The Competition Among the Underestimated is Stiff + The Distance We Travel to Reach the Starting Line

I’ve been thinking a lot about the unspoken and unwritten messages we all internalize. Today, diversity and inclusion is top of mind.

I’m a Black woman. I have been Black and female my entire life. Both of my parents are Black Americans. I’m blackity, black, BLACK.

Now that I’ve established my racial background, I can tell you I grew up and have spent a significant amount of time in predominantly white spaces. I’m accustomed to being the only, or one of a few people of color, or women in any given room or venue. I’m used to it, but I do a scan of the room every time I enter a new space. This time and proximity to non-Black folks do not negate my blackness. I notice the racial and gender breakdown of a space.

The scan and processing of my position in a room all happen silently and internally. I know this is normal for Black folks. Many of us have had to develop a sense of hyperawareness of our surroundings for our safety.

I assumed from my blackity Black perspective that white people also do a racial scan of the room. I thought y’all noticed it too when a room is almost 100% white folks. A conversation with a friend gave me a different perspective.

The Artists’ Market

I was part of an event where artists and artisans were selling in an open market. There was food, live performances, and vendors’ booths set up in an indoor market. As the building filled with people, I noticed that I was one of less than five people of color in the space. I noticed the glaring whiteness of this space.

A friend stopped by, chatted with me and shopped. The next time I saw her, I commented on the overwhelming whiteness of the event. She hadn’t noticed until I mentioned it. This friend is one of my more “woke” white friends. She’s actively anti-racist.

She is someone who tries to be aware but she hasn’t had to develop a practice of scanning a room full of white people and assessing safety. After all, what is water to a fish? Growing up Black in America means being othered from the time you are still in the womb. I’ve had a lifetime of noticing.

It seems obvious, but this was a mind-blowing realization for me. It got me thinking about how our internal commentaries may differ depending on our background and just how much representation matters.

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Diversity and Inclusion is not charity work!

Because I’m Black and because of my proximity to Black people, it’s clear to me that all kinds of folks make up Black Americans. Obligatory: “We are not a monolith.”

In Diversity and Inclusion work it’s important to pull out all of those silent and internal assessments and expose them to light.

We grow up in a society that shows us that geniuses, heroes (real and fantasy), the underdog who defies all odds, anyone who does a thing worth mentioning, and even God Himself (I cringe to write this, but carrying on…) looks like a white dude. The message is consistent, explicit, and pervasive. The story of the world is consistently told through a white lens and through white stories.

It’s completely normal to be white. We’ve seen a wide range of human experiences portrayed through white bodies.

Everybody gets this. It’s oxygen in America. It’s the operating system we come installed with.

It follows that when we see white men celebrated and successful, it’s considered normal. No one bats an eye. But what are the unspoken beliefs behind our assumptions? When others achieve greatness, doesn’t it seem different somehow? Uncommon?

Most white people don’t have the proximity to people of color I do. You haven’t seen the wide range of human experiences portrayed in our stories. We have because we’re living these stories now. You haven’t loved us or been loved by us the way we love each other. You haven’t witnessed Black excellence first hand. You don’t even know what that looks like (see above).

How does this relate to D&I?

1. Including the “underrepresented” is not doing us, the underestimated ones, a favor. (Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, BTW)

2. The absence of white dudes doesn’t imply lowered standards.

3. Diverse talent is abundant but we have all been conditioned not to be able to see it.

TL;DR

The entire point of this story is to point out that I know, without doubt, that the competition among the underestimated in our society is stiff. If you legitimately believe there’s a shortage of talent from underestimated groups, you’re not seeing us. You have an awareness gap, seek help.

I am a Black woman who has chosen a path that without access to capital necessitates hustle and grit. Often, I’m competing only against other underrepresented minorities for limited resources. When this happens, I don’t think, “great, this will be easy,” it’s actually the opposite. At this level of the game, the successful among us have already busted their asses just getting to the starting line, then go on to win the race too.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

I’m approaching the starting line and I’m winded already. I’m approaching and my shoes are too small, I’m slightly dehydrated, my training has not been as comprehensive as my competitors. I had to start running long before I could even see the starting line.

If you’re in a position to hire or build a team consider those of us who are running full tilt towards the starting line. You might have to look back a few yards to see us but we’re putting in the work now, knowing full well we’re invisible. Realize that we have had to be better than good enough just to get a chance to compete.

Mom, founder of PopSchools, Inc., artist, developer. Neurodivergent and socially awkward. I’m doing my best.

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