Home Culture Urban Male Chronicles: Representing Your Race

Urban Male Chronicles: Representing Your Race


**Last week, I kicked off the Urban Male Chronicles, a series of posts looking into life as a black male professional. I introduced yall to Chris, one of the few brothers I know that’s also in HR. In the process of talking to him, I realized he had a lot to say that many of us could relate to. So I asked him to pen a post (or 2) for SBM. Enjoy the perspective and share your thoughts in the comments. -Slim**

“Being black in Corporate America has its challenges.”

I heard this from a lot of  people when I was making my journey through college. Therefore, I tried my best to prepare myself for the challenges that awaited me,  but never could have imagined the pressure and loneliness that would come with it.

Within the first couple of weeks of employment after graduation, I was slapped by this reality when I looked around the organization and noticed that no one looked like me. Sure. There were older black women sprinkled here and there, but they were counting down to the day they retired and totally consumed with beginning their post-work lives. I wondered why there were so few people like me, but I just sucked it up and put it out of my mind. That worked for a while until the day I participated in a conversation that would change my view on things forever.

See, I am an HR Business Professional and I was asked to conduct an assessment on why so many people between one and five years of service were leaving the organization, and to present my findings to the senior leadership team. So, the day arrived and I presented to the CEO and his direct reports. Although I was confident in my work, I remember being so nervous for the first couple of minutes but I got through it and finally it was over. I assumed I did well based on all the nodding heads that appeared to understand and agree with my fact findings and recommendations until “it” happened.

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The CEO, whom I’d never met prior to this and who I’d only heard people talk of as though he was God, walked over to me and asked if he could have a moment of my time. He told me that he loved my presentation and looked forward to implementing some of my recommendations. However, he had something to tell me and hoped I wouldn’t take offense to it. Now I don’t know about you, but when someone includes “no offense” before telling me something, I instantly get defensive. Nonetheless, I was ready for some constructive criticism, but what I was not ready for was what came out of his mouth next:


“I never heard a black person articulate the way you just did.”

He must have seen the expression on my face change, because he immediately tried to explain that he lived far east on Long Island and that his only real knowledge of black people was what he saw on TV and read in books. I have to be honest when I say I don’t remember the next two minutes after that because I zoned out. I just could not believe that came out of “our leader’s” mouth. How was that possible? I was sure a person in his position would have had to interact with many intelligent and articulate people of all races. Maybe I was naive, but I just didn’t think people thought that way — especially those who were in such high positions and had the ability to influence so many people.

I remember walking out of the conference room asking myself, “Did he really just say that? Am I overreacting and being too sensitive?” The only thing I knew for sure was I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about this experience because literally no one else in the organization could’ve understood what I just went through.

From that point on, I felt I was representing my race. Everything I did, said or proposed after that comment was on behalf of all black people. Talk about pressure! A couple of days passed and I decided to ask one of the recruiters I became friendly with why there was such a disparity in minority representation in the company. Her reply was simply the following:

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“There aren’t enough minorities in the schools we recruit from.”

So my response was, “Why not just recruit from other schools then?” She politely dismissed my inquiry and said there was a tradition and relationship between the schools “we” recruit from. Although I felt that was a weak answer, (regretfully) I decided not to challenge it. Again, was I being overly sensitive and was this truly all a bizarre coincidence?

Whether it was or it wasn’t, I have taken from those interactions the pressure and responsibility of representing my race to those who may not have had much interaction with black people. I have applied this way of thinking to every presentation, project and interaction. Everything I do I must be the best because of the fear of letting my people down. Some may say “this guy is too much,” but this is my reality. I don’t want to leave you with the thought that all my experiences were bad or this is my perception of everyone that doesn’t look like me because that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, I am confident my current team and boss do not share the same thoughts as my former CEO, but to say those two instances were not prominent in shaping my life and playing a part in the professional man I’ve become would be a blatant lie. My only question now is, do people of other races feel that same pressure and do they burden the same responsibilities when interacting with others? Is this something primarily limited to us? Let me know what you think.

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  1. I could go on and on about this. This is a problem that is unique to black people only. His comment was out of line- period. But it's interesting because depending on where you are from black people will say it too. I have heard too many times "you talk like a white girl". I feel the same burden, but I have accepted it. I will tip more because "black people don't tip well". I will speak eloquently because "black people don't do that either". The reality is that we are the "minority" and in order to be successful, we have to appease the majority.
    My recent post Ladies…should you wear heels EVERYDAY?

    1. “You speak so well" is such a back handed complement. Like how did you think I was going to speak at a business meeting? I guess he thought you were going to walk in and go" Waz up , this is what we need to change all up in here”.
      I mean in some situations I guess it can be a complement. Older black professionals point that out a lot. They will always comment on how I am well spoken. It’s like they are in awe that I can complete a sentence without a slang word attached.

    2. I don't agree with this, especially in my area. I mean, women are constantly ridiculed for being smart. WTF is that? Its like, "you don't even sound like a dumb blonde" and that's supposed to be a compliment.

      Then there are other struggles that don't get the attention of the press or mainstream society, like disability in the work force. The judgments that go along with mental and physical illness are just unbearable. Homosexuality has gotten a lot of press lately for gay rights, but there is a lot of "You don't seem gay to me" talk in offices today too.

      I honestly think that all people, particularly minorities, have their struggles that they face in trying to get acceptance in America. Should they be considered equally? Thats for you to decide, but I don't think this problem is unique to Blacks.
      My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

  2. This is not a situation unique to black people. There are Asians that fear people will classify them as bad drivers, Latino people who go to Speech Therapists to pronounce words more like native english speakers and women who try to return to work as soon as possible, sacrificing the maternity leave allotted. This is the burden of being a minority. However, if true equality is the goal we have to remove this "responsibility" we put on yourselves because it further perpetuates the stereotyping. I represent myself so if I am successful it may open doors for others that look like me but I do not think that it will change stereotypes as most of them are based on conditioning and not facts.

