Your “I don’t see color” mentality has done enough damage.
Which country is more racist, the USA or the United Kingdom? Over the last month, I’ve been asked that question countless times. Every time I hear it coming, it makes me cringe because answering that question is like describing the difference between yellow and green.
It’s comparing the experience of growing up in the USA where at a young age my peers rejected my intelligence, telling me that I was only accepted into our boarding school because of the color of my skin….To being an adult in the UK, where I’ve debated a Partner at my previous firm, asking him if his philosophy of “I don’t see color” is the reason why his Africa leadership team is filled only with white men.
Both countries have racism; they just have a different personality, a different accent, a different face.
Let’s stay on that philosophy though, the age-old mantra “I don’t see color” and how it’s often used by those who believe they are effectively fighting racism.
The Jamaican philosopher, Charles W. Mills, once said of this phenomenon, “The only people who can find it psychologically possible to deny the centrality of race are those who are racially privileged, for whom race is invisible precisely because the world is structured around them”
So, the question becomes: How can we possibly change something that many people, don’t believe they actually see?
As I made my way through that boarding school, weathering the toll of both homework and bouts of racial hatred from certain classmates, I discovered within myself the uncanny ability to remain excited about my future.
When I got to university and was laser-focused on working in what happened to be one of the least diverse industries in the country, Wall Street. Given getting through the door is very much about who you know and where you come from, it should come as no surprise that less than 3% of executives, senior officials and managers of these renowned Investment Banks are Black.
At that time in my life, I didn’t have direct contacts in my network, I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but I decided I deserved a shot anyway. So, at 18 years old, I emailed every Investment Bank in NYC. After a few months, one responded, saying I was in luck as they had recently started a program to help bring people of color to the firm and enable young talent.
It was at Morgan Stanley and through their Bridging the Gap Internship that I got that first shot. It was awkward. I felt uncomfortable daily, but I received mentors, coaching and an opportunity. It was the countless people that invited me to coffees and pushed me along the way because they decided to see color. They recognized because of a lack of diversity at the firm, people of color were structurally disadvantaged. It was several people who took that recognition into action and decided to set up this internship which altered the trajectory of my life.
When I look back now, I can’t just say “I am proud of my accomplishments”. That would be dishonest. Rather I have a sense of gratitude for those people who were willing to push me forward and enable me, so I prefer to say “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000”, meaning those countless people that helped me become who I am today are who I represent and who I am most proud of.
Those figuratively speaking, 10,000 people at my boarding school, my university, Morgan Stanley, and the companies I have worked at since then have helped bring out the best in me because they decide to see something that others refused.
So, my ask of you is simple, open your eyes. Put the questions, comparisons and debates aside and do something. If you need help, here are three things that you can start with:
First, speak to your HR, ask them to commit to creating opportunities for people of color, internships are just a start.
Second, take responsibility for actively coaching and mentoring those who don’t look like you in your workplace because they often lack these resources.
Lastly, speak up to those also who use the mantra “I don’t see color” as their crusade to fight racism by letting them know that if they change the way they look at things, the things they look at will change.
Colorise: My brother and I started Colorise.co, a social organisation with the mission to create more opportunities for people of color in the corporate world. If you are a Leader or a member of a Corporate Diversity Network, HR Leader or Executive interested in having conversations around diversity and inclusion, please join the Colorise network by signing up at: Colorise signup.
As a first step, we will be announcing our first virtual event in the coming weeks. We will bringing together corporate diversity leaders at companies who have made BLM pledges, to share their ideas, actions, progress and discuss topics of interest with the community. Stay tuned!