Do Black People Always Assume “The White Person” Is In Charge?


*Names have been changed for privacy

Last spring I found myself on the other side of the conference table for the first time in my professional career when I sat beside management and interviewed potential spring interns.  One of the perks that came with my recent promotion and new position was that I got to coast in this grey area of professional purgatory. I was the only full-time worker at our small non-profit besides management so although I didn’t get to make any serious managerial decisions, my opinion and input was considered when those decisions were made.

When Jen* walked in she appeared to be your typical college senior.  She was bright-eyed and optimistic about her future, all passionate about the fact that soon she’d have a degree and could make real change in the world.  She rambled off all of her qualifications from being Vice President of an academic sorority to the fact that she was applying to this internship for the experience and not just because it stood between her and that graduation gown.  She was so perfect it almost made me nauseous. In fact I never even realized her slight speech impediment until our administrative assistant questioned, “How did you sit through that and not go insane?”

Many of the interns we interviewed would have been a great addition so as I shook her hand I couldn’t make heads or tails of whether management would offer her an opportunity.  My only worry was that she was suburban and white, which wasn’t a problem for me, but I thought some of our inner-city students might completely tune her out and assume “she wasn’t about that life”…kind of like I just had which was completely unfair.

Jen wasn’t about that life, but she turned out to be pretty cool and down-to-earth.  During her internship she assisted with classes and seemed down for whatever was asked of her.  She wasn’t afraid to go into schools in dangerous neighborhoods and she treated the students with respect and listened to them which was more important than being able to relate to them any day.  Most importantly, just like the menial tasks like copying or sorting that interns are often assigned, she never looked down on anything or anyone like it was beneath her.  It was refreshing since sometimes you get those interns who feel like a B.A. is a Chance card in Monopoly that sends you directly to CEO (They’ve got a rude awakening coming).

I give you this background to tell you that I’ll never forget the day when Jen accompanied me to a new site to assist. We were beginning a class at this site where our main contact would was an older African-American building manager.  As he showed us to the room we would be using and other logistics like the location of the bathroom and the codes we could dial on the phone to reach him, I couldn’t help but notice he was only addressing Jen.  I had clearly introduced myself as the instructor and Jen as the intern.  I had even spoken to him previously over the phone.  I was professional and polite, but for some reason as he explained everything he couldn’t seem to address me.


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