    1. I think it differs because African Americans ..are Americans. We are expected to have the same rights and access to education and resources from birth as white Americans. The situation that was described undermines his intelligence. That greatly differs from an immigrant who is coming to this country at an older age, already at a disadvantage.
      My recent post Ladies…should you wear heels EVERYDAY?

        1. @Starita34 valid point. The point I was trying to make is that though African Americans have been in the U.S. long before any of the other "non-black" immigrants, we are still considered "impressive" if we demonstrate skills that are at the same level as our white counterparts. Subconsciously we judge the other nationalities differently. If a Mexican American opens his mouth to speak, he either has an accent or doesn't. In our mind we will either assume "he recently migrated to the U.S." or "he must be American born". Same with an Asian. How often do you hear someone tell an Asian, who has NO accent, "you speak good English for an Asian". It just doesn't happen as often as it does to an African American. But these are merely opinions. I would love to see a social experiment done on this.
          My recent post Ladies…should you wear heels EVERYDAY?

        2. Latinos have about a 60 year head start on the African slave boats and let's not forget the first immigrants (you know, the white ones that claimed the already taken land). But that's really irrelevant. Minorities get asked stupid, stereotypical, ignorant, rude, backhanded, outright racist, and well-intentioned but hurtful things all the time – and we're a nation of minorities.

          America is not just Black and white, nor is the world.

          Chris's story is valid. It's his story and his feelings. But so is the South Korean American or the British immigrant or the 8th generation Mexican American that still gets asked for his proof of citizenship weekly.

          Here's a social experiment you can try today. Look through today's comments and pick out all the stereotypes used in a post about the negative effects of stereotypes.

          No group is immune. All we can do is try our best not to perpetuate the cycle and educate one another.

          We're all our own person and we're all part of something bigger at the #SameDamnTime. Such is life. It's complicated and ish.

        3. I do agree that every minority has their stereotypes and daily struggle, but speaking specifically to the work place, I beleive this is a unique struggle for African Americans. I say this because around the world, blacks are believed to be the "stupid race". We are looked at as less competent than any other race. In the past, there were studies conducted "proving" that black people were the least intellectual race. There have been lawyers in the past that defended blacks with the "they are too dumb to commit that crime" defence. That is why the "you speak so well" comment hurts us the most and every chance we get we have to go above and beyond to prove ourselves and feel the need to represent our race. As an engineering student and intern, I definitely feel the pressure.

      1. All do respect, there are Americans that speak other languages in their homes that cause them to pronounce English with an accent, there is also a regional element to this stereotype. Also assuming that Asians are all "older immigrants" is incorrect, there are generations of Asians born in the US that are treated as "perpetual foreigners". I agree with you that the situation was unfortunate but, I cannot agree with you about the expectations of African Americans to have equatable assess to resources I do think many black people understand they have to (unfortunately) work twice as hard to get to the same positions as their white counterparts. This would not be the case if there was equatable access. My hope is one day this may not be the case but, until then many black people in positions of power no matter how great are overqualified and as such are a threat (real or perceived) so that's where these "your so ______ for a ______" come into play, psychological warfare.

  3. “He lived far east on Long Island and that his only real knowledge of black people was what he saw on TV and read in books.”

    Horrible excuse, but a lot of people only know the black culture from one angle. During my last semester in college I interned at a very big media company. I could count the number of black employees I saw on a daily basis ( minus the mail room and custodial staff) there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. Of course as a black professional I feel like I represent my race at times, heck in school especially taking AP classes where there were not a lot of minorities I always felt like people looked for me to give them the inside scoop on black culture.

  4. I think we also make it hard on ourselves sometimes. We perpetuate our own stereotypes at times. For example I went to an informational meeting with a big PR firm in the city through this networking group. It was me and 15 other people at a round table. Now out of 15 people only 3 of us were black. Now the second girl was cool but the first girl was a walking ghetto stereotype. Were in the round table all introducing ourselves, and she was just all out of place, I know everyone is a little rough around the edges but dang. The lady asked her “what school did she attend” she goes “Right now I just hang out around my friend school and chill but I’m going to go back soon, other than that I model and promote parties”. Then she tried to pass out her card, all the other students (white and other races) were looking at her like she was crazy. I just shook my head on the inside.

      1. I agree that some of us don't represent our race to the best of their ability but the problem I have is when that "some" automatically translates to all. There are stereotypes in every race but it just seems like minorities have the harshest one associated with them

    1. But my question though is so what?

      I mean, I get that she was Black, but does that mean she represented you? I think that as a part of Black America "rises" into this middle class in America we've got to make sure that we don't make the same judgments on the Black America that we come from that White America does.
      My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

      1. She might not have represented me personally but trust at the end of that meeting when I was walking home with some of the members of the group they did ask did we come together, did I know her, It's like they wanted me to explain her actions.

        “I think that as a part of Black America "rises" into this middle class in America we've got to make sure that we don't make the same judgments on the Black America that we come from that White America does.”
        I agree. But ratchet is ratchet. Not saying she had to be perfect but, she was just acting a fool. The difference between me and white America is that I know that all black people don’t act like that and I don’t expect them too. I look at your actions then make assessments form there, I don’t assume just because of the color of your skin.

      2. "…we've got to make sure that we don't make the same judgments on the Black America that we come from that White America does."

        ~love this…albeit it's difficult to go against your natural default setting…and that goes for both (black and white). Nevertheless I love it…and extremely valid.

