A message from Chief Diversity Officer Myrna Maysonet to our Greenspoon Marder Family:
I, like you, have been reflecting on the events that have been afflicting our nation in 2020. I, like you, have been scared and frustrated with the invincible virus that has taken so many of our loved ones. I have cried tears of joy when I witnessed the power of the human spirit and collective kindness through the countless sacrifices (directly and indirectly) of those fighting the virus. I thought recently that maybe we would get back to normal, not our pre-COVID-19 normal, but some semblance of normalcy.
Then, I saw the video of George Floyd and was devastated. Like you, I have been talking, and sometimes arguing, with people that I love about what the death of George Floyd really means to us as individuals and as Americans. I apologize to anyone who may have felt that GM did not care as we did not put out an immediate statement after this senseless tragedy. This is absolutely not the case. Everyone who works at GM is a valued and crucial member and when you are in pain, we too are in pain. I believe that the moment that we are experiencing merits more than a hashtag or empty platitudes.
I do not know or cannot tell you what it feels to be a Black man, woman or child in America. However, I can tell you that I have thought long and hard before calling the police to any situation because I thought that my race or my accent may be a negative factor in my encounter with the police. This fear does not come out of the blue. There are incidents that mark your life, and today I would like to share that incident with you.
When I was in the Navy, I came home to visit my mother who was living in Winter Park, FL. I went to the Dunkin’ Donuts to grab some food for my trip back. As we were going in, I noticed a group of White kids around my age inside the restaurant chain. After we ordered, my friends and I started to speak in Spanish and some of them took offense to that, asking us to “go back to our country.” We exchanged words and things quickly escalated. One of my friends said to them that she was going to call the police. One of the members of the group then said “call them, who are they going to believe us or you?,” and proceeded to use racial slurs. We had done nothing wrong but I thought to myself, I am going to jail, they are never going to believe us. The police came in and immediately spoke briefly to the White group and let them go. We had to stay behind and explain ourselves. While we were not overtly mistreated, we were treated differently than the other group. It was completely humiliating to have to be lectured about something we did not do and faulted for confronting racism. He told us to avoid speaking Spanish and to just “walk away.” This experience has always stayed with me.
I understand that minorities, in particular Black people, must always function under a different situational awareness. I also understand why minority communities might not see police as trustworthy. I have also seen police officers risk their lives, in particular during the Pulse shooting. With time, I understood that the White police officer was trying to “help me” by telling me to walk away from the non-sense. But you see, the problem with constantly “walking away” from racism is that it eventually robs you of your dignity as a human being and in some cases, especially for Black people, of your life. Racism is incompatible with life. There are no reasonable compromises that can be made. Silence and complacency are no longer options.
Acknowledging the existence of police brutality and systemic failures in our justice system is not incompatible with respecting police and the risks that they face. This is not an either or situation, and this kind of false equivalency only serves to erode trust and encourage abuse. We must acknowledge that for our Black brothers and sisters, an encounter with a police officer may be a matter of life and death. That Black mothers and fathers live in fear that a simple interaction with police may result in the death of their precious child. That precious Black children must learn “protocols of survival” just to stay alive. We can no longer ignore their plight or grievances.
I am not asking you to take sides. I am asking you to listen and acknowledge that each of our experiences in life are not universal. In this firm, we believe in true diversity and that includes hearing and addressing truths that make us uncomfortable. Thurgood Marshall said “I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust… We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”
Our republic is imperfect. The framers of the Constitution were not infallible human beings. They decreed that all men were created “equal” but then enshrined the “three-fifths clause” in the Constitution as a compromise between Southern slaveholders who wanted enslaved Blacks counted in the population and Northern Whites who didn’t want to provide any representation. It took a civil war to end slavery, but it did not kill racism. Like a family that has gone through a traumatizing event, the leaders simply chose to move forward instead of addressing the roots of racism. The “wound” may have healed outwardly but the infection is still alive and growing. American history is replete with examples of absolute devastation brought about by unchallenged racism. And, this suffering is not borne equally.
I think that we can all agree that this can be a defining moment if we have the courage to address it. We know that systemic racism is not going to be erased overnight or that we have all the answers. But, we must start with acknowledging that racism is an urgent problem and get involved. I ask you to listen with empathy and honesty. It takes courage to speak up and courage to listen if we are going to bring about real change. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
Racism is the opposite of equality and dignity. It must not be allowed to grow or prosper. It is a virus that threatens the very fabric of our democracy and we at GM intend to continue to fight its spread. We believe that Black Lives Matter and demand that our Black brothers and sisters be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. While we respect and always admire the courage of the members of the police force, we strongly denounce police brutality and demand the immediate change of policies and practices that have brought so much despair and death. We also intend to listen and explore ways in which we can move forward in
a productive way.
On behalf of Gerry, Michael, Rebecca and I, we want you to know that we are here for you. We are listening, learning and open to hearing your thoughts and experiences. As a firm, we are committed to continue to diversify our workforce and to foster an open environment where all can thrive.
The Executive Committee and Chief Diversity Officer, Myrna Maysonet