Career Agent, Family Woman and Faith-Driven
We were talking about an interesting situation your client shared with you. Can you recall that experience?
The part that really got to me was a story that one of my clients shared about color. Not necessarily about racism but the extent that some people will go to keep their jobs. In this case a ‘part’ that one thought she had to play to keep her job at Qualcomm.
This particular Black lady felt that she had to play this part or ‘the game’. Each day she would ‘over compliment’ her boss on her looks, how she was dressed, her hair, shoes, etc. Even going to the extent of offering to decorate her bosses’ office for her, even made her coffee each day. She would bring things in to add to the décor of her bosses’ office. My client could see that her co worker felt that she had to play the game and even told my client that she even went so far as to attend an acting class, so that she can play the part effectively and come to be accepted in the nonblack world. Unfortunate that she felt she had to do this to fit in.
How does that make you feel knowing that somebody had to do that?
It saddened me. As she was telling the story I was in disbelief and had to tell myself to close my mouth. While I understand that you have to play a certain game, like the interview game, how to present yourself, etc. before you get the job, but this was beyond that. This lady was missing the importance of job performance not people performance. The importance of self dignity and maintaining professionalism in all aspects of her job. That’s one of the ways you win the respect of others not ‘kissing up’. Typically, people don’t have much respect for a phony. So, yes it was upsetting to hear that she felt she had to go to those extremes just to fit in or be liked or favored.
Why do you think some people of color have to play that game?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it was from the way they were raised, culture or if that’s how the world makes them feel. I was always taught to do and be the best at what you do, that it will help shape who you are and your future. To give it your all, especially in the working world.
My husband was one of the crew that constructed the building which is now the US Courthouse, downtown San Diego. He told me that many of the workers who were also people of a different color would do something similar to the lady previously mentioned. They would come in 1-2 hrs earlier than scheduled; say 5:30-6: am. One of them commented that the do it to ‘stand out’ and be liked better” than the rest. Sometimes they would bring their supervisors coffee and donuts. Funny, when the construction was completed and even before, those same people got laid off just as the rest whose particular job section project was complete. Those are the things were not required but they too, must have felt that they had to ‘play the game’ in order to feel to keep their jobs. Again, to me, that is sad. It is just sad that our world is like that where people see color as ‘less than’.
My mother didn’t raise us that way. I was born and raised in San Diego and my mother didn’t see color and that’s how she taught us. It was quite surprising to me when I started working with the City of San Diego in the YEOP (Youth program). One day I was on the elevator with a friend and this much older guy looked at me as we rode up. Just before he got off he says to me
“You know, you’re pretty for a black girl.”
And that blew me away. That was the first time I think I realized that some people see us differently, like aliens, or sub’ human. Hmmm, not a good feeling.
How did that make you feel?
I was stunned. I didn’t know exactly how to take that or what he meant at first but after I thought about it, I was like “Wow” I guess I felt insulted once it sank in and realized there is prejudice there. I didn’t feel complimented. It was years later after witnessing different forms of prejudice or racism that I came to appreciate that this kind of behavior was not my hang-up, but their ‘handicap’.
But it’s also something I refuse to tolerate.
How did you come to understand your racial identity since your mom raised you not to see color and living in San Diego?
Her thing was never feel that you’re inferior or superior to any other race. Everyone is equal. Throughout my life, I can remember as young as 5 years old there were Blacks, Mexicans and Whites within my community and everyone played together. I think it was more in high school that I really noticed, but even then, I didn’t see color; however, I did see big differences in how people saw & treated us. I knew we were of different races but it just didn’t matter. I was friends with girls of other races.
I remember one day I took my 5 yrs old great niece to Wal-Mart. We were over in the shoes section when suddenly she disappeared for a moment and I called out to her. She said “I’m over here Nani!”
I went over to see that she was playing with a white little boy and she said “I’m playing with my friend!” (They were racing shoe boxes up & down the isle). I asked “What’s your friend’s name” and she looked at him for a couple of seconds and asked: “What’s your name?” She didn’t know color either. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s what you’re taught. It’s a learned behavior.
In San Diego, there is not much of a Black population here. We have Black communities but the Black population is less than 3% here. How was it growing up here?
I was brought up in the Barrio Logan area where there was a large Hispanic & Black community. But there wasn’t a total or segregated Black community in San Diego like in the South, but rather, integrated communities. That said, people seem to identify with those of like color, having the tendency to gravitate towards people of ‘like kind’ simply due to familiarities & similarities. This is also the same for non-Blacks too
You’ve been fortunate to work and grow up in a place that is diverse…
Yes. My husband who grew up in the South has a completely different views and experiences. He was little kid when he marched with MLK Jr., thrown in jail and so all together his experiences are different. I wasn’t able to see what he meant because I couldn’t relate and see things the way he saw them because of our different experiences.
He’ll pick up on things that I don’t and he brings it to my attention and I will either agree or not. Every time you turn on the news and it has to deal with someone who is Black, he recognizes that and I never noticed it before, but when person that has committed a wrongful act or becomes suspect on the news and the person happens to be of color, they will describe it “tall, Black male” but if it’s a White person, their race is not mentioned. They are just “a 6 foot male wearing khaki’s and a tee shirt (for example)
He notes that the race is never mentioned. I never picked up on this. When it’s a Black thing, I think he attributes it all to racism and I would tell him it’s not always a black or white issues. Then I would start listening and some of it the things he was saying were actually true. I think he singles it out because he knows it’s there. That’s what he grew up around, so sometimes we’ll debate and I’ll say that not everything is centered around, rooted in, or due to racism.