  5. Whenever a white person says "you speak so well for a black man", I always wonder what the heck they use as reference material. I mean, sure it's easy to blame reality TV, hip hop, and even the local news sound bytes. But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking "have you never seen a Denzel interview? Will Smith? Tony Dungy on NFL Sundays? Colin Powell?" All very eloquent, well-versed black men yet white people choose to defer to rappers and athletes as representatives of the black male diaspora. It's a tired, weak excuse and an even more offensive opinion to share aloud. I know when I 1st started working in sports marketing, 70% of the agencies were headed up by white men who went to prestigious schools and had law degrees. I lost count on how many times I got asked "how did you get into Hofstra? You hoop?" -_- But now? You have guys like the Goodwin brothers and LRMR that set a new model for black men in leadership positions.

    As far as the recruiting thing, I'd guess that it's the same M.O that some top med and law schools use to retain minorities. They go to the top HBCUs and handpick applicants that they foresee being able to excel and finish a PWI graduate/post doctorate program. Often times, those are the people who prosper in the dichotomy of being a black professional. For other races, they might have to only meet the expectations in their 1st 6. We have to surpass the expectations, constantly.
    My recent post When will it be Melo’s turn?

  6. "My only question now is, do people of other races feel that same pressure and do they burden the same responsibilities when interacting with others?"

    I don't have first hand experience as a member of another race outside of black, however, my intuition would tell me that the short answer is Yes; while the long answer is certainly no. Due to the deep rooted historical conflicts centered around the notion of "white v. black" in America (not to say that other races have not been oppressed in America), I don't think the pressure felt by other races can even begin to be compared to that of blacks in America.

    Part of the problem is some white people, in certain places in the country, have been able to effectively shield themselves (or for better argument, their children) from frequent and meaningful contact and social interactions with other ethnic or minority groups. Some have gone to predominately all white schools, have predominately all white friends, live in predominately all white suburban neighborhoods and work in predominately all white professions/atmospheres. So, if they didn’t care to make a conscious effort at fraternizing with blacks or other minorities, they didn’t have; and neither did their children (which creates curiosity about other races in the minds of youth and the blanks are filled in by what you read, see, or hear in the media)

    During undergrad, I frequently ran into classmates that never had a black person in their class. I was the first black person that they interacted with in an intimate academic setting (class of 20 or less). In law school, in a class of roughly 100, I was the only young black male between the age of 22 – 26. The trend only gets worse as you exit the “nurturing academic setting.”

    I never thought I would ever be able to say that I was the “first black person” to do X, Y, or Z (Or that I would be seen to another person as a trailblazer in any aspect of my life, or that I would have to for that matter; I mean, it’s 2012 isn’t it…?) until I worked part time at a small boutique law firm (roughly 15 attorneys). A couple weeks after starting, one of the file guys said, “Man, I’ve been working here for 8 years and I’ve known “Principal Shareholder” since I was small, and you’re the first black person I’ve EVER seen walk through these doors that wasn’t on the cleaning staff.”

    Similarly to how the two instances you mentioned that were prominent in shaping your life and playing a part in the professional man you’ve become, that statement was a huge awakening for me. Albeit, my experience was on a much smaller scale, but I believe it still encapsulates the experiences of blacks and other minorities at every level all over America. It made me realize that although we have come very far, we still have a long way to go and you may very well find yourself in many situations in which you are the only black person. Therefore, you become the face of an entire race in some settings and are literally, as your article suggests, “representing your race…”

    Were you overreacting and being too sensitive…? (In regards to your impression and feelings after the CEO’s comments) No. I don't think so. I would have taken offense to the comment as well. To me, statements and comments of that nature are laced with potent racist effects and are inappropriate in any setting (corporate executive level meeting, at the grocery store, or on the metro). In the new millennium, it is covert, subliminal, and benign (arguably unintentional and expressed unknowingly), but is still racism nonetheless and is uncalled for.

    1. YES! geez. It sucks that the predominant white environment applies to me — and I'm black. How offensive is it when I'm like 'what is this…..rump shaking house party you speak of afro man?' I feel so bad. My parents had me in private schools, specialty programs, they wanted to bump me up grades, advance my schooling. Smh @ the 'OMG a black man!!!!' syndrome this causes. I don't think white people mean anything by it I think it's like…..if you saw a rare or endangered animal it's beauty would fascinate you but you're unsure of how to interact with it. Black men are like Hank/Beast in a suit and you have to figure if he's dangerous or trustworthy as a mutant — but calling a black man a beast in a suit is the racist version of a compliment. It's just letting people learn and acclimate to your presence is all.

      1. i grew up around a very lily atmosphere. private school, wanted to bump me up in grades, etc. i was always the only black in my class, from kindergarten through 8th grade. never once did i think of a black man as a mutant, beast, or dangerous. …i think i understand what you're saying but i would think my parents would have done me a great disservice to even allow me, as a black girl/woman, to think that way. white is not the opposite of dangerous and bad. if you'd never interacted with an asian man and then was put in a class with him, would dangerous beast mutant be the first thought in your head? removing the humanity of black men is why "compliments" like "you speak so well" and "they're so well behaved" are said so casually by non-blacks.
        My recent post The Curse of the Creative

        1. Yeah, I thought so.

          I'm glad you said something most people wouldn't have and would just jump to the conclusion I was being insulting. The point of that comment was to show that it hurts. It comes off as ebrasive and/or callous. It initially sounds like an insult. It isn't. The problem is there's a major disconnect in communication. People are looking for negative connations, people are LOOKING for an insult. People WANT to hear that I just insulted black men…

          When in fact what I just said was 'black men are considered threats at the CEO level; it takes a certain level of performance and upper level executives just need the time to adjust.' better known as Beast mode. *equips everyone with translator chips* It's cool. We'll get through it. Be prepared for that grate the higher up you go.

