Life @ Thumbtack
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Life @ Thumbtack

Why We Need Courageous Conversations

Today marks one year since the murder of George Floyd. I hesitate to use the word anniversary because it symbolizes happy milestones, and feels glaringly wrong in this context. When I take stock of the past year, I do not feel celebratory — but I do feel hopeful.

I feel even more hopeful than I would have predicted when I first watched Darnella Frazier’s video and raised my voice along with so many others to call for justice. For the first time in my life there was a national outcry in support of Black lives with a spotlight turned on the realities of structural racism. And it wasn’t just the Black community standing up.

When I joined Thumbtack last October, I spent the first few weeks just listening to employees. One of the sentiments I heard most clearly from everyone, regardless of race, was the desire to be better allies. That desire, however, was coupled with a fear of not knowing or understanding enough. Folks were newly willing to do the work, and newly willing to be uncomfortable. But they were worried they didn’t know how to truly confront tough topics or that they would unwittingly mishandle tough conversations. They needed support, and they needed tools.

What grew out of those worries was a series called Courageous Conversations, in which we pair an outside speaker with internal employees for a discussion to help us as a company talk about hard things. Past conversations have included a discussion of the life-affirming implications of non-binary gender pronouns and the particular history of Asian-American racism.

As we approached today’s one-year mark, I thought long and hard about the conversation we most needed to have, right now. Last week, all of our team members gathered virtually for “Across the Dinner Table,” a candid discussion about the current state of race, parenting, and law enforcement in America and our pursuit to better understand each other.

Here is the introduction I gave before turning the floor over to our speaker, Walter Thorne, and our moderator, Thumbtack employee and former law enforcement officer Jonathan Bushnell.

Walter has seven children, two Black, four biracial, and one white. His father spent his entire career in law enforcement. Walter learned at 16 years old, as part of his learning to drive, the rules to getting pulled over by the police. Something you won’t find in a book. “Stop the car, roll all of the windows down, turn the car off, put the overhead light on, put keys on the dash, hands on the steering wheel, and DO NOT MOVE without asking for permission, not even to take your seatbelt off.” He can still feel the emotion and seriousness in his father’s voice.

Walter’s white son and his white friends have never had to seriously have that conversation with their families. They’ve also never needed to discuss dressing for an interview, dressing for work, policing, politics, job opportunities, excelling at school, dating, how to talk, how to wear your hair, and a host of other things that are different conversations in Black households compared to white households. Breaking these barriers of conversation with his own children and your children are challenging but necessary if we are ever to gain a real perspective of a Black family’s lived experience.

During that hour, I also shared my own personal experiences as a parent of Black teenage sons, and Jonathan shared his concern that the national narrative has become “anti-police” when it should be “anti-bad police.” I could feel that our employees were deeply engaged with the conversation, and afterwards I heard from several folks that they found themselves in tears as they listened.

We started this series as a way to share some of our own experiences or those of our families. What we’ve realized is that none of us has the same history. We are shaped by our families, our races, our religions, our values, and our political affiliations. Yet regardless of race, religion, or political views we ultimately all want the same thing, for our families to be safe, healthy and happy.

I believe that empathy will move us forward. It’s a gift to learn from each other. It’s a gift to hear each other. Conversations like these, and the fact that they continue to take place in homes and companies across the country a year after the protests demanding justice for George Floyd and Black lives, fill me with hope.

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