Inside The Hidden Behavior Between Races In Public

Inside The Hidden Behavior Between Races In Public
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OK, here’s a quick survey. When a Black person tells you about a particular achievement, do you second-guess him or her more than if a White person tells you the same thing? In the Age of Information we actually have greater access to the private and professional lives of others more than ever before and can, therefore, plainly see that success comes in all shapes and sizes. Yet it seems that such excellence is and has continued to be blurred by an increasingly troubling sentiment around identity and racial interaction in America today. Exactly what is behind such behavior, where is this cultural trend headed next, and what is its impact on our society?

I began thinking deeply about this issue after a brief article happened to catch my eye while skimming The New York Times the other day. The piece was a short news item on the fact that Edith Cooper, a Goldman Sachs executive was leaving her position. Toward the end of the piece it was noted that even though Cooper soared in the position that she was often questioned as to whether or not she really went to Harvard when she said that she did and was even asked to get coffee at meetings which she was actually running.

I was shocked because such slights seemed to echo various points within a popular LinkedIn piece that was written by former Deep Space Scientist and a current tech start-up founder funded by Google’s Diversity program, Mary Spio just a couple of weeks before this piece on Ms. Cooper.

Adventures On Several Levels

My own personal experience with the fraud-before-proven-truthful first hit me while I was attending Columbia University. I had applied early-decision, and it was, in fact the only college to which I had applied. I was beyond happy to be there. In fact, to this day, no one better talk sh*t about Barnard/Columbia! Some classes were small, others were massive lectures. But I will forget what happened when I took a particular lecture class called The History of the City of New York.

Indeed, why just learn about Boss Tweed when you can actually experience in 3D where certain historical events went down. Somehow the professor had come up with a “Midnight Bike Ride” so that we could see the historical landmarks that we learned about in class. (This was pre-Google maps, mind you).

Sure enough, one night we all went to a bike rental shop to get bikes that the school had so wonderfully pre-arranged. Tons of us spun out into the night onto the streets of Manhattan and then into Brooklyn, all led by the professor.

It was fun, but I’m no athlete and soon fell way behind. Fortunately, three males, one of mixed race, two Caucasians, all seniors, decided to take me under their wing and look out for me at the rear for the entire trip. We learned together, ate White Castle together (before organic and kale was standard), laughed together, and finally parted to go back to our respective dorm buildings around 6 am.

Funny, you never know what people thinking. That is, until they tell you.

The following week, though we never saw each other in class before, we happened to sit right near each other. Fate is funny that way. Imagine how I felt, however, when the two Caucasians said, “So you really do go to school here!”

I said, “Well what did you think?” “Oh,” one of the guys said, “We just thought you were from Harlem and heard about it and just were acting like you went to school here.” My diction, knowledge, mannerisms, or anything else had played no factor. In their minds, they were saying “yeah, sure,” while smiling directly at me. Black woman and Ivy League? Has to be a lie, apparently, even for many well-educated, relatively affluent Caucasians with whom, say I, Ms. Cooper, Ms. Spio, and countless other come in contact.

Now, I am not saying that other ethnicities might not be thinking the same thing, but it seems that only Caucasians have the actual audacity/ignorance/rudeness to actually say that they thought you were lying.

Social Fraud

Perhaps you might say that my experience noted above is due to age. But fast-forward a few years after school, and I was questioned by a couple of Caucasian males in a cool Soho Bar if the Chanel backpack I was carrying was indeed real. When I said that it was, one replied, “Yeah, sure.” And walked away.

Fast forward several more years when I was living with my husband-at-the-time on Beverly Glen in Los Angeles. For those who may not be aware, this is a rather affluent canyon whose base is more affluent than the peak. I was at the peak. One of the bases had a great dog/people park.

One day, I drove my Rottweiler down to let him run and play. A Caucasian guy was there with his dog. We started talking casually. Finally, he asked how knew about the park. “Oh, my husband and I just live five minutes up the canyon.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said easily and walked away and got in his car. Guess figured if he had to drive there from some other part of LA that I, being a Black female, couldn’t possibly exceed his lifestyle.

The N*gger Moment”

Now, I know that some people are reading this and thinking, even though I’ve cited Ms. Cooper and Ms. Spio along with my experiences, that these are all mere flukes. But peep the data:

Andrei Cimpian, a brilliant professor of sociology now at New York University ran a fascinating study that demonstrated that Black and female professors were not believed to be “geniuses” like their white, male counterparts.

Acclaimed Yale sociology professor Elijah Anderson has conducted an impressive amount of research in this area as well. In an intriguing book entitled “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility In Everyday Life,” he examines how people interact across racial lines (i.e. how far away we sit from each other, what type of eye contact is given and why, whether one is greeted or not) and the profound impact it can have on the African-American psyche.

“The City Paper” wrote of his book, “The historical legacy of American race and caste inequality can produce the ‘most dangerous and potentially destabilizing’ threat to the cosmopolitan canopy for Anderson. The psychic space of that legacy, despite advances for many African-Americans, can produce what Anderson calls ‘a n*gger moment.’ He writes: ‘Too often, the treatment black people receive in public is based on negative assumptions as strangers they encounter fall back on scripts, roles, and stereotypes about the Black person’s claims to decency and middle-class status.’”

Future Forecast

I believe that this concept may tie into a portion of what people mean when they use the term, white privilege. At its basis, it is not only about being celebrated but believed you are who you are and that your identity is valid, without any need for proof or research. And with that freedom comes invitation, access, the ability to create and build a better quality of life and innovations for society at large. When it is denied, it is as if the very core of your essence has been blotted out.

Such a state is probably at the heart of all the discussions around diversity and workplace today, particularly within the tech arena. (And if you want to see how Black women can and do have to shapeshift in that space, read a fun piece I wrote on actually having to masquerade as part of a 100% Black wait staff to get into Google Christmas party in Washington, DC because it was not believed that I had written a recent piece on the company for “The Daily Beast” and had spoken to the Google publicist in NYC who approved it, only to shape shift back to myself after going through the kitchen and slipping into the main area. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Thus, as we examine new race models in America, this particular form of racism about which I write, could be one of the most dangerous precisely because it is on auto-pilot. It is what we call unconscious (or conscious) cultural bias. And it is formed in large part by repeated images of the same sort being pressed upon our minds. Images from the media, primarily. A media of which African-American do not own, nor are in the boardroom, nor newsroom for the most part. From print to online, to film, on-demand original content, mobile, VR.... Thus, it is imperative that this age-old pattern is changed no matter what it takes.

In meantime, I would like to know how many Caucasian readers ever said, “yeah, sure” aloud or in your minds. And for those who don’t, and say things like “I don’t even see color,” how often have you suggested for promotion, referrals, investment and more with zeal those of color who you find remarkable? How can you up that ante? And for my Black and Latino readers, how many of you have ever been “yeah, sure’d.” I am curious. Share and discuss.

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