        2. "if you'd never interacted with an asian man and then was put in a class with him, would dangerous beast mutant be the first thought in your head?"

          Most importantly the excitement of seeing a black man rise through the ranks was also missed. That's really annoying. It sincerely annoys me. At no point does anyone grasp the lesson in a small comment they just assume "this is wrong!" and put no effort into learning the point, wishing instead to having it explained. The point is being raised in a predominantly white environment especially as a female and then seeing a black male also in such a position equates to pride and excitement….whereas white people are extremely uncomfortable and need time to adjust.

      2. Growing up for me, being of mixed race, was a an all together unique experience. My mother insured that we had a wide range of experiences from all cultural aspects…including those that were not native to ours. It also came with a rude awakening to the stereotypes and prejudices in American society. The comment that ” It’s just letting people learn and acclimate to your presence is all.”, in my opinion, speaks volumes to how many minorities view racism. Of course, they dont like it…manys times they will speak out against it, with their peers…but when faced with it…they will accept it as a unchangeable norm of society. Tolerance is what perpetuates continuance. Im not saying one should start “Slappin the taste outta ppls mouths” for racist remarks…but just as one can articulate for a paycheck…one can as eloquently express the inappropriateness of said commets and enlightening the speaker on their jaded view of said minority group stereotypes. Ignoring or downplaying these viewpoints stagnates our society as a whole. The human race has progressed far beyond the simple mindedness of racism…we are just failing to hold those accountable that havent figured it out yet.

        1. again. You missed the point. The remark wasn't racist. *makes a mental note of how I coincidentally always click back to the site when someone is talking to me. Eerie* Nor did I say "tolerate racism". That came from your own mind and it doesn't seem as if you focused too hard on what I said. Try to work your way through what I ACTUALLY said vs. how you decided to take it. It helps with clear communication.

          as for the rest of it I agree. I've taken that approach myself when in the company of those who may not have had much experience with blacks. Which is why I said "it takes time for them to acclimate" being that it also takes time to teach them to relax. They have to get used to addressing you and interacting and you as the minority also have to understand what offends you is not necessarily racist….just because it offended you.

  7. I was the epitome of the “speak so well” negro…going back to high school i was the kid who strolled in late, du rag and throwback, disengaged in class yet sitting on a 3.8 GPA that probably could’ve been higher. I guess i enjoyed being the contradiction, when teachers would call on me to catch me off guard but i catch them with an articulate answer.

    However that was 5 years ago, and my perspective changed. I will not be taken lightly. I wouldnt say i feel pressure to represent my race but i do represent my family, my alumni, my neighborhood and of course myself. I feel the race war is a losing battle, for every misconception i point out theres 3-4 ignant muhfuggas that show otherwise. At the end of the day i dont want that pressure #2011Lebron i can only worry about me. *walks away muttering the Serenity prayer*

  8. wouldnt say its unique…im sure otherminorities have their own stereotypes they have to rise above, hell even white people do too. Perhaps african americans we get the worst reps but we arent the only ones in this here game.

  9. "Therefore I try my best to prepare for the challenges that await me, but never could have imagined the pressure and loneliness that comes with it."

    The better prepared you are the more people will hate and envy you. The easier your challenges become the more you're forced into a minority within your people. The closer you get to the top the less relateable you are — it's going to hurt. A lot. Get used to it and laugh off the negativity. I thought as an AA woman it was a good thing to have scoped the struggle of life and corporate America because I could support my man and the men in my community…then I realized I got there first. alone.

    Men on the come up point out it's easier for women — and it is — but at least black men have one another. I just have unsolicited perspective.

    It'll get lonely and stay lonely because no one's at the top to connect with. You need the correct permission slip to speak in certain circles.

  10. "Whether it was or it wasn’t, I have taken from those interactions the pressure and responsibility of representing my race to those who may not have had much interaction with black people. I have applied this way of thinking to every presentation, project and interaction. Everything I do I must be the best because of the fear of letting my people down."

    I really feel like you're putting too much pressure on yourself. You're just one individual. You are not responsible for the entire Black race and the representation of that race. Dumb people exist, have always existed and will always exist. You've just got to do you.

    One day (it may have already come) you're probably going to do something that is considered "Black". Maybe playing basketball, maybe eating chicken, maybe liking hip hop, maybe writing for SBM, but not everybody's going to be happy with everything you do. Its just a fact of life and a part of growing up (at least in my opinion) is realizing that you're you and I'm me. I can try to be the best person I can be, but the stuff that I've been through is part of what made me, so in the end all I can be is me and I've got to accept that and so do the people around me.
    My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

  11. To answer your question, I believe the 'black tax' is limited to black professionals. As for me, I used to resist the pressure to "perform" and "be perfect" for White folks, because as far as some of 'them' are concerned, I'll never be on their level, no matter what I do. For example, if President Obama STILL can't get the respect he deserves from white men, there is surely no hope for little ol' chocolate me.

    In my experience interacting with other minorities, I find that some Asians also feel a need to prove themselves. As for the majority of white people? Not sure that they will ever know what it feels like. Since their race is in control, they are more lenient with themselves. For example, a white person makes a mistake, minimizes it, and is forgiven. A black person does the same thing and suddenly our whole race is incompetent!

    I think it is wise to always push yourself to do the best you can, but for YOU, not white folks. You are your biggest competition and God gave everyone different gifts. I've done my best, made mistakes, beat myself up over them and made myself ill (literally) because of them. I'm not doing that to myself anymore.

