What it Means to be Black in America

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Color is a fact. Race is a social construct. — Isabel Wilkerson

In 1978, my father left India to pursue a Ph.D. in Australia. When I got older, he told me a story about trying to help a black colleague find a place to live.

Multiple landlords refused to rent to my dad’s colleague based on the color of his skin. After that my dad would call the landlords and say “my friend is black and we would prefer not to drive there if you’re not going to rent to him.”

Growing up in a small Texas town, I was often shocked by the blatant racism towards black people. When I was in 9th grade, two black students got into a fight. One stabbed the other with a knife, and the one who got stabbed died a few hours later. All of us were sent home from school that day.

The friend whose mother picked us up from school said to him “now that that n@#@#@r got stabbed, you can go get your hair cut.” Then she drove us to the country club, where a black waiter served us lunch. It’s hard to forget moments like that.

What strikes me most about that experience however is that my friend’s parents were upper-middle-class people with advanced degrees. What’s even more shocking is that my friend became a police officer.

Despite being one of a handful of Indians in the town, I never experienced that kind of hostility.

“We develop stereotypes because, in our collective libraries of television shows and novels and commercials, these groupings have been reliably associated with certain characteristics,” says Sarah Rose Cavanagh

Except for being the guy who works at 7-eleven, Indians are often stereotyped as model minorities (doctors, engineers, professors, and so on). In case you’re wondering, the guy at the 7-eleven usually owns 20 of them and works at one.

But if there’s anything that the South Asian arms race for impressive biodata has taught me, it’s that Indians are as biased as anyone else (often towards other Indians).

A few years after college, I moved in with my black roommate Ahmad who is still a good friend of mine today. Living with him raised my awareness of my own stereotypes and biases.

In her book Caste, Isabel Wilkerson shares the story of interviewing a store owner for an article she was writing for the New York Times. She showed up on time and the owner didn’t believe that she was the journalist who was supposed to interview him.

“By adulthood, researchers have found, most Americans have been exposed to culture with enough negative messages about African-Americans and other marginalized groups that as much as 80 percent of white American hold an unconscious bias against black Americans, bias so automatic it kicks in before a person can process it. — Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

40 years after my father struggled to find his colleague an apartment, black people are still dealing with issues far more challenging than finding a place to live. We could have easily titled this episode what it means to be black in the world.

Media is one of the most powerful tools we have to shape and change perception and make people aware of their biases. As producers of media, we can use our platforms to perpetuate the worst or showcase the best. And I strongly believe that we have a social responsibility to do the latter.

In light of recent events, we teamed up with Shawn Dove, founder of the campaign for Black Male Achievement, and produced an episode about what it means to be black in America.

To say I know what it’s like to be black in America would be preposterous.

But the guests you’ll hear on today’s episode Shawn Dove, Desiree Adaway, Chris Wilson, and T.K. Coleman do.

Thanks to the support of Shawn and his team, we were able to incorporate this powerful monologue from Trevor Noah.

This is one of the most important episodes we’ve produced in the 10 years we’ve run the Unmistakable Creative. We hope you’ll share it with anyone who you think needs to hear it.

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