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Becoming A Cultural Chameleon

By the time I completed my collegiate years, my assimilation into white society was nearly complete. Adapting to white superiority had been hidden in my curriculum. After being immersed from junior high on, I had learned the social idiosyncrasies, dress and speech. Even my black accent had become muted allowing me to not disturb the ear of my white encounters. I recall an all-night phone call with a girl who was white and lived somewhere on campus. At some point in the wee hours, she asked me, “Are you Black?” I feigned a little offense and she apologized. I smiled. I had become "bilingual." The conversation carried on.

I was now bicultural as well, a necessary skill for any Black professional to make it in a white business world. I needed to not alienate my family but disarm whites who might want to get between me and my dreams. It enabled me to develop many relationships over the years that opened doors to opportunities that might otherwise have remained hidden. Many of those relationships developed into friendships that have enriched my life, people who came to know me for the content of my character. I had learned how to move between cultures with ease but with trepidation. I came to realize the shy, introverted black kid from Edgemont Avenue hadn’t died that night of my deepest despair. He had only withdrawn into safer shadows where the arrows were more difficult to reach, where he could work to identify more clearly friend or foe. From that vantage point, he watched, listened closely, indexed the data and filed it away. He armored himself for survival in what would be a lifelong guerilla war.

Having abandoned my battered cocoon of academic life, it was the time to put all the pieces together, to find my way into and through a landscape of opportunity but fraught with hidden sink holes that could change everything with one wrong step or perception or simply crossing the path of the wrong person. There was still the occasional racist drive-bys of those who must have thought they knew me calling out, “Nigger!” as they sped past. Sometimes I would hurl a “Yo mamma!” in response. Their need to remind me of my blackness was unnecessary. What was most insidious were those who hid their racism like lurking predators with their robes in the trunk of their car. The reminders are constantly there in so many subtle ways. When I hear White people ask, “Why don’t they just get over it?” in my mind I retort, “Why don’t you stop reminding me!” It’s impossible to truly know the intent of these perceived slights but they bang against experiences from the past. Most are probably innocent. However, black paranoia is a way of life.

For all of its faults in the early 70’s, Indy was where I needed to be. It was home and my network, as limited as it was at the time, was there. Within weeks of my return to Indiana after an attempt to settle in Denver, my old friend George called me about a job at a civil engineering firm, Reid Quebe Allison & Wilcox, where he was working as an urban planner. The company was starting up a new planning agency to expand their civil work. They needed someone to produce the maps and charts for their reports to the communities they served. Though not exactly what I had envisioned as a graphic artist, it was a start. I knew my way around a drafting table. Still, I found ways to use my imagination and design skills on some of the planning projects designing covers for the reports. Once I designed a playground converting an abandoned water treatment plant. Though the client didn’t buy into the idea, sometime later the plant in fact did become a playground and received awards for the concept. I wondered where the idea came from.

I supervised Jim, a white kid about my age who had that south side, country drawl. We had fun working together though we had nothing in common. The games of Kamikaze Hearts the three of us played during lunch were a riot. Occasionally, Mr. Wilcox would bring prospective clients through. When he got to our area, he would always introduce us as “our arteests. They draw flies.” I would look up from my board, throw a polite smile and go back to work. I think he was proud of his little standup routine and I’m sure he had no idea how offensive it was to me. I’m not so sure I did either at the time but it left an impression I’ve never forgotten.

A year later, George took a job with the Indiana State Regional Planning Office downtown in the Lieutenant Governor's office. I followed him there. Same job basically but more money and opportunity to do what I had trained to do. I got to know the Lieutenant Governor, Robert Orr, and took on redesigning the Indiana magazine for his office, a statewide publication. The planning staff was diverse and spanned the ages. It was also mischievous. One elderly woman would drift off to sleep at her desk after lunch. A glucose coma you could set your clock by. One day someone did. They slipped into her desk drawer and set her clock’s alarm. At the usual nodding hour, it went off as well as snickers across the office. But then there was Dorothy, an older white lady who kept the books for the agency. She was as kind as your mother and treated me so. She and her husband, Herman, once had me over for dinner. You never feared being reprimanded by Dorothy if you got some paperwork wrong. She knew her “place” as a woman working in a “man’s world.” I loved Dorothy and I think it was mutual. She once confided in me something shocking that opened my eyes to a dark side of the white-collar world.

