MY STORY OF RACISM:
My husband is a bridge-builder, in the figurative sense, not literally. As a black man with an accent, having spent the better part of the last 25 years in Corporate America working for large global corporations, he has had no other choice but to be. Fortunately, reconciliation is his natural state of being, so he is uniquely qualified for his job.
I can only share one of the stories in which he’s had to navigate a world where there are just four black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and just 3.3% of all executive or senior leadership roles are black. He gave me permission to tell this story, but no others, because as a bridge-builder, he has found ways to get past the bias and racism in his colleagues and to open their eyes. Perhaps surprisingly, he has actually continued in relationship with them. In good relationships with them.
For most of his career, Jacques has had to travel around the world for business. There was a time he was working in France frequently and had arranged to meet an executive from the UK in France for a meeting they were both attending. He offered to drive the gentleman from the airport to the town they were working in, as they were both arriving around the same time. Before the airport, they had only ever communicated via email and telephone, in hindsight, we suspect he assumed that Jacques Jean was a white French man. When Jacques picked him up, the man was on his cell phone and made no effort to hang up. Jacques shook his hand and introduced himself. The man set his suitcase down in front of Jacques and got into the back of the car. Jacques went around and got in the driver’s seat and started the car, knowing full well the man had expected him to put his bag in the trunk. Startled, the man gasped and said, “My bag!” And then jumped out and got it himself.
Would that it ended there. No. This guy stayed on his phone the entire ride, so more than two hours, very obviously keeping the other person on the line with small talk and unimportant conversations. In order to avoid talking to Jacques. A couple times, he demanded to know if they would be arriving soon.
I told you at the beginning that Jacques did not give me permission to share other stories. Here’s why: because this is the one time he was unable to win someone over, to make them see his intrinsic value, his solid character, his loving nature, his goofy humor. He was unable to turn a biased stranger into a faithful friend. Clearly, that says more about the stranger than it does about Jacques. So, I’m not allowed to tell the other stories, because those are stories about friends. Who crossed the bridge that Jacques built them.
PS: Jacques went on to work with this executive for a few years and several big projects after that car ride. He never did change.
MY WHITE PRIVILEGE:
This morning when I asked Jacques what stories I could share, I realized how often he must hold back, not telling me when something happens. As he was reminding me of some stories and telling me bits of others I had never heard, it hit me that he mostly keeps these things to himself. Maybe because it is simply not always worth speaking such atrocities out loud and infecting our daily life together. Maybe because sharing them with his wife who worries for his safety is against his better judgment.
That is white privilege. That I can be protected from the ugliness so that it doesn’t affect me. That I can go on about my day as if the world were all rainbows and unicorns.
That is white privilege.
Originally posted June 2020 on https://medium.com/@invisibleleftovers