  12. One of my brothers is a teacher. He teaches in a predominantly white school district. He's an english teacher. he had a conversation with his class one day on perceptions, and explained the black perspective on how we are portrayed like this:

    He told them "whats one of the worst representations of white america that you think is out there? Like people who make you say "that isnt how we all act"? His class brought up the Jersey Shore cast. To which he replied "imagine if every black person thought that all white people were jersey shore."

    Needless to say, they got the point.

    Whether we like it or not, in certain settings we are going to be the sole representation. We have to curb our actions accordingly. there's been countless times that i curbed my temper so that i would NEVER be perceived as the angry black guy. Sucks but hey… it is what it is
    My recent post The Best Dilemma To Have

    1. +1. Also for every Jersey Shore type show; there is a show like Friends, Big Bang Theory, Old Christine, Will & Grace, How I Met your Mother, 24, Dexter.

      Basically they have been representation across the board. I have no problem with Love and hip hop or BBW but for every show like that, there are very few shows that represent us in s different light. Most of the popular shows were Blacks have money and power they are either in the entertainment field or live in Atlanta.

      In corporate America there is usually only a handful of us, so like others I curb some of my actions so others won’t be so quick to throw me in the angry black business women box. I think we all curb are actions in certain settings that’s just nature.

    2. It sucks for all my positive talk I've given so far, but I did have to learn to control my anger for just this reason. I didn't want to be the angry Black guy. Now that I'm older, there are other reasons too (lower stress, don't want high blood pressure are two), but I know that I made this change because I felt that weight on myself and didn't want to represent my people badly.
      My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

    3. Wow Streetz. I had that exact thought but what I was gonna say "I call bull. Stop telling this dude he doesn't have that responsibility when he does. It's part of adult responsibility quit making him so soft smfh."

      I would FEEL sarcastic if I said it the way you did because I'd be gritting my teeth while trying to find a soothing way to say it. It feels like babying a grown man. Like, that's the reality of moving up in your career. Develop thick skin.

  13. First of all, great post and great comments.

    I completely agree that all minorities (which I'm defining as the outnumbered group in any situation – blacks, other races, homosexuals, transgender, disabled, etc) have to deal with stereotypes on the daily basis. To some extent we are all faced with the burden of representation, whether we choose to accept it or not. If you're the one black person that someone is exposed to outside of TV and rap music, they will take much of what you do and attribute it to the thoughts/actions/opinion of the entire race. That's been shown by study after study.

    That being said, I come at this from a slightly different angle. As a black woman, it is sometimes interesting to explore the challenges at the intersection of race and gender. Since as far back as I can remember my race has been my dominant identity, with my gender coming in second (or unnoticed) pretty much all of the time. When I got to college, I decided to major in Women's Studies for precisely this reason – because I wanted an opportunity to deeply explore the part of my identity that I wasn't raised paying as much attention to.

    Almost immediately I found that the feminist movement (especially in the early years) was racist as hell. After studying feminism for several years, it's hard not to note the challenges that come with trying to fit into two movements that don't totally capture who you are. The civil rights movement is awesome but very much male-led and doesn't always take into account the specific needs of black women (Clarence Thomas, anyone?). The feminist movement struggles to take in the dual identifies and challenges of black women.

    This article really got me thinking about the challenges I face as a black person and the challenges I face as a woman. It can be overwhelming at times to face a double burden of representation but as usual, I find myself more drawn to the experiences of my black peers than I do to my female ones.
    My recent post 7 Things Fearless Women do Differently

  14. I'm reminded of a quote from Chris Rock: "All my black friends have lots of white friends and all my white friends have one black friend."

    Not to be callous but I'm not sure co-workers and friends are one in the same. I'm not sure how many, if any, co-workers I would keep in contact with, hang out with, or have met if it wasn't for work. This isn't limited to my current job. This includes my past, current, and future career. I bring that up, because I think it's crucial we set the stage for who these people are. For the most part, they are people we interact with by circumstance, for work, not by choice, for friendship. Now whether we believe they are acting professionally and courteously during our hours of interaction is another matter.

    By coincidence or not, I'm the only black guy at my office – but, for whatever it's worth, I'm not the only minority. When I was younger, I considered myself a representative of black men everywhere but as I got older and became more comfortable with self, I accepted that I'm only a representative of me. If someone wants to view me as a representative for all black men, that's their choice. That, however, is not the burden I place on myself. I do remember bearing that crown though – and it was heavy. I'm WisdomIsMisery, take it or leave it.

    Every now and then I receive, for lack of a better word, awkward compliments like the one your CEO gave you. Most recently, I was told after a presentation I reminded a number of people "of the old spice guy." Personally, I didn't take offense to this; although it was a bit off-putting because I put a lot of work into this particular presentation only to be equated to a character from a commercial – who happened to be articulate and black. On the other hand, I know a number of white people truly do not come in contact with a lot of black people, especially black men, in a professional setting. Therefore, I choose not to take offense when they view me as different than their expectations, what they see on the news or TV (hell sometimes I even cringe at how we're characterized on TV or how we act ourselves. VH1, anyone?), going against a stereotype, or whatever else. As long as my check shows up every two-weeks and I have an equal opportunity for promotions and opportunities in and around the office/company, I could really care less what they think to be perfectly honest. If I didn't feel that was the case, I would leave. In my mind a job is a job. It is not a prison. If I don't like the job, the people, or the environment, I would respectfully leave.

    Some people are genuinely ignorant, which is not the same as being dumb, and this is not limited to their knowledge of black men. I guess, for the most part, I give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that's ignorant of me.