Our director, Ted, was an unnaturalized Greek citizen managing millions of dollars of state and federal funds. Short and rotund, I believe he suffered a Napoleon complex from his rudeness toward me and other staff members. I didn’t know anything about him or how this alien came to hold such responsibility. A political favor got him the post I guessed. Nor did I know how he managed the agency until Dorothy shared with me how she did her job. She kept two sets of books, one for the office for Ted and one she kept at home. Dorothy learned that Ted was withholding funds from qualified agencies across the state in exchange for favors, a Federal crime. Dorothy only shared the details of one instance, which I will not share here. But the second book of accounts was her insurance policy should the Feds start asking questions, which they finally did after I had left the agency. The Feds issued an ultimatum to the state and Ted was shown the door. Dorothy was safe. She had introduced me to another kind of network, the good ole boy system, backscratching, give and take, one for you two for me. It was more take than give for Ted. It was a firsthand glimpse into the world of slimy politics that only with dogged investigative journalism is otherwise hard to see.

But what drove me out the door was an encounter I had with Ted as I headed to the elevator one afternoon. I cannot recall what triggered this event but I clearly remember the moment like so many others. I stood looking down on Ted’s baldness as he shouts at me that because he was a Greek immigrant, I didn’t know “anything about discrimination!” Ignition! A litany of dehumanizing experiences rifled through my mind. The KKK march, the circling orange Mustang, the townies, the spears of nigger hurled by strangers! In an instant that demon I kept buried exploded up from the deep. I stiffened, clinched my teeth, my hands became rocks and then… I reached for the elevator button. “Going down?” For the love of God, yes! I don’t know how long I walked around the city before returning to the office.

A few days later, we were called into a staff meeting in Ted's office. As we filed in, I took the seat at the opposite end of the long conference table, the furthest I could be from Ted. As he stood prattling on through his Greek accent, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. My anger had subsided into a simmering hatred. As I watched him engage in his usual puffery, I’m ashamed to say I imagined splitting his head open with an oil-soaked 2x4. The thought shocked me! This wasn’t me! Or was it? Or was this from a growing reservoir of inflicted pain? I needed space! Distance! It was a clear sign this was not a healthy place for me. I had to move on. I took a job working for Lowery & Associates, an architectural firm, building site models for client presentations. It was a 50% cut in salary but I worked alone in a small building in an alley behind the office. The cut in pay and the solitude was the price I paid for the time I needed to regroup mentally and emotionally. Now what?

“It is my task to try to change their attitudes in this matter; they will not listen if I raise my voice and point an accusing finger. Instead they will become angry and hostile. And that will be the end of the dialogue. Real change will only come from within; laws and regulations are useful, but sadly easy to flout. So, I keep the anger — which of course I feel — as hidden and controlled as possible. I try to reach gently into their hearts.” — Jane Goodall

I answered an ad for a graphic artist position at Indiana Farm Bureau Cooperative in 1977. The “Co-Op” provided petroleum and farm supplies, marketing and promotional support for the independent member affiliates across the state, an opportunity that would allow me to go deeper into my skill set. I joined the other artists, Bob and Glen, two much older white men who had worked there for decades. I was the new, young blood for their anticipated retirements. Bob knew everybody in the company and had salty opinions about many of them. Glenn was much more laid back and deferred to Bob’s alpha male character. Bob’s expertise was exhibits. For years he had designed and built displays for the company’s State Fair exhibits. Curmudgeon would have been a good description for Bob as he groused around like a busy gnome in a toy shop. It was his thing and I did whatever he asked to help out but not assert any ideas I might have. I learned a lot from him. However, I never felt completely at ease around him. Why became more evident when I was promoted to be his and Glen’s supervisor.

Indiana Farm Bureau Co-Op of Union County, Indiana

I wasn’t sure I was ready to manage these two but I was going to do my best. Bob had tolerated this young black kid who I’m sure he felt didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. About that he was somewhat correct I think. I was still green. But I was hired to bring a fresher, more current look and approach to the marketing efforts. I did have new creative ideas beyond what had become safe and stale over 40 years. Still, Bob was intimidating and I cut him a wide berth to maintain peace. I didn’t yet have the self-confidence to stand up to a white man and he knew it. He never used a racist slur but “Chicken shit” was once spit in my face. Bob was angry that he was now reporting to this 26-year-old kid. Consequently, he filed an age discrimination suit against the company. The experience with EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), as uncomfortable as it was, became a real teaching moment in personnel management, something my Business Administration minor hadn’t covered. Sue from HR shepherded me through it. The documentation and its importance needed to protect yourself became very useful in my management roles in the years to come. In the end, the company prevailed, I got wiser, my skin got thicker and my skill on that front improved. The retirements came and I hired new staff. The work got better and became more fun.

