All White People, All the Time 7

 Artist, satirist and social commentator Damali Ayo has a website –  When I first heard about it – I hollered.  (Many of you will know that meant I laughed deeply.  If you didn’t, now you know)  I knew the site was going to be brilliant!

How many times have I been at a meeting, served on a committee, or attended an event in Boston to find that I am with myself and by myself with no other brown or beige brethren to be seen, often not even among the service staff?

Despite the increased numbers of people of color in the Boston census (Boston is now a majority “minority” city), it often feels like this town is all white people, all the time.

A friend and I attended a lovely dinner  and holiday decorating party at a garden/gift store last night.  There were about 60 people there.  We were the only folks of the brown persuasion.  We had a fabulous time and even interacted with a few (two, three) women who were there but we did feel our difference.  My friend remarked how she had gone a boat cruise with her job in the summer and that there were 300 people from the company in attendance.  They were all white except for her lone Black self.  At her job there are two people of color – she and the receptionist (both black women).  There are no Asian people and no Latino people.  She enjoys her job but wonders, “How can this be in 2007?”  It be.  It be that way some…too many times.

My mother would say, “Tell it like it damn is not like it ain’t.”

During my professional career, as a trainer/facilitator and as director of a cultural economic development program, I frequently found myself the sole person of color of boards, associations, and convenings.  I brought in other people when I could. While in these meetings I plumbed for job openings and other opportunities so that I could hurry to my computer and send the word out to professionals of color.  Otherwise these opps would often remain unknown to us.
I had no problem “representing” as the saying goes. But it did get lonely being the only voice to address certain issues or represent the “of color” constituency.  It got irritating because I often felt like I was either sounding like a skipped record (remember those?) repeating the same stuff over and over or a that I was pegged as a whiner or a crusader, neither of which is an optimal position to hold.  Sometimes I would be noticeably silent – doodling as I took notes, writing sketches of stories and essays to keep from screaming at the top of my lungs: WHERE ARE THE REST OF US?  And why are y’all so comfortable with our not being here.  It got boring being the only sister from my ‘hood.

So, I am offering my services, with thanks to Damali for naming the job.  I am willing to be that brilliant person of color in the room, on the committee, at the event.  If you like, I can round up some other folks, so I won’t be so conspicuously an anomaly.  But you’ll have to pay me – because being the only one is work!  I have to navigate the the group, be bold and introduce myself to people that I’m not attracted to and who aren’t attracted to me (especially if its an event that has anything to do with networking.  You can see the look on the white guys’ faces that “this person (me!) is inconsequential” and that’s only the ones who will at least acknowledge my presence by glancing  my way.  There are lots of others who don’t even see me.  I have been bumped into more times that I can count.)  I have to eat food that is often bland and not filling (if there is food at all).  It’s also work to answer probing questions from those folks that make a beeline to you because you’re different and they want to know what brought you there.  (Uh…I belong here…I am the artist, facilitator, writer, entrepreneur, friend of so-and-so, or whatever other criteria was used in making up the invite list for the event.)

When I worked at Weston  High School, the principal (a lovely and smart man) put in my evaluation that I “knew how to play suburban patty cake.”  It only recently hit me that it is a game I’m playing.  and like other professional ballplayers, I want to get paid for my service and skills.  I’m working on my menu of services and prices.

  • What should be the price for silence?  (I’ll attend but make like an ornament…that punch of color that makes the room.)

  • How much should I charge for polite conversation?

  • What’s fair for witty repartee?

  • What’s the price for honesty?

  • Should I bill by the hour?  (I will have to charge a flat rate if you want me to stay for the whole event.)

  • What should the group rate be?

  • I will offer a discount if I’m not the only person of color you’ve invited and the other one(s) turned you down.

  • I’ll give you a bonus if you’ve invited a Black man.  (This is a nod to my husband who says his experiences of being with other Black and brown men are even less frequent than mine are of seeing other Black and brown women.)

Checks can be made out to…

That’s my blog for tonight.

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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