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Who am I?

I’m a black man in the twilight of his years who has spent his entire life trying to be somebody else, trying to blend into a society that judges me not by what I can contribute to it but by its subconscious fears because of the color of my skin. That badge ascribes to me all sorts of misnomers and assumptions I have strived to dispel in the minds of white people I don’t even know. My success, even my survival, depends on it. 

I must be lazy and never on time. I imagine the content of the thought bubbles above the heads of stern-looking white faces a few minutes after the time of expected delivery. I must not be all that smart because my segregated schools were only intended to teach me how to clock in. I must not know much about anything other than sports since that would be one of the first things a white stranger wanting to be simpatico would ask struggling to make conversation. If I could only count the number of times I have been asked, “Did you play (insert typical sport here)?” 

I must not be capable of fitting into high stress environments such as marketing multi billion dollar pharmaceuticals. After a successful and awarded career in the graphic design field, the white psychologist of a Fortune 500 company where I had just been hired told me the results of the test he had given me indicated I would do well as a dockworker. I just smiled, thanked him for his thoughts and then recognized I must have been interviewed by a racist. I must be a sexual predator as I was once accused of harassment for a joking retort to a white southern female associate referring to bare feet and shoes. My white manager, who I truly admired, once cautioned me that any mistake might well follow me throughout my career there. His comment was, “One aw shit can wipe out a whole bunch of atta’ boys.” 

I must be part animal as to my Jewish college roommate’s surprise I didn’t have a tail. I must be inherently dangerous to tremble at the sight of a police car in my rearview mirror or a white man proudly displaying the gun on his hip prepared to “stand his ground.”

So who am I? I’m the son of the son of the son of the son of an enslaved African American named George Russell. I am a proud survivor ascended from a whole host of survivors. My ancestors were among those who endured the brutality of the “crossing,” bore the yoke of hard labor, endured the whip building the wealth of the slave master only to be regarded as less than the family dog. My ancestors raised and nurtured the children of their masters only to have their own sold away. They may have bent but they did not break. They survived the most unbelievable physical, psychological and emotional trauma one man can heap upon another and his family and his generations to come. They came through it and I owe them my deepest heart-felt gratitude for their strength.

To honor their struggle and sacrifice and perseverance, I must tell my story because it is truly upon their shoulders I stand.

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