Sunshine and Pain

November 15, 2017
By Dr. Yanique Redwood

Photo by Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

I don’t know how I feel about it just yet. Last week I was repeatedly called “Sunshine.” It all started at the WRAG annual business meeting. I was wearing a yellow (actually mustard) blazer when a colleague greeted me with “Hi Sunshine!”. For the remainder of the meeting, at almost every opportunity, the nickname replaced my real name. I began to feel uneasy, but I wasn’t sure why.

A white man approached me after the meeting and asked, “How did you feel about that sunshine thing?” I smiled. He continued, “I was irritated by it. Would a white man have had the same experience in a mustard blazer?”

Another person, an African-American woman, said “It was fine at first, but after a while, when the keynote speaker repeated it, it didn’t feel good. It made me very aware that I was in a room with a lot of white people. I kept thinking, her name is Yanique.”

And yet another, “When white people are uncomfortable with people of color, they say things like that to reduce their discomfort. As a Latina, it happens to me all the time.”

I have multiple ways that I feel about all of this. In some moments it feels like a completely harmless joke. At other times, I am aware that my name – Dr. Yanique Redwood – was never used in that meeting. In the context of the many times in my career when I have been silenced or my position as CEO of a foundation has been called into question, it matters. At other times, I think I might like the nickname. What else is sunshine but a metaphor for bringing light so that we can see? I am also reminded of the concept of microaggressions. I am not sure if that is what happened here, but similarly, microaggressions are subtle and unintentional yet impactful.

Photo by Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

More importantly, the business meeting speaker Richard Rothstein delivered a captivating talk based on his book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of how our Government Segregated America. He detailed the willful ways in which policies were used to racially segregate and ultimately devastate neighborhoods and create a path to wealth for whites that was denied to African-Americans. He will return on May 3rd to give another talk. Save the date.

While Mr. Rothstein’s talk was thoroughly engaging and powerful, these kinds of talks can do an emotional number on me. I typically sit through them thinking about the millions of people who look like me who are struggling under the weight of racism. It makes me tired. It hurts. But, Mr. Rothstein suggested that we have never before in American history examined racism so thoroughly. That’s something to be hopeful about.

So, even though it hurts, there is work to do. And like many of you, I am finding the balance between sunshine and pain.

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