On the Black In Business blog, Jim posted about personal weaknesses and improving them. I made a comment about how one of Jim’s weaknesses (poor spelling) could be interpreted as making blacks in general look like poor spellers. His response was very profound:
Every thing we do as black people reflect upon the whole race. If a white man cannot spell, he may be excused or just be a dumb white man, for us we carry the burden of representing the whole race. Until we are allowed to be one aspect of a diverse race of people, we risk never taking risk for fear of making all black people look bad.
Now in my defense, my comment was from the point of view that his misspellings would be interpreted as ignorance, which in turn would unfairly reflect on blacks in general. I correctly determined that he wasn’t very proficient with using a computer. Still, I’m embarrassed that I too fell into stereotyping.
Jim’s response made me think about how I also often bear the torch for my race. There have been plenty of instances in my life where I’ve been the first or only black to accomplish something. Whether it was the first to receive the Eagle Scout award, or being the only black at a technology company, I felt that I was representing my whole race. Even today, I feel that I have to be successful so that I can open doors for other blacks. Chris Rock said it best in “Head of State” when his aide said he shouldn’t quit in his campaign for the presidency:
“I wish I could quit. I wish it was that easy. You’re lucky, you are so lucky. You don’t know how good you got it. You just represent yourself. Me, I represent my whole race. If I quit, there won’t be another black candidate for 50 years.”
I’m willing to bet that most successful blacks feel that way deep down, that they have to succeed for our race, not just themselves. No other race gets this level of scrutiny. No other race has this level of pressure placed on each individual of that race. The Asian and Middle Eastern cultures probably come the closest, in that family honor is important. But like my wife said, “it takes a special person to be black. Most people don’t have the inner strength to live out what we go through in our lifetime.”