Searching for Answers

By Satyen Sangani

Published on June 2, 2020

Unlike Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, I’ve never been run down in a park, had a knee pressed on my throat, or had my life threatened by the police. I don’t pretend to know what it feels like to know that you’re playing under a completely different set of rules than most others or to know that, on any given day, you might be pulled over, arrested, or killed — just because you’re black. I’ve never had to teach my kids to raise their hands up above their heads and say, “I’m Ariel Sky Williams. I’m 11 years old. I’m unarmed and I have nothing that will hurt you.

Like many of you, I am struggling with the events of this last week. I know the George Floyd story, have seen the photo of Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck, but I just can’t bring myself to watch that video.

Then there’s the insidious form of racism that Amy Cooper inflicted on Christian Cooper.  It’s chilling because it’s so subtle, so intentional, and just so common. I’ve experienced this type of racism personally and still bear some of those emotional scars from my childhood.  While these current events are based in America, racism is a global scourge, affecting almost every community that we operate in.

Martin Luther King Jr. Quote

Lest I stray too far away from my own experience, I know that my success has been indirectly built on the work of black men and women who fought in the Civil Rights movement.  Without the Hart-Cellar act of 1965, most Americans of Indian origin would not be here. There were quotas for immigrants from countries that were not predominantly caucasian, lifted in the policy upheaval caused by the Civil Rights movement. It’s very unlikely that my father would have been able to succeed as he did in the early 80s without a budding Indian diaspora in the 60s and 70s.

We love to hear about the American story where a man or woman pulls themselves up by their bootstraps, chases success, struggles, strives, and achieves by their own perseverance and merit. That narrative is certainly a part of my story. But if we’re all being real, I have to admit that my story is also built on the back of a ton of opportunity and privilege that was created by others. The same opportunity and privilege that is completely unavailable to many black people.

Earlier this month, when I heard Ahmaud Arbery’s story, I felt the same feeling that I get when I hear about yet another school shooting —  frustrated, sad, and honestly a bit resigned that it is what it is and there doesn’t seem to be very much I can do to change it.

But, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This is an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s one that I think we have to have. This moment is an opportunity to have the discussion and drive change.  For those of us who are feeling angry, it’s time to do something about it. Racism affects all of us directly and indirectly. It’s wrong and there’s no place for inequitable treatment and injustice in the curious and rational world we’re trying to create.

It may well be uncomfortable for you to read about these events and, if that’s how you’re feeling, I hope that you’re able to contemplate that emotion, introspect, and understand where that discomfort stems from. Glossing over these feelings just perpetuates the problem.

By bringing this discussion to Alation, I hope that we can share our own stories and hear the stories of others, particularly people of color.  I don’t want Alation to be a place where people need to compartmentalize their “work-self” from their “real-self.”  Often, the walls of what’s “appropriate” serve to mask the inappropriate problems we face.

I want the company to be a place where everyone can bring their whole-self.  To this end, we are making a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion:

  • Starting with a greater investment in diversifying our talent, starting with sourcing all the way through to looking at the diversity composition of each department.

  • Establishing relationships with minority organizations where we can support and contribute to their programs, events, and members.

  • Reviewing our internal policies and practices to identify implicit bias in all of our work.

  • Raising the level of investment and training in bias. Indeed, understanding and correcting for bias is a core tenet of scientific thinking.

  • Matching employee contributions to Black Lives Matter, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Innocence Project, and the Voter Participation Center.

Like you, I have more questions than answers. I know that these problems weren’t created yesterday and they won’t be solved tomorrow.  But, I do believe that if there’s a group that can start to find answers, it’s this community of kind, empathetic, and hard-working people.

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