Monday, December 14, 2009

I am Black, and I am Proud

Sometimes I happen upon a bit of information that is so stunning, so out-of-this-world crazy, that I simply dismiss it as media hyperbole. This is likely what happened when someone mentioned Sammy Sosa's recent skin transformation, apparently an elective process, achieved by a "skin softening" cream.

For those of you as well-versed in baseball as I am, you likely remember Sammy's incredible 1998 season, when he raced Mark McGwire to beat the record for the most home runs in a single season. In the end, Mark McGwire won the race with 70 home runs, 4 more than Sammy. It was exciting, even for people like me, who almost never pay attention to baseball.

This bit of sensationalism, however, would have been filed away in the useless trivia section of my brain, had I not happened upon this article in the New York Times: "Whitening the Resume".

The article describes Black jobseekers who alter their resumes to seem "less Black" to potential employers. They change their names, leave off historically black colleges, and avoid references from black colleagues. In a tight job market, being black, they believe, can decrease the chances of getting a foot in the door.

None of this is new to me, of course. My parents' generation -- especially those with middle class aspirations -- warned us that White organizations wouldn't hire us if we talked, dressed, or any way appeared too "Black". The 70s -- when I grew up -- was all about debunking these limitations. "I'm Black and I'm proud" was as much a statement to black conformists and assimilationalists as it was to White America.

So, here we are again. Times get tough, and Black pride takes a seat in the back of the bus. Getting a job takes precedence over authentic identity.

I hope those jobseekers in the articles find jobs. I also hope they find a way to exist in corporate America without having to deny a pretty important and unavoidable fact: they were born Black in a country -- in a world, even, if my Japanese and Indian and Jamaican and and Argentinian and Dominican friends are representative -- where White holds more value that Black. Light over dark. It's an old story. And it should not be allowed to persist.

Me? I'm too old to go hiding who I am. Plus, I think I'm pretty OK. My heritage, history and culture make me unique and are assets. They provide a perspective that you can't buy in a box. And any organization I join had better think so, as well. We are approaching a time in which self-expression, difference and creativity are valued and valuable. Please, let's not hightail it back to the late 1950s.

I hope Sammy Sosa gets into the Hall of Fame, if that's what he deserves. And I hope it's because he tried really hard to hit 71 home runs, not because he's got softer, lighter skin.


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  2. Carmen, this is an awesome post.

    I think the skin cream makes him look like a space alien.