    My recent post Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

    1. "As long as my check shows up every two-weeks and I have an equal opportunity for promotions and opportunities in and around the office/company, I could really care less what they think to be perfectly honest. "

      That's all that matters at the end of the day

    2. Yes, I agree somewhat. As long as I'm depositing these checks into my bank account, then I shouldn't sweat the small stuff. But I also feel as though I have a right to earn a living, and to do so while not being racially harassed. What someone else thinks is irrelevant to me earning a living, but the second that person starts making statements that are inappropriate in the workplace; a problem arises.

      Referring back to the original article, I feel that the CEO's statement was inappropriate because he could have given him praise in front of everyone and included the statement with the praise. Instead, he resorted to a private conversation. What for? Why the private “pull me to the side” and not the open disclosure in front of everyone? Probably because he knew what he was about to say was inappropriate. I couldn't begin to give the benefit of the doubt in that situation; however, I don't think it would be ignorant of someone else to do so.

  15. I am used to being the only or one of the only blacks in my classes or workplace. When black men go into engineering, it's usually mechanical or electrical, so I'm not bumping into too many other black men or women in structural. While I am not trying to prove anything to these people, and I'm not trying to be the great black hope to people who don't believe blacks can be intelligent, at the same time I realize my performance does affect what others think about the race as a whole. It also doesn't help that if you're black, you have to be superlative; when you're white, you just need to be competent. Every misstep will be magnified.

    I've heard/read on many occasions that some employers don't hire blacks because some of us that they've hired in the past were poor workers, and they stereotype the entire race. Unfortunately, when you're the only black person they see, and they are in a position of power, your performance can determine if other blacks will be promoted or hired at all.

  16. “I never heard a black person articulate the way you just did.”

    All I could hope and pray is that if something like that was said to me, I still had a job at the end of that moment. I commend you for keeping it together but…Iono if I woulda been able to.

    I went to a black elementary school and a black college. All else was either white or a very nice mix of both. Either way, I had plenty white buddies that I could be myself around. At the j.o.b., minorities are minorities (not to the extent you described at the first spot), but professionalism is a standard…this conversation would have never occurred. I'm glad about that too cause umm…I'm a checker. I check folk who need it. I've even checked my current boss…who is a white male. So umm, yeah, lol. Admittedly though, I am constantly teased when friends/fam call my desk phone and I answer with my "work voice"…then, once I know who it is, I talk "regular", LMBO. #SwitchOnSwitchOff

  17. Sorry, I refuse to carry the weight of my race, gender AND ethnicity on my shoulders. I'm a Black Hispanic Female, I get told every sinlge day- EVERY day- how articulate I am, depending on how you've heard of me first.
    "Oh, Ms. Acosta (upon meeting after email correspondence)? Wow, you don't have an accent."
    "Oh…hi…(upon meeting me face-to-face after speaking on the phone) I didn't think you were….black? You speak so….different!" **insert cheery smile**
    "Wow…(upon hearing me speak at a meeting)..I've never heard a woman explain that like you did"

    1. To be honest, I don't really care. I understand that people may have had limited experience with people who look like me, take that into consideration, and act accordingly. If you travel extensively out of America, you will learn that basically , ALL people do this to some extent. I've been the "Ugly American" until proven otherwise more times than I can count. I get it. I don't pretend like I know the innerworkings of white people, either. I had no clue that italians & Irish don't mingle, white is white is white to me. But I asked honest questions, and give honest answers in return. That's all. Alot of people have no clue how offensive they are, and quite frankly, I have no interest in educating them. I'm here to work, not save the world.

  18. Maybe I am the idiot. But I really dont see what's wrong with the first situation. I mean he probably shouldnt have said it because it might have offended you, its probably not the most professional thing to say. However, does the lack of profesionalness (is that a word?) make the statement intrinsically wrong? But what if in actuallity, he has never seen a black person articulate in the way you did Slimothy? What if he was telling the truth? What if he had never personally interacted with any intelligent black ppl? Not by choice, but my circumstance. Is he a racist now? Is he ignorant?

    When I say "i have never seen an asian guy as good at basketball as you Mr. Lin." am I being ignorant? When I say "Laura, I've never seen a woman who is as confident in the workplace as you." is that ignorant as well? Everything that offends, isnt offensive…

    1. “Everything that offends isnt offensive”

      True. To me it was more of why would he assume that Slim would speak and articulate any other way. I mean his in a professional setting, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been hired if he came in there talking like JJ Evans from Good Times. I think his comment was misguided. His excuse was a little sorry to; “well this is what I see in TV and books.” Clearly you’re not reading books or watching shows that show us in a professional setting. I mean I watch shows that have Asian people in them, just because I met an Asian person on the street or in the office don’t mean I expect them to bust out in Karate or call me Sensei.

    2. Right. My point exactly…..as demonstrated above. Smfh. It's annoying "quit being so sensitive" = the last thing a black man wants to hear though so I just opted for "toughen up and get used to it".

    3. +100

      Everything that offends, isnt offensive…

      Agreed. I think the only difference between this guy, and most people, is he only made the mistake of saying out loud what any number of people think. I think all kinds of crazy shyt. lol I'm just intelligent enough to not say most of it out loud. If a racist thinks racist thoughts and doesn't say them to your face, does that make him any less racist? Whereas, if a person who is not racist says something to your face that can be perceived as offensive from a genuine place of ignorance, does that make them racist, offensive, or simply insensitive? I guess perception is reality. As I said above, I usually live and let live. And as @Amaris_Acosta, I'm not out here trying to save the world. Frankly, we're all ignorant in our own ways. We all stereotype. As they say about politicians, a "gaffe" is when a politician accidentally says what he's really thinking. I think this sentiment can be extended to the average person as well. What's funny is most people remain ignorant because they're scared to have these types of open discussions face to face, less they become the subject of a blog or offend the person they'd like to compliment and/or understand better. No shots. I'm just saying the reason a lot of people are ignorant, and more importantly, remain ignorant is because we live in a society where you can't have these discussions openly. Instead, you have to turn to Google (http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/how-racist-are-we-ask-google/) or Tweet or blog about it….anonymously.

