Nonfiction Societal The Word 5 minute read

A Picture that Speaks 1000 Words (and diversity ain’t one)


Understand: Paul Ryan took and circulated this photo of his intern staff because he thought nothing was wrong with it.
Most White people didn’t think anything was wrong with it either.  Not because they are bad people.  This is their lives. What’s the problem?

How many of us take the time to consider what another person’s experience must be?  Let’s all take a moment to marinate on this picture.
I’m serious.  Take a moment a think about what this picture means.

This photo represents the accompanying package for the “successful” Black person.  So, for the sake of an argument, let’s include a Black person — just one — in this picture (and the journey for him or her to get there would include a degree of effort and sacrifice that can’t be written about in just one post, so we will fast forward).  Let’s just assume that this Black person got into schools where it was always questioned or assumed that his presence was only due to affirmative action; he was rejected by many Black people because he was not Black enough while also being rejected by many White people because he was Black.  This guy has laughed at inappropriate jokes, been the butt of unacceptable jokes and is considered a joke by most people around him (the nicest compliment he will get will generally be from some White people who will tell him he is “not really Black” or “cool for a Black person”).

So, he reaches the pinnacle of success: he just graduated Summa Cum Laude from an Ivy League University and gets accepted to be the Speaker’s intern.  Yay!  Right?

But let me ask you this question: how many people could do this?   Is it success?  Does it feel good — really?  How do you think a Black person feels when he walks in a room and he is the only Black person (again, and again, and again)? Could most White people do THIS?  White people, could you constantly and consistently show up for work and be the ONLY White person?  Be honest with yourself.  Could you?  I’m not asking you to feel guilty about it, but to recognize how it may be stressful, uncomfortable or at least a bit weird.

How many of these interns would ask the one Black person to lunch?  How well does he know his co-workers?  What are the chances are of him being promoted (do you really want to convince yourself that the promotions are based solely on merit?).  Let’s just be real:  If you are given a choice between two equal candidates, you’d all choose the guy who reminds you of the younger you, or who is in your fraternity, or who you can most imagine having a beer with.  We’d all do it.  We have an inherent bias in favor of the familiar.  It doesn’t make you wrong, it makes you human — but own it. Then make fair and better decisions with your newfound knowledge).  Most likely we can conclude that our Black intern is on the fringes socially and most likely professionally.

And I would LOVE for someone to research every candidate.  I would bet money that at least 40% (to be conservative –pun intended) have a connection to “somebody”.  The are some congressman’s nieces who attended the University of Bumfuck in this crowd — I promise (White people’s Affirmative Action).  However, our Black intern will undoubtedly be made to feel as if he is a “lucky” to be there — that his hard work has nothing to do with his success.  He will very likely be told — even indirectly — by people who think they are giving him a compliment: “It’s people like you who make me believe in Affirmative Action.” “So how did you end up here.”

Our Black friend shows up to work daily dressed in his  “White-acceptable gear”: blue, black and grey suits only; khakis and a white button down on casual days.  He doesn’t share much of his personal life: no one knows his full back-story.  He is neutral.  He doesn’t speak about controversial issues — not even on Facebook — for he knows that he can so easily be considered angry, controversial, confrontational, or difficult.  If he takes somewhat of a stand, he utilizes that Thomas-Scalia approach.  Let the strong, accepted non-Black speak; and then support that guy.  Be good and you will be moved into the House (yes — another purposeful pun).

But, at least, he’s successful. Right?

And what about all of the other interns.  How in the hell can we expect them to come up with policies that represent, protect, and serve minorities when they don’t even consider minorities.  It’s not about these interns being racist, as much as, it is they are oblivious — race ignorant.  They have spent their entire lives in rooms, such as the one here with Paul Ryan.  Their families, friends, schools, churches, clubs have been 99% White.  And life has been good.  Black lives matter — I guess?  It just seems to them that these Blacks should save their own lives, because the only ones who they have seen have been on tv — resisting arrest, wearing saggy jeans and oftentimes dead.  They were the bad guys.  The ones who did as they should — like the one Black intern, who dressed like them, talked like them, never complained or made them uncomfortable — was soooooooo nice.  And see how things worked out for him?

He’s successful–right?

My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more


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