car pulled up with the lights shining in my face. Knowing the reality of police brutality in the US, I immediately felt fear and anxiety. The police officers asked what I was doing here. It seems they received a disturbing call from one of the neighbors who saw a black man walking in the neighborhood. After I explained the situation and showed proof I rented the Airbnb and texted the hostess, they left.
Growing up in The Netherlands, my sisters and I were one of a few black kids in elementary school. The first time I consciously experienced racism was at the age of five. Your typical bully made fun of my skin colour and it ended up in a fistfight. Since that day I hated going to elementary school. I also vividly remember a situation involving my parents. My sisters and I were sitting in the living room when my mom came back from work. She was very upset and I had never seen such an expression of disbelief, confusion, and pain on her face. She walked up to my dad and after they spoke for a bit, my dad started fuming. He rushed out of the house to talk to someone. A few hours later, my dad returned, escorted by police. What happened? A bus driver insulted my mom because he didn’t want to have black people on his bus. My dad went out to find the bus driver to confront him about it and it got out of hand. We were fortunate the situation de-escalated quickly, but can you imagine if this happened in the US?
This incident took place when I was a child. God willing, I am turning 45 this month. Forty years of seeing and experiencing racism doesn’t just make you tired. It wears you down to the bone. From being called the N-word for just existing, companies not willing to hire you because of the color of your skin, and now, having to explain to my kids, the eldest 8 and the youngest 4, what racism will mean for them, it wears me down.
I am emotionally tired. Institutional racism is so prevalent that people don’t even notice it. I, and my fellow black men and women, my friends, my family, had to deal with it since we were kids.
So to the people replying to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”, to the people ignoring my experiences and the experiences of other black men and women, to the people denying the enduring prevalence of systemic racism, not just in the United States, but globally: I encourage you to think about the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. I ask that you look up Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Try to understand how black people’s lives have been treated as expendable, and why black people are afraid for their lives.
I would like to end this post with one last request: whenever anyone brings attention to the injustice done to black people, listen. Just listen and make space for a conversation. Don’t talk, just listen. It’s a start.