There are times when you went back to the South with your husband. How was that?
It was a culture shock! I just wanted to go home, albeit fascinating in a strange way. Being there, it just hits you. We went to Clarksdale, Mississippi which is one of the poorest of towns, right on the Delta. Going there reminded me of traveling back to the 1960’s. Everything is at such a slower pace.
It was interesting and fascinating to me because it was such a different culture. My mother used to tell us about Juke joints, etc, so to actually see one was interesting. We also went to the Blues Museum. There was an area about the history of famous people (like Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Ike Turner & John Lee Hooker), as well as people who were crime victims of racism..a complete story and pictures of Emmitt Till and that….hard to talk about, but (I still see the visions of what he looked like in his casket) his face looked like it was made of wax that had began to melt. That’s all I want to say about that.
On the other hand, the museum was also full of rich Black history.
How did you feel being there?
I wouldn’t want to live here but it was an interesting place to visit. The seasons are quite an experience. I didn’t know that you had to keep the water running all night to keep the pipes from freezing. Being there seeing things that we don’t see here in San Diego is an experience. Especially when you’re driving a car with California licenses plates, people look at you and stare as you drive pass..They think you have money so you had to be on guard because their perception of California was different. They have heard that if you live in Cali’ you must be rich. HA!
Did you feel that you had to be guarded?
He told me. If they catch you, you have to make sure you have to watch where you’re going especially if you’re seen in a car with California plates. Don’t make a wrong turn and get caught up on a dead end street or ally. So yes you do have to be on guard.
Do you see with your kids and grandkids, do they share any experiences of racism?
My son’s they knew that prejudice was live and well. One of my Son took his daughter to school. On the way back he was listening to some music and responding with the sound of the beat/rhythm with his head to the music and as he was pulling up to the gas station a police officer pulled him over. The police told him to get out of the car and put his hands above his head and my son asked “what did I do officer?” The police then told him to get back into the car and hand over his license. “What did I do? Are you going to give me a ticket?” The police officer said, “No just a warning.” “Well what did I do?” He said “you were driving while distracted.” (Bobbing his head to the beat of the music was a distraction?!?!)
My mouth just dropped when I heard this. My son told the officer to “PLEASE” give him a ticket though the officer refused to give him one. “No drive off, this is just a warning.” My son really wanted that officer to give him a ticket so he could go court and explain to the judge that he was ticketed for “driving while distracted” he couldn’t wait to tell the judge what the so called distraction was.
You always worry. I’m always concerned more about them because my children are all males and things that can happen on a daily basis. Things that can happen on a fluke just because you get someone who may become over zealous or trigger happy.
As a mother, what are some of the things you worry about your sons because they are black males?
Mostly with the police. Its not that Black males are doing anything wrong. A lot of them aren’t doing anything wrong and they get pulled over. Just the other day over by 30th street, there was a police scuffle because of a mistaken identity. There was a report there was a robbery and the person the police thought was the suspect ended up being beat up. Turns out this person was entirely innocent.
It seems like its bringing out a lot of emotions and feelings for you. What’s going on?
I just wish that it wouldn’t be that way. It’s just something that has always bothered me on how people are treated differently. I absolutely do not think that one race is better than another. We all came from one family stock; just different, and therein lies the beauty.
What kind of advice did you have to give to your sons?
Just comply. Don’t try to argue with the police. Just do what they say and fight it in court. Notice the name and the badge number but don’t be upfront and ask for it. Memorize it so when you need to use it later. The main thing is not to aggravate them and to just comply. Cause it can turn into something very ugly very quickly and there are too many people getting shot over assumptions. It becomes a game of power.
Do you still feel that you have those experiences today?
It’s all around us. We see injustice done all the time. I have had some personal experiences and some have affected family members. Some I’ve managed to blocked out because I don’t want to relive it, too upsetting but bottom line, it hurts to know that there are people out there like that. I can’t do anything about it. That’s how they are.
Have you been told or heard of the phrase that you need to work twice as hard?
Yea. Yea I have. The quote I’ve heard was that “to fit into the White mans world, you have to work twice as hard.” I’ve heard that from peers or friends coming up through life. I don’t think I ever heard of it from my mom. She mostly taught by example but she never directly made that particular statement to us that I can remember.
A work exercise back in the middle 90’s was where we (SDWP employees) were asked to watch a diversity training & anti-racism education documentary. This involved a social experiment of children with Blue eyes vs those with Brown eyes. The experiment was where those with Brown eyes were told they were smarter and better than those with Blues eyes; exposing how discrimination among students can have drastic affects on humans. (a few of the students got into altercations while on the playground) Then the tables were turned and the next day/same experiment was reversed. It really put things in perspective and we all saw the profound truth that all people are really the same & should be treated equal.
This internal conflict is not just confined to the Black community, it’s across all races and it’s all over the world. What’s troubling is when people think their better than others, race or color-wise.
When you stop and think the reality of what the Bible says in Genesis 3:20: “That is why Adam called his wife “Eve”, because she was to become the Mother of everyone living”.. Hey that’s all of US!!!
Perhaps they should all watch “Eye of The Storm”.
Advice for folks reading this blog?
Stand up for what is right. If you know something is right, then stand behind your decision. Don’t back down. I also like the saying:
Your future lies before you like the fields of driven snow. Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show.
And lastly: It’s nice to be important, but it more important to be nice.