Wednesday, October 28, 2009

To Be Successful, Male, and Black: Common Perceptions.

In my estimation, roughly 50 to 80 percent of people anywhere in the world are neutral at the sight of a black man who appears polished and successful. However, the other 20 to 50 percent tend to fall into one or more of the following categories:

The Inspired Onlooker: These will see you as an interesting person to get to know, or a paradigm to emulate. These people are well-intentioned and the females are most open to dating black men. Think of these as the "Wow, a successful black man, he must be a remarkably intelligent and charming individual to get where he is today" crowd.

The Validated Onlooker: These individuals may be very successful themselves or well on their way to being successful. They see the successful black man as a validation of their view that all people can make it given the right opportunities and life choices. Think of these as the "We are all the same given the right circumstances in which to thrive" crowd.

The Patronizing Onlooker: While not ill-intentioned, these individuals only see you through the lens of stereotype. This is the person that does not pick up on your behavior, dress, and mannerisms, but your skin color. These individuals may seek to develop rapport with you by uttering some hip hop slogan, or by abruptly patting you the back as if you are some athlete who just scored. This is the "I wonder which he is, an athlete or entertainer" crowd. In my experience, this type seems to be most prevalent in Asian and East European countries and those with high poverty rates.

The Resentful Onlooker: This is a person of which you should be wary. They may simply watch you with an expressionless demeanor, or they may actually engage you in conversation in an effort to discover what you are all about. Whatever the case, they do not like you as you remind them of their own failure and insecurity. They are the "How in the world can this black guy have his stuff together, and I can't?" They need to be let off the hook by learning that you are a cheat, a fraud, or a fool and that is what they seek to discover by interacting with you. They may try to provoke you with some verbal slight or insult to gauge your reaction, or they may simply watch your every move. They represent the disingenuous, smiling stranger that you know has an ulterior motive.

The Self-Preservationist Onlooker: This is the most dangerous of all. This is the person that seeks to destroy you or your well-being because his/her world view does not comport with what you represent when compared with what they represent. Your very presence is interpreted as a threat to their relevance. These individuals range from the unemployed, to the lonely skinhead who wants you out of his country because women pay more attention to you. But, more often, they are the black female co-workers who sees you as a challenge to their positions in the organization. Just as the skinhead seeks to destroy your physical being, the black female self-preservationist onlooker seeks to destroy your reputation, your respect in the eyes of others, and your place as a credible contributor in the organization. Whether it is by luring you into conflict or setting you up for termination, this person wants you demolished as a threat to her social position.

It takes experience to quickly determine if someone embodies one of the above profiles. Sometimes people exhibit elements of more than one profile, and yet others can drift from one into another with time.

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