      Just another side to the coin. *shrugs*

      My recent post Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

      1. I feel you @Wisdom. But we also have to understand that there is a thin line (no matter what race) between simply being misinformed just being out right ignorant and not willing to change your perception. For example I don’t think Kobe should have caught all that heat for calling the ref / the refs call gay, he was playing ball, when you are heated playing any sport you might slip out and curse or say some out of context things. I didn’t mind him doing the P.S.A. but the fine was ridiculous.
        I think what CHRIS boss said was silly not racist, only because he shouldn’t have been surprised that someone his company hired would not be well spoken, no matter what his background was. If anything he should have been surprised if Chris wasn’t articulate and not professional. It also makes you think, what are this companies hiring policies in regards to minorities. (Minorities as in blacks, women, Latinos , Asian etc..) Are they hiring minorities because they are more than qualified or just to fill a small quote to shut people up? (I’m only saying this because the CEO made the comment).

    4. I so agree, not everything said is with the intention to offend. Some become so compelled by an experience, they just have to speak on it offering very little thought to how it may come across. In cases like these where sincereity is obviously presence, provide a small allowance for humanity but don't miss the lesson of politely revealing to that person that you are far from an aberration, but just simply an individual who took advantage of life opportunities and blessings. Don't feel the need to defend an entire race because that's unrealistic and ironically will cause him to focus on race more; instead, get him to focus on you as the individual and maybe he will see things in shades of gray rather than black and white.

  19. I think being a black man in the work place can have some strange moments…I have always felt like there aren't enough Black people in high positions where I work but I have tried to keep my blockers on. But what I have noticed a lot is when i see young brother walking into the office listening to 2chainz on his beats headphones i want to pull him aside and say something , Also when i see a young black guy wearing a BIG earing or Jordans to work…it makes me cringe…i feel like we do represent our Race and we should try to help the few that are out there

  20. I think I felt that pressure a lot more when I was in college. I went to a magnet school for middle and high school and there was no way to be the only black girl in a class.. but in college the script flipped. I found myself working hard to not be a stereotype.. Now, I'm just me. I'm a teacher in a diverse school, and we discuss stereotypes and code switching and how one moment doesn't represent who we are. My students, and parents and colleagues see me going from the most articulate explanation of subject verb agreement for the class, to breaking it down to one of my babies in language that we share… I can only be me. If you think I stand for the black race… that's sad.. but even if you do, I'm good because I'm not a bad representation if I may say so myself… But this isn't unique to being black.. My Hispanic and Asian students have hinted at similar insecurities.. some hiding their background to appease the masses.

  21. My only question now is, do people of other races feel that same pressure and do they burden the same responsibilities when interacting with others?

    I don't look at it as a burden. I would look at it as how the world really is. I also see it as an opportunity to understand that I must continue to help uplift my community. How many of us get followed around the store although you don't steal? How many young people are viewed strange if they serve on community committees? The reality is we have to understand a universal truth—We are One or nothing. Until we understand that we are each others keeper we will continue to not understand why others lump us all in one group.

    You can continue to question and act as if this isn't so, however, will that change this fact. No, it will not. People (and we do it as well) will continue to say those white people are crazy or all blacks are hoodlums or baby mommas because this is how most view groups of people.

    This is why it is important that each one teach one. Regardless of how we feel it should be, this is how it’s been and will be, so work with it instead of against it. We should all make it a point to better each other because like it or not…we all represent each other.

    Is this something primarily limited to us? Probably not.

  22. I can totally relate to this. I’m not even in a truly professional setting yet, but I am so tired of people telling me I talk white and there’s no way I’m really black. Or if I’m reading a book about stocks or one of my favorite songs is by Kings of Leon. I am so tired of people placing me into a box and expecting all black women to be loud and ghetto and surprised that I passed calculus with a B. I have never held the notion of representing for my race because I’ve never really cared about people’s opinions about me, but I’ve found it’s mostly people of other races that do this crap.

    They have this preconceived notion of what a black person is and when you don’t fit thier racist, stereotypical mold you are the weirdo. It blows my mind. I am constantly fighting off stupid stereotypes because they are close minded and don’t realize we are all people regardless of race and it’s our environment and our genes that predetermine who we are.

    I say don’t carry that burden of representing for your race, do good for you and not for other people. Live for you, you are always going to run into ignorant mofos, don’t change for them because of their ignorance.

  23. Hearing "you're articulate for a black man" is something many of us will experience once in our lifetime, whereas i can count it on one hand. There are white folks oblivious to the different kinds of black people that exist, then there are the ones that choose to ignore us.

    Now, I understand how many brothas feel but I don't shoulder the weight of all black men on my shoulder. We aren't as monolithic as people think. I represent MY family, the men in MY family and MYSELF, not the entire race. On the job my performance and accolades is a result of my hardwork, not the collective of a few sparsely distributed tokens to check the "diversity" box. At the current company I work out, I am surrounded by many different nationalities and never had that many "racial" moments, just annoying people getting in my business. I don't necessarily like corporate America, but I know how to navigate it without too much fuss. One thing I'm not going to do is feel like I am responsible for my entire race.

