“Cuz gettin green make em treat us like we almost white”
Last week, Slim Jackson of SBM continued his series, Urban Male Chronicles, with the universal anecdote of how 1 black face can feel the pressure of a thousand black faces in the corporate, white-washed setting. While the post rendered the congregatory “AMEN”, there was one part that stood out to me. In 2012, a society where a nuclear black family gets their mail at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there are still antiquated people who utter this detested statement; “You speak so well to be black” (and variations of such)
Like many in the educated middle-class, I’m efficient at the “switch”. I listen to Rick Ross and DMX with my earbuds, but I’m perfectly capable of talking to my ethnic counterparts about Maroon 5, Coldplay, and even Lady GaGa. I like The Boondocks and Chris Rock, but I also love The Office and think Aziz Ansari is funny as hell. They feel comfortable enough around me to invite me to their happy hours and weekend bbqs. Yet in spite of our level of familiarity, they’re still often shocked when I deliver a presentation in front of a major brand like LVMH. I’d gotten use to back-handed compliments. But after reading Slim’s post and a conversation with my new boss during draft week, the agitation resurfaced.
I have more than enough work experience to be able to compete with my counterparts for professional mobility and respect from the higher-ups. Yet, I can remember times where I knew
(and my boss knew) that I’d knocked an assignment out of the park, only to be chided with a lackluster “nice work, J”. There was always a slight tinge of shock; as if they were expecting to swoop down and close the deal I couldn’t. Prime example: I was recently hired by a new agency to deal with marketing and sponsorship acquisitions. My 1st assignment? Doing cold calls to get title and executive sponsors for an upcoming basketball camp in Miami. Because I’m from South FL, I already had a list of people I could call that would be more than willing to help me out. In my 1st week, I secured a $25,000 executive sponsorship from a car dealership. My boss brushed it off until the check was delivered with a Thank You card addressed to me.
As professional minorities, we often take on the weight of the entire population at a cost to our own individuality. It’s hard to be diligent and show ambition when you’re already the elephant in the room. For most of us, we deal with being snubbed over again and because the powers of be silently tell us “be glad you’re here at all.” We sit by watching our less-qualified and sometimes less-experienced co-workers climb easily up the rungs, as we struggle to hang on.
Me personally, I’ve come to accept that I’m not relegated to represent my ethnicity in the company of the melanin-deficient. While most of us are forever chasing the “American dream”, I’ve settled into the notion that it’s my dream I was put here to accomplish. The older I get, though, the more I realize that it’s okay to not play by the book. I’ve consciously decided to stop spending time monitoring my behavior in fear of being lumped in with “them”. I’ll never encourage someone to be anything other than who they are for the sake of fitting in. Honestly, even when we do exactly what they silently mandate us to do, we’ll still find ourselves being judged at every level. So really, when does a black man ever truly make it in America?