I Thought You'd Be White
I first drafted this story on 2/2/2011, but it happened in 2010. The draft was handwritten in pencil on a yellow paper pad. I tore the paper from the pad and moved it from folder to folder. Clearly I wanted to keep it – or rather I didn't want to lose it. I guess now is the time I choose to share it.
As a consultant I’m used to and fairly prepared for most greetings as I enter a new space. As a Black woman who grew up in a predominantly upper middle class white environment (where diversity meant there was an occasional Catholic or maybe even someone Jewish), being the only one is part of my life experience.
The other day I met with a potential client partner. As I entered the room – located in a neighborhood store front in the East Bay, CA – before I could even finish my greeting, I heard “I thought you’d be white.”
I thought you’d be white.
These words came from a fellow Black human. A Black man.
To which I responded, “Hello, my name is Jara.”
The rest of the meeting participants looked embarrassed. I told them they were not responsible for his behavior and the meeting started and eventually ended. As you might imagine it was brief.
I jokingly posted the statement on my Facebook page, to which many of my childhood friends (predominantly white and wealthy) ran immediately to ‘the rescue.’
It had been a while since someone had caught me off guard like that so I did a forensic situational analysis.
After a few months of back and forth getting to know each other, we decided to have a face-to-face.
Communications had been via phone and email.
There was a jdcPartnerships website and a LinkedIn presence so if you wanted to find me you could and there was a photo of yours truly.
Founder: 80+ yr old Black man and various staff reflecting a variety of ethnicities/races and cultures under age 50
jdcPartnerships team: Me and another colleague, a white woman, mid 30’s.
Organization: well known and respected non profit
Bay Area in a community known for being diverse in all the ways
This experience reminded me that the incredibly diverse, liberal and progressive world in which I am fortunate enough to be part of still holds shades of the past. And from where and whom those glimpses of the past surface can still be surprising.