  24. So, my mom is from Alabama, deep South, fought in the Civil Rights Movement and like other older Black folk has always said, "you have to work twice as hard to get half as far." Contrast this with my father whose family is from the Cape Verde Islands, he is 2nd generation American, grew up in an all white town in Massachusetts and his family really bought the hype of the American Dream – work hard enough and you will get it: marriage, house, kids, retirement, die. While my father acknowledges race and racism, he doesn't have a lot of hang-ups that my mom has.

    But my father, a Black man, had the highest test scores of anyone (red, yellow black and white) at his medical school. He has had to literally fight the 'man' on so many levels throughout his career as people have straight disrespected him, his intelligence and his credentials. He has sued for discrimination and won. And checked folks when they try to put him in his place. But he has always handled it with dignity and grace. Whereas my mama is always ready to burn something down and tell someone about themselves.

    From this, I have learned the importance of balance. You be the best you that you can be. As if race doesn't matter. But don't get it twisted and forget because race does matter to some folks who will expect you to be a certain way because you are… Defy those expectations. Exceed them. Challenge them. With a smile. But always have that lighter handy, just in case…
    My recent post Thursday’s Thesis: Status Check

    1. Both of my parents are from small towns in Alabama and are significantly older than most everyone's parents here. I can only imagine what they faced growing up and during their lifetime. The thing about my Father is back in the day birth certificates were always a little iffy and he was abandoned at an early age. We lucked out and got a good name and even though he didn't even so much as get his GED he worked his way through the ranks and is making six figures. He's quite possibily….the most infuriating Mr. Miagi calm I have ever met in my life. He's respectful. Laid back. Non-chalant. But it works for him. My mother on the other hand. lol……….

      1. was a pistol. I can not even begin to tell you the connects this woman had just from serving up a plate "of oh hell no" so the balance thing is definitely important. For whatever reason it's more impressive for a woman to be….(smart mouthed) edgy/sensitive. I've gotten "what an exquisite creature" before. and I had to sit there and think about it for a good long while. I opt to believe in flattery. combined with a perfect performance across the board. with a little twist of ruthlessness when I'm closing. It worked out well for me but I'm retired now.

  25. I asked some of my friends their opinions this morning and almost all of them understood how the CEO could arrive at his conclusion and did not believe it was coming from a malicious place. One of my friends said "The reality is that a lot of black people who are in the public eye do things that contribute to other races perception of us". Another friend followed up with the statement "everyone stereotypes no matter what race they are. We all heard at one point in our lives that white man can't jump or asian people cannot drive. Although I personally understand and acknowledge this to be true, it should not in anyway give a pass to this type of behavior. The more we continue to make excuses for behavior like this the more we will enable it to continue.

  26. I’m still trying to get a career started, but I’ll say that in my experience trying to break “in” to somewhere …I frighten people. I represent me and that’s the way I’d like to keep it unless I start a global career then yes I would like to spread a certain image abroad. I’m a big guy of serious demeanor and I mean business. The vibe I get from corporate people is that they can’t talk to me “just any way” and that I probably won’t make for a good pet negro. I’m very well spoken and I have yet to be asked that question, but the reactions I get from people says it all.

    Even the white people I’m cool with stay on egg shells. I let nothing slide. They know that if they even bring one of their Freudian slippers around that they better have a team huddle first. I don’t answer questions on behalf of all black people and I will check somebody for stepping to me like that. But to answer the question, I would’ve said that I come from a long line of well spoken black men. I speak 3 languages and my son will speak 4.

  27. Between grad school, work, home, and socially, I feel almost constantly in a state of representing and/or defending African Americans. And it's not just from whites; I'm half Nigeria and the hate that Africans spew against African American rivals that any redneck.

    At first it was frustrating and overwhelming. I am both the youngest and only African American manager. I felt pressure to be well spoken, dress the part, and don't get me started on me having natural hair in the corporate world! I kept having second doubts but the fact of the matter is they choose me because they have confidence in me to do the job. Let me also mention how proud I feel because all the praise that I get from peers & elders when I tell them what I do.

    While they are a lot of us out here "doing our thing" professionally there are also a lot of us "doing our thing" in the streets. I take the pressure and I wear as a badge of honor. I'm not doing it for white people. I'm doing it for the qualified blacks that came before me who never got a chance to be in my position. I'm going to be the friendliest, most articulate, most put together black female manager you've ever met… while I'm listening to Lil Boosie in my office.

  28. I'm not what you would describe as a black person person in the USA… yet growing up in Australia in the 1960's and 70's I was considered 'black' – not in a 'matter of fact way about the color of my skin (which actually happens to be brown) but in a derogatory way that was intended to demean me and crush my spirit.

    As well as that, as a child and young adult I was subjected to a plethora of racial slurs too numerous to mention (I was even called the 'n' word more times than I care to remember). For a long time I was treated and felt I was a second class citizen.

    Anyway, to answer the author's question: Yes. I absolutely DO feel the pressure and burden of responsibility representing the only 'non-white' person in the organisation I work for (a non-profit). I have to do better. I have to exceed people's expectations. And people always underestimate me.

    I had not experienced overt or covert racism at my current workplace until recently, when after work one night the CEO just happened to slip into her conversation what I considered to be an absolutely horrid, anachronistic, derogatory racial slur. Intentional or not? I don't really know.

    Like the author describes, I just zoned out. I could not speak. I felt in a state of shock and I was surrounded by white people who I just know would not back me or defend me. I really could not believe what I had just heard. Did she really just say that?

    I never thought I would have to deal with such issues at work again. A minute later I walked out, too shocked and disgusted to go back. Ready to resign if necessary, I later confronted her about it and received a kind of half apology by email. Yet she has never apologised or mentioned a single word about the issue to my face… which makes me wonder how sincere her 'apology' really was..


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