The eight years I spent there were some of the best years of my career. My creative growth was rich as the opportunities to follow. My “What if?” questions were abundant. The marketing staff, Michael, Jeff, Jim, Jen, Becky, Susan and others became my family. The interchange of ideas was rich and often hysterical due to Jen’s unsinkable sense of humor and the team’s general wackiness about anything. At times, Michael and I would have loud disagreements about strategy after hours when we were alone. Then we would go have drinks at J. Pierpont’s next door.

We were a tight group, which fueled the creative work we were able to produce. I was given room to explore, to experiment. Recognition of our work came in the form of awards, sometimes competing against some of the biggest agencies in the city. Working on locations, like farms and grain elevators with great photographers, was at times work I would have done for free, particularly when creating annual reports. Once, after a day of shooting in the country side, Tom Casalini and I settled down at a dairy farm where our last shot of the day would take place near sunset. We laid in the grass of the yard listening to the low mooing of cows in the distance, the wind rustling through the tasseled corn and watching clouds float across a sea of blue. Soon, the farmer’s wife came out with a warm plate of fresh baked cinnamon rolls. Tom turned and said, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.” The sun began to set. The local Co-Op staff and the family gathered around a long table set for dinner in the yard. The shot was perfect. It had been a great day.

The warmth I felt that day out on the farms was not unusual. In fact, I was told to please come back for a visit. The odd thing was I never felt the tension of my blackness on the farms. Certainly, it wasn’t what I expected given the stereotypes I had come with and the history of nightmarish racial violence in rural America. It was a very pleasant surprise. My family had thought I was crazy to go to work for an agricultural company where I would be traveling into the homelands of the Klan. It was something I had considered but I was never on the road without one of my White coworkers, usually Michael. But not all of our trips into rural Indiana were so nostalgic. There was one exception I clearly remember.

We arrived to do a photo shoot at a hog farm in full aromatic glory. All the arrangements for our visit had been confirmed by the local Co-Op operators. The farmer, a tall, slender, unshaven White man in dirty coveralls, stood watching by his barn as we got out of the car. The smell of hogs was thick and saturated the mucus lining of our noses unlike some of the larger, better maintained farms I had visited. A dead piglet laid in the doorway to the barn. The team introduced themselves and discussion between the farmer and the operator began out of earshot as the team listened in. Nothing unusual. The team always expressed our appreciation, explained what we would be doing on their property and conduct an interview. As it went on it looked and felt different. The photographer, Wilbur Montgomery an old college classmate, and I began scoping out shot locations and angles as we always would do. But something wasn’t right. I was curious about what was going on. Shortly, we gathered back at the car and were told we couldn’t do the shoot. The local operator apologized. There was no explanation. That was it. I knew by the looks on everyone’s faces and the darting glances what had just happened but was not being voiced. I could see the disgust and anger in Michael’s eyes. I looked back at the farmer still standing in the weedy rutted yard as we pulled away. There was an uncomfortable quiet in the car. Usually, I experienced this sort of thing in the small towns when we would stop to grab lunch at a local diner where we knew the food would be excellent and cheap. It appeared when White people gathered, they were less reserved in projecting their feelings about a Black man in their space. I imagine if they could have, a Whites Only sign would have been posted at the edge of town. Each time it was a replay of the cold stares seen in the Cardinal with Jan at Ball State. However, I like to think that those hard-working folks I met on their farms harbored no such ill will. At least, I like to think that.

My resume cover.

Jimmy Carter imposed the Russian Grain Embargo in 1980 in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. It was a major blow to the Co-Op. Millions of dollars’ worth of Indiana corn and soybeans awaiting shipment sat in our elevator on the east coast. It was going nowhere. The contracts for it became worthless. Like other marketers, the grain was sold to middlemen at a discounted price who then sold it to Russia for a nice profit. The losses were significant. Marketing budgets were cut and with it went much of the creative work. The success I had there and the recognition I had received made me hungry for more. I had found my wings. My now robust network kicked in when I received a call from a friend that Eli Lilly and Company, a pharmaceutical giant, was looking for designers for their internal agency in the marketing division. In Indianapolis, being hired by Lilly was akin to winning the lottery. In those days, employees worked their entire careers for the company. Salaries were significant and were called the “golden handcuffs.” I was the 13th and last person to apply for the position. I thought my odds were slim unless I did something to break out of the pack. But you’ll never win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. With a healthy dose of self-confidence, I went for it. Rather than a typical 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper extolling my virtues, I designed a resume that was actually a small visual portfolio. It was designed around slides of some of my work for the Co-Op that could be held up to the light for viewing. A picture of me in my cowboy outfit and a bullseye with bullet holes punched in made up the cover. Finally, on the inside, I glued a stick of Juicy Fruit gum for whomever to enjoy while they considered my application. I got a call. I got the job!

