You Don’t Know What I Speak

bbIf I’d had the type of week that President Obama has had, I would jump out of the window right over the Rose Garden, and just lay there. It would be up to Secret Service to get me or leave me there. While I didn’t quite have that kind of week, I did encounter one clown during my weekly adventures.

Earlier in the week, I had a meeting with a business consultant to get some help on a project I’m working on. We met at Starbucks and took a seat directly across from the counter. We weren’t more than five or six feet from anyone walking up to the counter to order.

About thirty minutes into our conversation, a beautiful Native American girl and her mother walk up and are waiting in line. The person I am with is an older, white male, and of course me (in all my Mixed girl glory, afro and all) and the little girl is tentatively watching us. My associate (after this, that’s debatable) begins to start speaking Spanish to the little girl. If I could have crawled under the table, I would have been there. The little Indian Princess (not more than 5 or 6) knew whatever this guy was saying to her, it was not the language she understood. And at that age, kids’ faces never lie.

For those of you that have never been to Phoenix, it is a cornucopia of brown. Mexican, Native American, Black, Somali and Middle Eastern (pick your place)…..then do the mixes (Middle Eastern-Mexican, Somali-White). If it weren’t for the politics, it would be paradise. If you are not paying attention, I guess you could say we all look alike…if you weren’t looking at us. The beautiful thing is, we don’t look alike.

When I looked at Mom, I felt a million years worth of shame and guilt. I looked away, and looked at the clown in front of me. I waited until we were walking back to our cars to let him know that the “little girl you were speaking Spanish to was Native American”. I had transferred the shame and guilt I felt, directly to him as his face turned crimson.

When we make assumptions about people and then openly act on those assumptions…well, you know what they say about assuming…and that’s exactly what this guy was looking like.
The most enlightening thing I’ve seen in my life was a Chinese engineer give a talk in German. When I signed up for this particular webinar, I knew that German engineers would be giving the talk. It took a few minutes for my head to understand that yes, he was Chinese, and yes, he was speaking fluent German. I never would have thought that the person presenting would have been of Chinese heritage. Sometimes our brains don’t work like we want them to, but to assume to rightly know something and then be wrong, requires us to step back and understand why we made the assumption.

After having a chance to reflect on this, I wonder now if this business associate makes these types of assumptions when he’s consulting.

4 thoughts on “You Don’t Know What I Speak

  1. Black Bedouin May 19, 2013 / 5:36 pm

    Thank you so much for your kind words. As a society, we still have a long way to go with racial assumptions. Thank you again.


  2. Stop Along The Way May 19, 2013 / 3:17 am

    Love this. Love your story and love the video. I used to do a HR workshop for white employees on racial assumptions so I can relate to the story. My kids are mixed and get asked “What are you?” all the time. We talk about it a lot! Definitely going to send them the link to your piece. Thanks.


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