Vision Restored – No Longer Allowing Myself To Be Color Blind

I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post or not.  After all I certainly don’t want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable by yet another blog post on the “R” word.  “‘R’ word?” you may be asking yourself.  Yes, “R” word – RACE.

Cue the *crickets*.  I am sure some browser windows are closing right now or people are simply moving on to the next link and that is okay.  This message is not for them.  But if you choose to stay and read, please do so with an open mind and open heart. This is coming from an honest place. A place of reflection. A place of awareness that the biases I have been so quick to condemn in others, in some ways lie within me. But no more.

I am no stranger to the struggles presented to me by being an African American woman. I grew in a predominately white area on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  For most of my life I have been what many may refer to as the “token.”  I took classes with all white kids, exceled all by my lonesome and served as the poster child for the other minority students in my school.  My existence was difficult.  The white kids didn’t accept me at times because clearly I was black.  The black kids didn’t accept me because I “acted” white.  I was in a no-win situation.  Yet, I persevered, continued to excel even to the point of being voted most likely to succeed.  “They finally get me”, I thought.  This was the day I became color blind.

Fast forward 12 months later when I became, what some would call, a statistic.  A black teen mom who got “knocked up” instead of going to college.  To most it looked like I was throwing my life away.  But I didn’t.  I made apple pie out of my lemon of a life.  I found a good job with benefits.  I worked hard to take care of my daughter so I didn’t have to seek public assistance.  After all, I wasn’t one of those people. I was growing more and more colorblind by the minute.

As life progressed, I developed an arrogance about things.  I managed to reconcile with my daughter’s father, get married have another baby, finish college with 2 degrees, land a good job in corporate America, move to suburbia, and buy a home far away from the city. From the “bad” black people because I was so much better than them.  Obviously they didn’t try, they didn’t work hard enough, and they didn’t want anything good out of life.  Oh well…not my problem or worry. Still color blind.

The sad part about my life experiences is while I was so busy trying to distinguish myself from the stereotypical assumptions, to those outside my race, I was nothing more than those stereotypes. I can recall days of being chastised at work for standing up for myself, my team and pushing back on things. I was told I was making people uncomfortable. Oh no…don’t be the “angry black woman.” Yet someone of another color could say the exact things in the exact manner and that was acceptable. They maybe even landed a promotion and their “courage” and “leadership” skills praised. What’s wrong with that picture?

Even now as I seek leadership opportunities, I am forced to realize that this may not be a possibility for someone who looks like me. When I look at the top I see no one that looks like me. So perhaps my kind just isn’t good enough and perhaps I should be “grateful” for the roles I and my black colleagues have been given. After all, “people of color are stereotypically thought of as “Baby Mama’s”, ex-cons, drug dealers, etc. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to “make it” should be happy with what they get.” Say what?!?! (No lie, one of my more naïve acquaintances actually said that to me.)

Over the last few months or so I have done some deep soul searching. I have been deeply troubled not by what I am hearing in the news. After all black lives have always been treated as disposable. What has disturbed me are all the bigotry that has been uncovered and put blatantly on display as a result of such happening. I am personally not in a position to proclaim innocence or guilt. I wasn’t there. Neither were most people. But what I do know is everyone is entitled to dignity and respect and that seems to be applicable to most except if you are black. We have tons of movements in this country around LGBT rights, marriage equality, immigration reform, etc. This country has spent billions of dollars fighting to protect the rights of people in the Middle East. Yet, the one group of people that were brought here against their will are still trying to achieve the respect that other groups seems to get with comparatively little effort. Not to diminish the struggles of the aforementioned groups but blacks have been tormented or discriminated against in some way for over a hundred plus years simply because we are here.

Blindness gone. I can see the light. I truly hurt for my fellow black Americans that didn’t make it out. While I am certainly not making a blanket excuse for all, it is clear why many are no better off now than our ancestors post emancipation. Circumstance is cruel. Time has moved on but sadly the bigotry and hate has not. Think I am exaggerating? Think again. Our electing a half black president pulled the scab off of a nation that has not yet healed. Honestly, I am not sure we ever will. This may be the reality. I just know I can no longer be color blind. I can no longer have a superior attitude about those of my own race doing worse than me, on public assistance, in jail or otherwise. It does me no good. Because to me I am somebody but to someone of a different race I may be nobody simply because of the color of my skin.

My teenage daughter told me one day that white people always think blacks are making a big deal out of race and the reason is because they don’t see color. They don’t have too because this country was made for them, not us. She reached this conclusion because she too, like me, attends a predominately white high school in rural PA where people tolerate blacks but would rather they weren’t around. History repeating itself? Not hardly. She is better than me because she is not color blind. Cycle stopped.

To Lead You Must Follow

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“To lead you must follow.”  That statement seems a little oxymoronic, I know.  After all, to lead denotes being out in front and to follow denotes traveling behind someone or something.  So how can someone that travels behind someone or something be a leader?

Well, look at the picture above.  What do you see?  I see what appears to be a mother bird teaching her offspring to fly.  I also see the baby bird out in front with the mother bird following close behind.  The mother birds knows that her offspring must learn to fly and she lags behind to swoop in and rescue just in case something goes wrong. She knows she does not need to be in the lead to teach. While the baby bird is aware of her presence, being out in front helps it build confidence in its abilities to fly solo.  One day it too will follow to lead its own offspring.

The same is true of great leaders.  Great leaders know it is just as important to stand behind their followers as it is to stand out in front.  From behind you can not only observe what may go wrong, but you also have the pleasure of seeing growth and confidence as things go right.    I have often heard that great leaders create their replacements.  What better way to do so than to step back which gives others the opportunity to step up, fly solo in hopes of following to lead their own future leaders one day.