Leaving the Co-Op in 1985 was bittersweet. The friendships I made there still remain. But the refinement of my work during those eight years had opened a door to the big time. Our ad agency was a subsidiary of J. Walter Thompson in New York and I would travel there for meetings. I met creative icons like Lou Dorfsman, the graphic designer who oversaw almost every aspect of the advertising and corporate identity for CBS and who encouraged me to come to New York. It was validation that I had something to offer the upper tiers of my profession but came far ahead of my own self-confidence. I think, though I had abandoned my path to architecture, my parents were proud of me even if they didn't really understand what I did. I imagine they enjoyed the praise their friends expressed now that their son worked for the "Lilly's" and was going to be “rich.” At least that was the perception in the Black community of Indianapolis where racism, redlining and discrimination had prohibited their accumulation of wealth to establish some measure of security since before the end of slavery. And it was true. They had been trapped in menial jobs (my dad an electronics whiz in a meat packing plant, Uncle John as a porter attending to white train passengers' every want and whim, Uncle Nathaniel, once a valedictorian, hauling trash) that crushed the same spirit, creativity and entrepreneurship that had been instilled in me. Hallelujah! For them, I was evidence that the dream was still alive! At least one had made it to the promised land! But the land of milk and honey wasn’t free. It came at a cost.

One of the first things I was required to do upon my employment with Lilly was to meet with the company psychologist. I don’t know if this was a customary practice for new hires. Perhaps they wanted to be assured I wasn’t going to go Manson in the workplace. Judging from the pictures on his wall, he had been in the Navy during the war. He was a serious man. I used that small observation to strike some rapport with him and lighten the mood and my angst as the session began. Once the interview was complete, I headed back to my desk and continued my orientation to this new, fast-moving environment I hoped to slip into with as little difficulty as possible. From pig feed to drugs, there was a lot to learn about the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacology that I would need to feed my creative instincts.

Some days later, I was called back to the psychologist’s office to review the summary of my interview. Well the test confirmed I wasn’t likely to overdose on Darvon. But, after 15 years of a successful and awarded career as a designer, he had concluded I would be “well suited as a dock manager.” Really! Where the hell did that come from! It was one of those many moments that once I rule out any plausible rationale, I had to suspect racism. For me, it was an example of Occam's Razor, the principle that of two explanations that account for all the facts, the simpler one is more likely to be correct. I thanked him for his insight and, with tongue in cheek, said that I would take that under advisement. Note to file.

The work was challenging and I rose to it. I worked alongside Jerry, a great designer and fantastic painter to this day. I was assigned to work with the marketing teams for insulins, antibiotics, analgesics and a new up and coming neuroscience drug named Prozac. At one point, I volunteered to do what was called a “relief assignment,” which involved becoming a temporary replacement for a sales rep in the field who needed to be out of their territory for a short time. I knew to be my best in creating marketing support for the field, I needed to somehow immerse myself in their world. I wanted to understand the dynamics of the sales environment, the relationship to the physicians and their staff. The preparation involved a full month of education on the diseases the specific drugs I would be promoting were to treat, navigating the sales territory, record keeping and sales training.

Warren, my manager, wasn’t too encouraging warning that failure would follow me throughout my career. That would have been true for anyone. But there was something in his guardedness that felt overly protective. Warren and I had a great relationship, almost like father and son. Nancy, his wife now widow, still feels like family to me. He had been very appreciative of my work and team spirit. So why to lack of confidence in me that I might not make the grade and succeed? It was outside my field of expertise and Warren has worked in the field himself years before. He knew quite well what was ahead for me. Was this a version of paternalistic racism in which Warren in trying to protect me was influenced by a racial stereotype? Or was it him just wanting to protect me? I believe it was the latter. But still I wondered. I share this as an example of how I always factor in my skin color to make sense of what doesn’t seem to. He paranoia is always there.

