I wanted to document a discussion we had recently, because it's one that I hope will prove impactful.
After reading a book about Jackie Robinson, you asked about a part that mentioned Jackie being spiked by an opposing player. "Why would they do that, Daddy?" I said that there were a lot of people angry about integration. These people chose to lash out. What was most impressive was how Jackie was always able to go high instead of yelling back or getting into a fight. I asked you to imagine how difficult it must have been to go high instead of going low in that situation. Then, you asked me, "How do you go high, Daddy?" An excellent question, Camilla.
You know, it's hard. But, we have to. We can't stoop to a low level. I endured an incident earlier this year that was the perfect example of going high instead of low. I've decided to share this story not to take unnecessary shots at the individual I will reference. Instead, I share it as a reminder to know when you are right or wrong, to stay true to yourself, and to take the high road.
I had a disappointing email sent to me. What's most disappointing is that it has led to a dissolved working relationship with the person who sent it. Why did this person send such a damaging e-mail? I can only speculate. But these are the incidents that led to the e-mail and the end of this working relationship.
Last year, I agreed to be a part of a book profiling dads. I said yes due in large part to a positive prior experience with one of the people behind this new project. Things were going well enough, and although there were a couple of mixups on this person's end with my written contribution, having to re-send a draft seemed minor. And besides, there had been a similar drafting mixup during our work together on the first project. I sent what was my final version of my contribution back in October 2016, and received another e-mail in February 2017 asking me to look at a final draft. But, unfortunately, the draft bared very little resemblance to what I had submitted nearly four months earlier. I had been asked to keep it under 400 words, which I had (397 to be exact). This version sent to me was over 400 words. My version not surprisingly referred to my being a man of color, but this other version did not. Being Black is an essential part of my identity and often the subject of my writing. See here.
"I also write the blog, The Brown Gothamite, which focuses on my journey as an at home parent, man of color, and feminist." (Me)
"I write a blog, The Brown Gothamite, which focuses on my parenting journey as the primary caregiver." (Editor's version)
I was truly confused. Why was my final version not used? I felt the need to ask why the latest version looked and sounded so different. There were a couple of sections that had details removed that provided essential clarity. In addition, it must sound like me if my name is to be attached to it. Finally, there were some grammatical errors, and as a long time instructor of English, I wanted some edits. I sent an e-mail for clarification in my standard respectful tone. Unfortunately, my confusion and desire to submit something of which I was proud was considered overstepping. As much as I tried to have this person look at my updated draft, s/he did not seem interested.
If my draft was not to be used in its entirety, I wanted to know. It would mean perhaps more editing. My professional career of 20+ years has been connected to writing and editing, as I have mentioned. From my years as an English teacher in NY independent schools, to my work on The Brown Gothamite and other outlets, and now my work as a professor, I have spent countless hours editing papers, crafting my writing, and developing my voice. A return e-mail ended as such (I did not edit it), "Since you were sensitive about your voice and the edits I though I'd email you back so you could have one final edit. A luxury I did not give to any other dad. I'm sorry if you feel my efforts to try to accommodate your request to keep your voice frustrates you. And to be honest back at you, you're the only dad or mom that has brought up this issue. Every parent who has submitted has been so cooperative and understanding even when I made and error; and also so appreciative to be in these two books."
To have someone be so dismissive seemed unnecessary. So, I asked questions. If you were working with someone on a project and this other person was editing your work, but changing it to the point where you were uncomfortable with the edits, wouldn't you say something?
But the part of this that actually angered me is the implication that I was angry or difficult to work with. You see, Camilla, those accusations mean something to me. As a Black man, being accused of being angry, especially unfairly and inaccurately can be damaging. And if someone tells you you're the only one complaining or that you are not grateful enough for the opportunity they gave you, be weary. You want people to value you and what you have to offer, respect your opinion, hear you, and affirm your reputation. And if you need to be called out, you want people to do so in a respectful fashion.
This incident and behavior is an example of going low. Labeling me sensitive in a negative sense, implying I was difficult, telling me I needed to be thankful for this opportunity, none of these were remotely fair or accurate. What is important to do is to speak to people with respect. Acknowledge fully when you are wrong. Don't make excuses. And don't go low to match someone else's petty behavior. In addition, lashing out at someone, especially in an e-mail, is completely unprofessional. It's imperative that you take emotion out of such correspondence. If you are angry, don't ever respond immediately. Take some time to process and cool down. Sometimes, these people are dealing with insecurity. They are incapable of admitting when they might be wrong. It's hard to admit fault, but one of the things I promise you is that I will continue to admit when I am wrong. I will admit when someone might be more knowledgeable or more skilled. So, even if they go low, you need to understand that you can't respond in kind. Instead, go high. You can still be firm and share your opinions. Dr. King once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." If you encounter someone who disrespects you and makes an excuse for such behavior, you might just have learned all you need to know about that person.