Zero to 100: The Gold Standard of Global Networking was written by Joseph Luckett as a blueprint to efficient and measurable networking through REAL-ationship-building and a focus on the value you contribute.
I pull up to get gas in O’Fallon, Missouri. I’m wearing a plain jogging suit with no logos. There are three other vehicles in the parking lot. I pump my gas and when it’s finished the computer asks me if I want a receipt. I usually say no. But this time around, I decide I do want it, so I hit the “yes” button on the pump.
I wait for a moment for the receipt to come out of the slot, but instead, a message pops up and says I have to see the cashier. So I grab my mask, put it on properly over my nose as usual, and I walk in.
I usually stick to blue surgical masks because they are plain and have no connotation. But this time, all I had was a black one. Blue surgical masks are sold out in the area. I hate that this mask is black more than you could realize but more importantly, I hate wearing masks because wearing one as an African American can make people feel a certain way. I do my best to always speak first to whomever I cross paths with to put them at ease, make them feel safe, and see that I’m genuinely a friendly person. Masks prevent me from being able to do that as well.
As I’m standing in line, the cashier stops helping the customer in front of me. She looks me in the eyes, eyeballs me up and down, then stares at my pocket. Everyone in front of me turns around to stare at me and my pockets. Now the attention is on me. The energy shifts very quickly. Everyone is VERY nervous.
It’s like she thinks I’m going to do something stereotypical like pull a gun, rob the store, and cause havoc. At this moment, all I want to do is pull my mask down, show my smile, and ask how she––or anyone in line staring at me––is doing. But I don’t do it. I don’t because I fear putting myself in an uncompromising situation.
The cashier continues to attend to the customers in line. When I finally get to the front of the line, I ask for my receipt. She prints it, hands it to me, and I leave. Even though more customers are still in line, she pauses to watch me walk to my car. I sit in my car for a moment and say out loud to myself, “WOW, what an experience!”
I like to wear plain and muted colors (primarily white and grey) because no one judges those clothes as a threat. Then I can only be judged by my skin or what comes out of my mouth. And with my communication skills strong enough to put people at ease, I feel like I’m on more of a level playing field as an African American.
But the mask blocks my smile and everything but my eyes. So I can’t put people at ease as well as I can without a mask.
This story is so that I can tell you two things
1. Masks add a layer of difficulty to fighting stereotypes
Culturally, mask-wearing during the pandemic has made it VERY tough to be an African American. But on the flip side, it’s been a social signal that I care about the health of those around me.
2. As African Americans, we need to educate when we have the opportunity
If you’re Black and someone asks you a race-related question (trust me, I’ve been asked a TON), the best way to respond is to enlighten from a loving place. Provide resources for better understanding. Include movies they can watch with their families! If you can, offer to be an open book resource as they walk their journey.