In racially segregated areas—no matter how progressive leaning they may be, the poor representation of Black people leads to a gross mischaracterization of what it means to be Black.
When I am invited to speak to a diverse audience, I am never asked about my credentials after my presentation because whoever invited me was already aware of my qualifications. In fact, those audiences know more about my background than I do, it seems. I am embraced by people who have Googled my name, dug up something I wrote when I was in college, and ask me when my book is coming out because they’ve read the countless books containing my work or stories written about me.
After speaking to a homogeneous audience, however, I am congratulated for how articulate I am and people ask me whether or not I’ve gone to college. I’ve even had occasions where people ask me if I was adopted by white people—the reason for my ability to “speak so well”. There is an overwhelming misunderstanding about what it means to be Black in America because my speaking ability should not surprise people. In fact, there are many creative, educated, and savvy Black people.
Just like there is diversity among white people, there is diversity within the Black community. All Black people don’t make the same amount of money. All Black people don’t listen to the same kind of music. All Black people don’t have the same level of education. All Black people don’t have the same religious beliefs. All Black people don’t eat the same kinds of foods.
Living in the Midwest, and traveling a lot throughout my life, means that I never had the misfortune of only being surrounded by people from my own race or ethnic background. With an increasingly diverse American population, it is surprising to me how many people I encounter who still live segregated as if it were the 1950s when interracial marriage was illegal and places like churches and neighborhoods were classified by race.
The same people who believe that all Black people are poor and uneducated have never met Black surgeons, professors, CEOs, or lawyers. The entertainment industry isn’t the only way for Black people to get ahead and the color of one’s skin doesn’t determine their social class or level of maturity.
Gone are the days when we could remain insulated by skin color. To be American in the 21st century is to understand that we have manufactured a blended reality. The rising populations of people of color in this country means that more and more people will begin to see that segregation only leads to isolation and ignorance.