Startup founders don't wear as many hats as I do on a daily basis. In 2016, black people walk through the revolving door of identities and media exposure has only added to these polar extremes. Videos of the unlawful killings of black men and children aren't even censored online. These happenings are scarily becoming normal, yet still, any successful black man outside of entertainment is depicted as an anomaly. Essentially, as a black man, who I am seen as in the millennial era depends on who I am in front of.
Given my race-neutral name (before LinkedIn creeping became usual protocol), I’ve had several instances when I’ve been greeted with a surprised, “Oh,” when walking into a job interview. I saw quickly that I was fighting an uphill battle, and I say that optimistically. Or simple, everyday things are a sign of our lack of privilege, like the convenience of tech. It’s still tough for me to find a black barber in a new city, even with the help of Yelp. I’ve too had the generic troubles of being followed through a store or the time I was asked if I even attended community college by an elder, she hadn't even considered a degree. Yet, I still deal with the people who believe this racial bias isn’t prominent because of the public acceptance of black culture in certain pockets.
I often think about how time periods will be represented after the fact. The state of our current nation is justified by our advances from the previous century: slavery and oppression. I'll want to explain to my kids how I lived in an evolving age where the idea of me varied greatly. A time when I feel as I fall victim to most Black stereotypes, along with perpetual, involuntary nomination as the model spokesman for your entire race. Any individual act of yours could set the idea of a permanent trait to the unfamiliar audience. As this cycle repeats itself, I didn't want history to lose a grasp on what it felt like day-to-day to the black millennial man. Whichever society my children grow up in, they should be conscious of the stigmatization that blacks had to navigate in everyday conversation.
Corporate and color
An array of jobs came along with the information age and the Internet. To work in this field (or any other field where the black population is a minority) usually means you'll assume the title "nerd" before all else, which is expected. But this classification is only truly apparent in contrast with the normal in-office climate for blacks in tech. In the tech world, I'm a rarity. Seldom do I see familiar faces in these offices, and when I do, there's an immediate respect given. This established identity is validated in the "pipeline problem" with diversity in tech, a belief that there aren’t enough capable minorities in the recruiting pipeline of the tech industry. The same behavior and perceived behavior plague gender in tech as well. I'm in a trying space where most of those who look like me aren’t aware of my profession but they're familiar with the stigma attached. And, those with my same complexion in my industry are few and far between.
Nonetheless, our education is limiting in itself. If we’re fortunate enough to attend a university, it’s unlikely that we’re learning the foundations of entrepreneurship or other skill sets that are applicable in today’s workforce. Yet, these diplomas don’t make us bulletproof.
Culture and color
There’s a dominant misconception––one that has been exacerbated by Donald Trump on political stages––that all blacks were raised in high-concentrated inner cities and endure the pitfalls of gang violence and poverty. But, there are minorities outside of the inner city that also aren’t immune to the stigmas that plague us today.
Having to experience the awkward tension in your "diverse” office when everyone's seen that morning’s video of another unlawful murder of a black citizen. Or witnessing the adoption of our culture in the concert and denounced in the courtroom. These subjective situations are the largest indicators of today's racial climate, yet the raised awareness has been to no avail.
I'd argue that no other people in history had to endure so many polar identities and one of the most public examples is our ongoing oppression from police authority. We live in a time when the constitution is a living, breathing document but it’s concrete when the moment calls for renditions to be made in favor of people of color. In a time where many believe racism is long gone because someone of color served as president. But our era is also keen on recording; the most troubling thing to comprehend is the heightened exposure and still, stagnant political action. I’ll hide from my children that the media brought publicity to an already rooted mistreatment of blacks in the hands of the law, mostly crowdsourced media at that. Still, the virality of these examples doesn’t do much for our equality on judgment day. Rather, they’re ignored, and the law’s bigotry is defended with the preconceived notion that our color is inherently threatening another constructed identity.
Ironically enough, rappers of my generation are incriminated by their lyrics but police can evade murder charges despite incriminating videos. The circumstances that we live in may be hard to truly depict decades from now, given the recorded acts and lawful consequences don't correlate when it comes to our color. The idea of becoming a statistic has adopted a completely new definition in this era.
I’ll have to explain to my children what it felt like to fight a quiet war. They paint a new identity for blacks that were killed with all the bad things you used to be but exonerate the wrongdoers by painting the portrait of everything they could become. Given this “problem” is only a reality to some, systematic racism is an actuality that is hard to prove nowadays. It’s to the extreme where standing publicly for our mistreatment can also be swallowed by some as crying wolf.
Conversations with strangers of other races are like a strategic dance to see what assumptions are being held against one another. It makes me wonder if we lose a grip on our own identity trying to appease others with conformed behavior.
Millennials of color have to walk the tightrope of being too culturally aware or not aware enough. The societal norm wants you to be familiar with black culture, but not an advocate of it. Still, in this digitally-driven time, you can find a ticking timeline of racial obscenities under any Instagram post and even civil protests for our liberties have become diluted to a just a hashtag.
On top of the bias we endure for the identity we’ve chosen, as blacks, we have to withstand the bias attached to the identities given to us. Being a black millennial means who we are is just conditional.
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