A couple years ago, I had a conversation with a member of my team about race relations in America. She is a White woman of Hispanic descent. During our conversation, she was shocked to hear that I had experienced racism. When I asked her why she was surprised that I, a Black woman in America, had experienced racism, she said, “because when I look at you, someone who comes from a good family, well educated, well spoken, and a company director, I didn’t think that you would have experienced any discrimination or been the victim of racism.” I should have been shocked at her response, but I wasn’t.
A little back story; I attended a predominantly White, private, catholic school until the 8th grade. My parents are still married after 40 years together. My siblings and I are first generation Americans born to Haitian immigrant parents. We are all college graduates and went on to earn advanced degrees in our chosen fields. I can’t tell you the many conversations I’ve had with my White friends and colleagues discussing race relations, as if it was a subject matter that impacted another group of Black people, a group that excluded me and/or my family. What they saw on the news and read in articles was not something they could fathom would impact their friend Magalie, because my family and I were different. We were the good Blacks, the ones who did what they were supposed to do.
Unfortunately, we know this isn’t true. Racism, racial bias, and discrimination do not “discriminate” based on your education level or social status. It’s either overt or covert. Black people begin their personal experience with this ugly fact as young children far too young to even have a voice or the mental capacity to understand what’s going on. Racism will follow you through school, college, your professional life, buying your first home, etc. Need more context? A real life thread:
Racism is your 1st grade, white classmates refusing to hold your hand for fear your black skin will stain theirs.
Racism is being asked “How does it feel to be a ni**er?” at the age of 9 years old.
Racism is getting your first job and having your manager not allow you to operate the cash register, but your white colleagues (who are your same age) can process cash payments with no issue or explanation.
Racism is your boss joking about not scheduling you with the other only black guy on staff for fear that you guys may spend too much time flirting with each other, someone whom you never even met.
Racism is when you realize your brother has been secretly sneaking out with your car in the evenings and you find out it’s because your windows are tinted, and you have an FSU alumni tag. Police officers do not see and/or assume it’s a black guy driving so he doesn’t get pulled over. You cringe when he tells you that when he drives his own non-tinted car, he gets pulled over almost weekly.
Racism is when a cop tries to arrest you in your own yard because he doesn’t believe you live in your predominantly white neighborhood.
Racism is when your supervisor asks you to make changes to your style of dress because it can be inappropriate. When you point out that you wear the same style of dress as your colleagues she says, “Well, it looks different on you.”
Racism is having to travel to various towns throughout the US and realizing you landed in an extremely segregated town where you are not welcomed, a town where you no longer feel safe and you need to express that to your boss, a boss who doesn’t understand what you’re talking about and tells you that you will be fine.
Racism is when you’re the only Black person in the break room and have to listen to your coworkers joke about, “How long does it take to fry a big n***er?” when watching the movie, The Green Mile. What’s worse is when you report it to HR, nothing is done to rectify the matter, and others in the room say they don’t remember it happening.
Racism is walking into a meeting and your younger but White assistant is greeted as the boss and the decision maker. What’s worse is when your assistant must inform your vendor that you are in fact the manager and they should be directing their questions to you.
Racism is when your colleagues approach you with their, “Why do black people do ….?” questions when you don’t remember announcing yourself as the president of the black delegation.
Racism is being told you no longer have a reservation at a restaurant when they realize the voice and name of the person who made the reservation is not who they expected to show up.
Racism is not targeted or designed to only apply to certain Black people. Black and brown people of all education and income levels deal with racial discrimination, bias, and ignorance. As a White friend or ally, you are also not the person your Black friend may confide in. Assuming your Black friend has somehow been immune to the negative effects of being Black in America is damaging enough. By not acknowledging it and not taking inventory of your own actions, you may not realize that one of their uncomfortable moments may have been with you. I still remember how I felt as a child the first time I was called a N***er, the first time I realized being Black was different and undesirable. As a child, I hated studying Black history in class. In a class of 30 some odd students, you were the only Black student and felt the entire class was waiting and watching for you to have a reaction. Some of those classmates, I still speak to this day. Do yourself and your friends a favor. If you haven’t had the uncomfortable talk, have it now. Being an ally and an anti-racist is more than just doing and saying. It also means understanding; understanding where the pain and the passion comes from and understanding the parts we all play so our kids aren’t growing up with the same uncomfortable moments.
While all of these reflect real life situations that either I, my family and close friends have experienced, none of these negative situations reflect my current job and employer.