My stint in the field playing sales rep in Wisconsin was successful. I learned how to schmooze the nurses and lower their guard dog defenses. I became friends with some of the doctors in my territory. Some would welcome me into their back offices for a personal conversation even though there were patients filling the waiting room. I came to understand their world and how I became a pleasant interlude between the endless string of stories of pain they heard all day. One physician, an immigrant from Germany on her return from a visit home, gave me pieces of the Berlin Wall that had been taken down during her visit. The territory numbers held steady or with a slight increase. At the end of my three months and many miles, my District Manager asked if I would be interested to staying on. I reminded him of my objective in coming to learn more intimately the world of the sales rep and their customers for who I was charged with supporting. Besides, dressing up every morning in suit and tie no matter how hot it was, loading up the trunk of the car with drugs and putting on a happy face wasn't really my strong suit. It had been a lab for me and I came away with what I needed to know to improve my creative product. Whatever concerns Warren had had were assuaged by the DM's report.

Branding had always been my forte and I found ways to put it into play. I proposed bundling the disparate collection of diabetes literature used by the sales reps into a coherent informational system for doctors to distribute to patients. That led to the creation of Managing Your Diabetes, which, because our competitors had nothing like it, became a marketing advantage. I was told doctors were inclined to prescribe Lilly insulins to maintain access to the package. Ultimately, it was translated around the world. I proposed an international color-coding system for insulin packaging to reduce the risk of a patient purchasing the wrong insulin no matter where in the world they might be and to bolster the company’s leadership image. Unfortunately, upper management failed to comprehend the tremendous ROI versus the modest initial cost. Later, a competitor took advantage of the idea and bettered their market perception. I imagine the branding company in San Francisco I had been working with had shopped the idea to our primary competitor. I pushed the envelope on branding packaging to make it less sterile and more consumer friendly. Again, upper management did not appreciate the power of selling through packaging like many drugs do today. I came to learn to feed my ideas to decision-makers through my white peers to improve the chance of a green light.

In the run up to the launch of Prozac, I used the graphic “O” from the logo as an icon on training and informational material presented to physicians to “tease” the brand since use of the formal logo or name was not allowed by the FDA prior to launch. Apparently, it had been effective. The FDA sent the company a letter ordering us to discontinue the practice. I just smiled. I concepted and served as creative consultant for two films, one for Prozac with one-time super model, actress and down to earth fun-loving person, Lauren Hutton and the other for Zyprexa shot in Brooklyn with talent I would see later on television in other work. These were exciting and heady projects from which I learned so much about film production from behind the camera. But what I consider my greatest achievement was at the end of my career there.

American Psychiatric Association exhibit representing behaviors of

a schizophrenic (L) and a bipolar suffer (R).

After tug of war with an ad agency on the exhibit concept for the American Psychiatric Association exhibit for Zyprexa, a multibillion-dollar neuropsychic drug for schizophrenia, my white manager prevailed and gave me approval to move forward with my concept. The final result met nearly all of my objectives, most importantly its impact on psychiatrists. Physicians returned to the exhibit repeatedly with peers in tow to show them the sets my team had created to reflect the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which Zyprexa was prescribed for. This made them sitting ducks for our waiting sales people. But that was not my greatest source of pride in our effort.

When all of the assembly and installation was complete and the show would open the next day, I took the entire crew to dinner to celebrate a job well done before they dispersed across the country back to San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York. Few of them had known each other before I brought them into the project. But they had worked seamlessly across the distances, sharing ideas and solutions like the true professionals they were. I sat at the head of the table and took in the scene. The bonds they had created, the stories they told about the challenges of the project, the accolades they gave one another, the joy and laughter that filled the room. They owned the project. They owned its success. I owned the pride I felt in them and the team I had built. Sweet satisfaction.

However, that 25 years of success was occasionally punctuated by the ugliness that infects this country. I once heard a definition of the old axiom of “forgive and forget” explained as forgiving the offense and forgetting only the emotion it generated. I’m still working on the second part.

