Representing

30 05 2008

One of the most annoying things about being black is the fact that, for non-blacks who don’t interact frequently with black people, the impression they have of the entire black race is typically based on the impression they got from the last black person they’ve seen.

Figure 1: And it’s always this guy.

As a result of this, conscientious black folks tend to look at themselves as ‘ambassadors’ for their race in a way virtually no other race does (or really has to). SBP (successful black people) and their nose-in-the-air EBP (educated black people)* counterparts are particularly guilty of this. In many situations, we take it upon ourselves to represent the true nature and capabilities of the race towards those whose impressions of black people come from loud and foul-mouthed children on the Metro and Yo MTV Raps. The worst part is…we do it unconsciously. At no time was I more aware of this than when I recently took a technical certification exam.

For those who don’t know, a technical certification is something you get after you take an exam to prove you know how to do something that you’ve probably been doing for years anyway. This is why technical certifications are fucking ridiculous. The typical experience involves you going to some lonely low-rent building somewhere staffed by employees who aren’t really used to people showing up. After 15 minutes of unanswered phone calls and banging on the door, someone finally wakes up and lets you in. Once you’ve filled out a little bit of paperwork, you are locked in a windowless camera-monitored room where you sit for 3 – 4 hours trying to do two things: a.) pass the test and b.) remember not to pick your nose, scratch you ass, or adjust your nuts because you know you’re being watched.

Figure 2: By this guy

You’re informed immediately whether or not you’ve passed the test, and you walk out to the office where the staffer already has your results printout which almost always has “PASS” or “FAIL” written in big bold letters somewhere. For all the tech exams I’ve taken before, I was absolutely MORTIFIED at the idea that I’d walk out of the test room and have this fucker sneering at me on the inside because I’d failed an exam. But for my most recent exam, I didn’t seem to care what the staffer thought. I had an odd sense of calm about the prospect of failing the exam which is highly uncharacteristic of me. It wasn’t until I’d passed the stupid exam and was on the train heading home when I suddenly realized why I’d been so calm:

This was the first time the staffer was black.

For each other exam I took, the staffer was asian – and my subconscious immediately told me “You are a representative of your people. If you fail this exam, you will make black people look fucking retarded. Asian people will have more trumped up evidence that black people are dumb and don’t belong in technical fields. The viability of career equality between the races hinges on you passing this exam. You must not fail. Martin and Malcolm are watching you.”

Figure 3: After I passed.

With a black staffer, though, I didn’t feel judged. The guy felt familiar. We cracked a couple of jokes while he was registering me. The exam was about me passing muster instead of being about the validity of all blacks in engineering. As I thought about the ridiculousness of this on the train, I began shaking my head and swearing quietly to myself. Some chick saw this and moved to the other end of the car.

Just think about all the incidents where you’ve found yourself ‘representing’ in front of non-blacks to break stereotypes:

  • Giving people extra friendly greetings in the hallway to counter the ‘angry black man’ stereotype
  • Intentionally and unnecessarily speaking foreign languages in front of other people to counter the ‘uncultured’ black man stereotype
  • Airballing a jumpshot to counter the ‘all black people love and excel at basketball’ stereotype
  • Walking around campus with your nose buried in a calculus book to counter the ‘all black people major in african american studies’ stereotype
  • Overdressing at clubs/lounges to counter the ‘black people only know how to dress ‘urban” stereotype
  • Refusing to buy a Cadillac, Ford Expedition, or other giant SUV (with or without rims) for…fairly obvious reasons
  • Ordering bizarre exotic food like ostrich, alligator, or shark to counter the ‘black people only eat chicken and catfish’ stereotype
  • Blasting Blink 182 or Foo Fighters (even if you hate it) to counter the ‘black people only like hip hop and jazz’ stereotype

Figure 4: Where I go to rest after a long day of fighting stereotypes…

* EBP is a term I’ve always had difficulty swallowing. In the pragmatic sense, it typically applies to black doctors, lawyers, and MBAs with stratospheric incomes which is fine with me**. Unfortunately, the literal interpretation of the term has also allowed idiots with multiple Ivy league English or Philosophy degrees and no prospects to apply the moniker to themselves as well. The fact that I would be lumped in with these clowns (and the truckloads of pompous shitbrickery associated with the balance of EBP outside of the clowns) is why I will never refer to myself as an EBP. Instead, I prefer the term ‘SBP’ which gives credit where credit is due – credit to those who have attained some sort of objectively measurable and responsible (this keeps out entertainers on Viacom’s payroll) success, regardless of education level (or, more realistically, level of pretense). Not every SBP is an EBP, and not every EBP is an SBP. Thank God.

** Except I have a well documented hatred of attorneys who aren’t a.) criminal prosecutors, b.) family lawyers, or c.) intellectual property lawyers