“When she entered broadcast journalism in Chicago, she recalled being told that she would never succeed, for many reasons. In addition to her race, gender and short hair, a supervisor told her, she came across as too intelligent – superior to the average viewer.”
This is an excerpt from the obituary for Renee Poussaint, a ceiling breaking broadcaster who was on CBS news in Chicago when Black people were few and far between on the TV, much less on the news. Her father Alvin Poussaint was a famed Harvard psychologist that consulted on the Cosby show, to make sure the representation of the Black family was done correctly. She probably brought to the table a sense of self that disturbed those around her, how could she be so calm and assured, and yet she was, just a Black girl. Hired to be a token? Not hired to be threatening.
It brought a memory of my early banking days. One of the first meetings in my high visibility management training program was with my advisor. She looked at me earnestly and said “usually our black fellows only take one class in business school per semester to start. They find that it’s easier to assimilate that way” I looked at her and said “Thanks”. This was the first time that all the “Scholars” fledgling bankers, Black, white, Asian, male, female, who were just out of college, who were working 40+ hours a week at a job and going to graduate school at night, were grinding it out. But the Black ones, highly recruited, well, they automatically needed remediation before they even started. I walked out of the office wondering what I had just heard. I talked to another Black Scholar who was a year ahead of me and asked about it. She said, “that’s some bullshit, just take two classes like you are supposed to”. I did, Thank God for Faith. Without that support, things would have turned out much differently. I went on and graduated B-school on schedule and ended up starting my career trading on the FX desk, in treasury.
Hindsight is 20/20 and thinking back on it, I think about the business of statistics and propaganda and how it’s used. Over time the bank would collect stats that said Black Scholars took longer to graduate and needed help, to rise to the expectations of the program. Black Scholars doing what they were told to do, would be proven to take longer to finish and this would be the evidence and become the expectation. A manufactured self fulfilling prophecy, cloaked in concern. How ironic to recruit for excellence, and then set up to failure. Only looking back is it clear.
My colleague loves to start our team meetings with ice breakers or grounding moments. A few weeks ago, she decided on an oldie but goody – “what’s your superpower?” I am known to hate these things, really. But as I sat and waited my turn and thought what to say, I came up with the invisible shield. When I said it, the team asked why? I said, “to survive”. To deflect the arrows and shit that gets thrown at me. To survive the micro aggressions, the unknown slights and words said to be “helpful” and give a compliment – to a Black girl. My head down I am keeping it moving, with my shield to protect me. That inner spirit says don’t quit. The ancestors and the history expect no less. Keep it moving, eyes on the prize. It’s not always in me, but fortunately there are sometimes people who form a shield and someone who says that right word at the right time, offers the hand with no expectations except my continued survival. I’ve noticed more and more on social media women saying enough! “I have had it”, for the day, or the week or month. But then they dust off the cape and get back to it. Bruised but still going on. A thousand little cuts, and a thousand little scars. Yeah.
I am thinking about Ryan Coogler trying to take his money out of his account from “his” bank. Knowing banking as I do, I would expect he is a preferred customer and should have been flagged as such. The teller could see his account balance, his transaction history, and any other information she needed to make a decision on this transaction. But for Ryan, trying to make a normal for him discreet transaction, the world now knows about it. What’s worse than having someone of your own background question your credibility. A thousand little cuts, now, after all this time, and administered by those who look like him. So indoctrinated by the narrative and propaganda they couldn’t see what they were doing. The question, of course, is would this Black teller and manager have treated a young white man this way? Betrayed publicly, apologized to privately. This is how I know race is nothing, but a social construct meant to control and deter by whatever means necessary, mentally, and physically. One time a reporter asked me as Seaway bank was closing, why did it matter if the Black owned banks went out of business? Why do Black people need banks owned by Black people, all the major banks are in communities of color and make all of their services available!” Yeah.
Today I am sending “shield energy” to KBJ, Kamala Harris, Brittany and Naomi. All of them need a constant shield. But not just them. Every one of us every day. Yeah.