When I was first asked to contribute to this blog series everything that I have ever experienced dealing with these topics flooded my mind again. I thought about the time when I worked in corporate America and reported to a vice president. While in Memphis, in a meeting where I was the only person of color, my boss put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m proud of you, boy.” I thought about when I had a routine doctor visit and told the nurse that I wanted to get an HIV test. The Black nurse felt so comfortable being self-righteous that she replied, “Whatever you’re doing that you need to get tested for HIV should stop.” I thought about the straight guy from the mailroom who became my friend. While having a drink one night, I asked him, “Why is it you don’t have an issue with me being gay?” He replied, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Because you don’t have an issue with you being gay.” I could probably write story after story that could make every reader feel some sort of disdain, cringe or even smile at the unexpected. However, I am not sure it would compel a personal change and that is my goal here.
In my corporate life, I was constantly on a plane, in an airport and a rental car. While in Baltimore, I had an issue with my rental car that required me to talk to the staff. I begrudgingly got out of my car and most likely rolled my eyes and went to discuss my issue with Tameka, the agent. As I walked away, I heard Tameka and her co-worker talking about me. The co-worker said to Tameka, “Girl, he’s fine.” Tameka replied, “He thinks he’s white though.” Walking away, I chuckled to myself about this exchange. I thought it was funny for a few different reasons. One, Tameka thought of me as being “white” before she thought of me as being gay. Then there was the irony of what I was thinking my experience was going to be as I walked toward Tameka and how subconsciously I was preparing myself. Turns out, my experience was nothing like how I thought it was going to be. She was helpful and resolved my issue. I guess turnabout is fair play after all.
I believe it is human nature to take life experiences, file them away and when anything occurs that even remotely resembles those experiences again, we respond accordingly. The problem with this is that experiences are not monolithic, and neither are people. Experiences are mercurial and contextual. For me, when similar situations occur in my life that remind me of past experiences, I try to make a conscious effort to respond differently; the operative word being “try.” Sometimes I make the decision to not respond at all until I have all the information. I am issuing a challenge to everyone reading this to make a choice to respond differently and not allow situations to dictate your response or your reaction. It really is as simple as making a different choice in the moment.
My vice president, who was only a few years older than I was, thought that it was a compliment to tell me he was proud of me. Yet he attached it with the word “boy” which was, and is, used to keep Blacks feeling inferior. The nurse made a decision about who I was and what I was doing that required me being tested for HIV. In the moment, she decided to offer her uninformed, unsolicited, judgmental opinion about me and how she thought I was living my life. However, I did the same thing to my friend from the mailroom and to Tameka. Because of my own biases, I decided that my straight friend being comfortable with me was not a real friendship and that a girl from Baltimore in a customer service job was not going to be able to resolve my issue without incident. If you are living and breathing it is impossible to not have any biases. I challenge everyone to sit in their feelings and question why you feel the way you do about anything and how you can respond differently. All change starts with awareness, and it starts within.
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Scott Bogan is a professional with more than 20 years in the field of Human Resources. He was worked in recruiting, training and management. Throughout his career he has taken pride in the
accomplishment of having a hand in the success of others. He has hired, trained and guided hundreds of careers. During his spare time, Scott wrote an e-reader called Help Wanted: A Guide to Getting the Job
You Want. From interviewing hundreds of candidates, he recognized that young people were being sent into the workforce ill-prepared. Scott wrote “Help Wanted” to try to fill some of the missing gaps.
Scott has facilitated professional development sessions with community centers and the Atlanta Public School Adult Education Program. He currently works with private clients writing policies and procedures, job descriptions, employee handbooks and managing HRIS application implementations. Scott also works as a contractual worker with Emory School of Medicine.
Scott has lived in NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles but currently calls Atlanta, GA home. He is a certified yoga instructor. He loves traveling, cooking, and is an avid reader of mostly non-fiction.