I was sitting in a conference room chatting with a coworker as we waited for the meeting to begin. A young, White associate up from Alabama who had recently joined the team, walked in and inserted herself into our conversation. I don’t recall what we were talking about but I believe it had something to do with shoes. She made a quip and I responded with something about people in Alabama wearing shoes. We all laughed, I thought. A few days later, my manager called me into his office. He informed me a sexual harassment charge had filed against me. WHAT! Sexual harassment!!! What? Who? It was the lovely young associate from Alabama. I was dumbfounded! Somehow a joking comment about shoes had offended her and became a sexual offense. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. The expression on his face assured me he was not. I was told the report was being placed in my file and if anything of the sort happened again, I could be terminated. I was not allowed to speak to anyone about it, not even my personnel representative. I was not allowed to defend myself nor did my manager. Perhaps he was more concerned about protecting his career path. I was alone and vulnerable. So much of what I had accomplished through the years, what I had carved out of the largess of a White majority society and more I could accomplish was at risk for a simple act of racial vengeance. College tuitions for my 3 children were on the horizon. Their futures were on the line. I could not risk fighting for my rights and risk their futures. I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride and retreated to my cubicle to remind myself of potential hostility of my surroundings. Call me Emmet Till.

I would sometimes get phone calls from sales reps in the field looking for marketing ideas. I enjoyed the spontaneity of the problem solving. One rep called in from North Carolina needing help to make her mark in the field, score points with her manager and hopefully get an assignment to corporate. Together, we came up with something, I prepared some materials for her and put it in the mail. It must have worked. Months later, she landed a marketing associate’s role and then a manager’s position on the Zyprexa team in Indy.

My time as a Planner with the Prozac team was waning as patent expiration approached. I had been responsible for overseeing the movement of projects through the complex marketing, medical and legal review and development process, which sometimes had been as many as 60 projects in various stages of completion. Most of the really engaging creative elements of the job had been shifted to the ad agencies though at times I would be consulted on creative ideas. As a Planner, I had been on the Technical Career path as opposed to one for management. I had achieved all of the measures that would approve me for my next promotion and subsequent salary increase. Downsizing of the team came quickly and I was suddenly asked to join the Zyprexa group to supervise the its team of Editors and another Planner like myself. There were no options to the “ask.” When I inquired about the promotion I had earned serving the Prozac team, my new management, including the young lady from North Carolina who I had helped make her way up the corporate ladder, decided my promotion would be delayed until I had proven myself to them. My reputation was fairly well known for my work with a number of brands but that apparently did not matter. Once again, my paranoia kicked in. Was racism at play here? Consequently, some additional criteria from the management track I had not been on was added to my performance evaluation. The decision had been made during a manager’s meeting and a few had objected to the unfairness of it. But with HR support the decision stood. Again, I sucked it up knowing there was nothing I could do but I was going to need a mentor. I went to the young lady from North Carolina to ask for her help to get me to my deserved promotion and salary increase. She hedged and, in so many words, indicated I was on my own.

Over the next year, I applied what I had learned from Sue in HR at the Co-Op that a good manager has three responsibilities. First, make sure your team has a clear understanding of goals they are to achieve. Second, make sure they have all the resources needed to achieve them. And third, keep everyone else out of their way. The team rallied and became the top performing team in marketing. When complimented about our successes, I would always “blame” them on my team. I was responsible for anything less. When my performance review came, it was disappointing to say the least. I was criticized for not being a leader, for not showing leadership. My promotion was denied. Apparently, if I was not taking the credit for what my team accomplished then my leadership skills were lacking. As far as I was concerned, my leadership style was just what my team of professionals needed. I was the conductor of the orchestra, not a musician. I never did get my promotion nor the salary increase I had earned. I have no idea what it cost me but it was significant considering the six-figure income I had attained. Was racism at play in some way? Who knows? But it made me wonder and there was no way to prove it. Was my paranoia justified?

Racism has come at me in many ways in the workplace and in daily life. Mostly, it is subtle, almost indistinguishable. Being ignored in a car dealership when I could have written a check for a car. Being overlooked repeatedly at a store counter even though dressed as well as the White patrons be attended to just steps away. These slights though subtle are enough to cause me to question my perceptions, my sanity, to remind me of what I’m seen as, not who I am. Then sometimes racism comes like a bullet to the heart aimed to tear away another piece of my humanity, my soul, not so subtle like a flag or a statue or a bumper sticker. The almost constant prompts and the subsequent healing is exhausting. Some Blacks don’t recover from the unrelenting assault and are labeled with the stereotypes that have been used to justify the sins committed against us since those first footprints in the sand in 1619. Most of us don’t and grow stronger as the limb that bends but doesn’t break. I became a chameleon of sort to make myself invisible, or should I say acceptable, to those who by no right had significant influence over my life. Perhaps I hid too much.


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