A Goldman Executive Has Advice for His White Colleagues
To everyone who's asked me some variant of "how's it going?" over the past month, I've probably lied. Or lacked the words to articulate it fully, but I’m giving it a shot.
Obviously, my experience is just one along a continuum of black experiences, and I don't presume to speak for all black people — or even all black people at Goldman Sachs, where I have worked for six years. But the past few months have been demoralizing, and family/friends/colleagues I've spoken with and listened to across the firm and country seem to share this feeling.
Being black has been nothing if not instructive. I've learned history — and why people live where they do and why those in positions of power often don't look like me. I've learned that bad things are more likely to happen to black people solely because they're black. I learned which of my friends' parents didn't want me in the house when I was growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and who would be blamed if my friends broke the law.
I've learned how to prove I’m intelligent, to prove I’m not threatening, to prove I’m innocent after being assumed guilty. To prove human as this country litigates my personhood in case after case. It is as if our lives are expendable but we could never rebuild a burned storefront. As if Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent philosophy allowed him to opt out of death by white supremacy. As if the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging communities of color is an acceptable, inevitable cost, and our lives just aren’t worth the points off GDP. It’s a lot to process.
My family immigrated to the U.S. in 1990 from Nigeria. We were living in New Orleans while both my parents studied at Tulane University. My earliest memory in this country was the assault on Rodney King, when a group of Los Angeles police officers brutally and repeatedly beat an unarmed citizen on March 3, 1991. The officers involved lied about the attack, which was captured on film by an amateur photographer.
On March 16, 1991, Soon Ja Du, an L.A. convenience store owner, shot 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in the back of the head. Du accused Harlins of attempting to steal a $1.79 bottle of orange juice, grabbed Harlins, and then killed her as she attempted to leave the store. Harlins had the cash in hand, and the police concluded that she had intended to pay.
On Nov. 15, 1991, a jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter and recommended the maximum sentence of 16 years’ jail time. The trial judge overruled the jury recommendation, stating that Du behaved "inappropriately" but understandably. Du was instead sentenced to five years’ probation, 400 hours of community service and a $500 fine.
At the end of April 1992, an appeals court upheld the Du sentencing decision and, separately, a jury acquitted all four officers in the King case. That combination kicked off six days of protests, which resulted in 63 deaths — 10 due to shootings by law enforcement — eclipsing the toll in the city's Watts protests of 1965.