You pass out our history papers, you place mine on my desk, and in big, bold red letters, I read, ‘nice job, good insight.’ My smile turns to a frown when I see the grade B+. I compared my paper to a classmate, she received an A+ for only writing half of what I wrote, and you sighted several grammatical errors telling her to pay more attention. I rechecked my paper, for I must have had grammatical errors as well, but there were none.
Then I realized.
You see my skin color, not the quality of my work.
You have a job with specific skill requirements, and I have those skills. I applied, and you interviewed me impressed with my skills. You are in awe at such a young age, and I have amassed such ability, but turn me away mumbling something about a skill not required for the job.
You see my skin color, not my qualifications.
I dropped off my paper on the topic we are covering, which interests me deeply. My writing is correctly cited and footnoted, and it meets all the requirements to be the foundation for my end-of-year thesis.
You return my paper commenting on how insightful and well organized it was, mentioning you wish the other students took such interest in the subject matter as I did. I’m pleased with the praise until I see the grade you assigned. Your recognition implied it was a paper deserving an A grade, but something you said helped me understand the B+ you gave it when you said, “I didn’t think someone like you could write so eloquently on this topic.”
You saw my skin color, not my ability to write.
I sit across from you in your office discussing my performance review. What I read and hear you say suggests you’re delighted with my overall performance. You go out of your way to rave about how artfully I handle a specific project, bringing it in on time despite all the pitfalls that befell the project. Your praise is that of exceeding expectations. But, you give me a lower rating while rating the department screw up higher.
You see my skin color, not my ability to manage complex situations successfully.
Time passes, and time has put us together at a conference. You see me across the way, hustle over to reestablish old acquaintances. You stick your hand out for me to shake. At first, I don’t recognize you, and then your face comes into focus. I shake your hand with enthusiasm and proceed to introduce you to my acquaintances. When one comments, ‘so this is the professor who told you he didn’t think you could write so eloquently on the subject matter which is the foundation of your company?’
I see your surprise and your discomfort. As I am about to address the issue, I sense the trepidation in your face. Apologizing for my colleague’s bluntness, I pull you aside and pull out my smart business card and tap your phone, and you see my information.
You are surprised. Understandably. Throughout my life, you or someone like you had always short-changed me in grades, job opportunities, job advancement, or just in general when we met on the street.
You never considered my ability to soar, grow, or develop in areas I expressed interest.
Your mind could not comprehend or handle fundamental truths,
All you saw was the color of my skin.
The darkness of my skin clouded your thinking, judging me based on some ignorant stereotypes you grew up with and were too lazy to learn the truth about people with my skin tone. Unwilling to change your beliefs prevented you from benefitting from my knowledge.
You felt comfortable marking my paper down, denying me a job, questioning my capability and ability to perform above average, refusing to promote me or give me a higher raise because of my skin color.
As my smart business card displays on your phone, you’re surprised at my title and amazed I run my own business, or that I’m the President of a college, or a globe trouting entrepreneur with a substantial Instagram following.
So in our conversation, I don’t degrade you, and you are surprised I am thanking you for what you did to me.
You saw the color of my skin, and you believed because of it, I wasn’t as bright as those who looked like you.
Your ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, and racism was the catalyst that drove me and sustained me. It propelled me to move forward and not stand still and accept your narrow-mindedness nor did it dissuade or discourage me from reaching for my dreams and making them come true.
I am not saying what you did to me because all you saw was my skin tone didn’t hurt. I felt the pain, and I was angry, but I used that anger constructively. That anger allowed me to rise to the point where your mouth is agape at what I’m telling you, and you are staring at my smart business card in disbelief and amazement.
I am where I am, and you are where you are because all you saw was my skin color. And you assumed my life would be full of failure because of my skin tone.
So, let me ask you, my skin color hasn’t changed. I’m successful, and you’re still plodding along.
Do you still see the color of my skin?
Or do you see someone who has become successful?
Wait! Don’t bother. I know the answer.