Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Racially un-motivated

I applied to be a resident assistant during the summer before my junior year at college.

I had made it to the second round of interviews when they asked: “How will you handle it if you have an African American resident living on your floor?”

Keep in mind I’m paraphrasing here – and back then we had just a handful of minority students at this small school surrounded by cornfields in the middle of Michigan.

I responded instinctively and sincerely with what I thought was a great answer: “Why is a person’s skin color even relevant? I’ll treat her like everyone else. With kindness and respect.”

Wrong answer. Way wrong answer.

Later, I found out that this was what they wanted to hear (again with the paraphrasing): “I will pay extra special attention to the needs of this minority student so that she feels comfortable and welcome. I will ensure that all the residents on my floor are sensitive to her unique perspective. I will be her advocate and champion and do what I can to protect her from any intentional or unintentional racism she encounters at this fine institution.”
I didn’t get the job that first time around.

But you can bet your ass I answered that question like a champ the next time.

Turns out, I wasn’t a very good RA anyway – I had my own issues to deal with besides worrying about whether or not some fictional black chick was comfortable – but that’s a story for another time.
Butch A____ was a friend of mine in college. I met him through my boyfriend -- they were RAs in the same dorm. Butch was a wise little black dude who looked just like Danny Glover.

We’re sitting next to each other in Religion 101. My right hand is splayed out flat on the half moon desk in front of me. For whatever reason, he plants his hand right next to mine the same way. We look down.

“Pink fingernails,” we say at the same time – like a small miracle – only seeing the one thing our hands had in common.
A few years later, I learned that my original answer was in fact the correct one.

Nobody wants to be treated differently when they’re different.
We’re gathered around a tv set in the large conference room. It’s 1995.

There's maybe eight of us – a surprisingly even mix of black and white folks – eating lunch together. We’re laughing and talking and waiting impatiently for the OJ Simpson verdict to be announced.

Looking around, I remember smiling and thinking that the racial make-up of the room was so cool – a reflection of my company’s commitment to hiring exceptional people who happen to be exceptionally diverse.

Then it comes: Not guilty.

Half the room cheers. Half the room sits in angry silence.

Instantly, we’re divided.

That so-cool feeling evaporating like the sweat on OJ’s forehead.
I am listening to: Pussycat Dolls – Buttons
I am reading: Nothing
And I am: Quiet