‘Colored’ in America: The Struggle Continues

As I sat in that four-hour meeting—Yes, four loooong ass hours—thankful and relieved that it was ending, I was tired, hungry, and ready to go! We were each giving our closing remarks; confirming our respective commitment to following through with the agreed upon action plan for a troubled youth. Miss. Therapist says, “I will see about getting a colored mentor for…”  WHAT THE HELL???!!! You know those moments in life where there’s a palpable shift in the atmosphere? Time seems to freeze for a slight second, as your brain struggles to process what you’ve just heard, you go into shock, then because you’re in a certain situation, you have to recover quickly and try not to give someone the ultimate gas face of disgust that says, “I can’t believe you just said that shit!”  I immediately looked at my co-worker(who’s also Black),my eyes widened, my head whipped to look at Miss. Therapist who, of course, was sitting right next to me. Then, I looked down at the table, trying to control my impulse to go into Black Power Activist mode. Miss. Therapist briefly paused after “Colored” fell out of her mouth; she had felt that shift in the atmosphere and she knew that she was the cause.

Aside from discussions about Black history, when was the last time that you’ve heard someone use the word, “Colored” when speaking about a person who is Black/African-American?  Unfortunately for me, this was just last week.  It came from a white female therapist, not a redneck or an older person whom you wouldn’t be surprised to hear using that word, but from someone who is considered a millennial.  A young woman who on a daily basis, deals with at-risk youth of various racial and cultural backgrounds.She actually said that archaic term out loud! I don’t know the extent of her professional background, however I do know that whatever her background, she should know better than to use that term in a professional setting, especially in front of 3 Black people. As a therapist, she should be aware of the proper terminology to use when discussing her clients. Apparently, she needs to do better in this area.

After the meeting, my colleagues and I agreed that her saying, “Colored” was a highlight, that we won’t soon forget. One of them tried to give her a pass by saying, “I think she meant to say ‘person of color’.”  I didn’t agree. From my history of working with this particular therapist, I had found her to seem committed to her clients, but she was also messy and inexperienced, I could tell that she had more formal education, than real world experience and she did not seem sensitive to the challenging dynamics of poverty, mental health, and race that are common for the population we serve. So, to me, her Freudian slip was a clear indication of her true perception.

I don’t have to go into how effed up race relations are in America; it’s like we’re in a surreal time warp, we think it’s 2015, but really it’s still 1955. I frown when I hear/read the term “Post-Racial America,” there’s nothing ‘post-racial’ about America; I digress. After thinking about Miss. Therapist’s statement over the weekend, I decided to send her a professional, but stern email letting her know that using the term “Colored” when talking about Black people was inappropriate. I first commended her for her efforts to serve the youth and his family then, I let her have it! Diplomacy, is hard for me so, I asked my cubicle mate to read it over to make sure that I wasn’t coming off in the wrong way. She replied, thanking me for bringing this to her attention and she said that she had heard one of the other meeting participants use the term, so she thought that it was ok. Umm, no, Miss. Therapist, you didn’t hear that from one of us and even if you did, your attempt to deflect responsibility only makes you look immature.  I responded, telling her that I don’t recall hearing anyone else but, her say, “Colored” and I told her that there was obviously some miscommunication or misunderstanding; I ended by thanking her for responding. I wanted to check her so tough, but I had to keep it together for reasons that anyone who has bills to pay will understand. I also wanted to show her that though she may perceive Blacks in a certain way, we are fully capable of rising above her propaganda fed perceptions.

If I would’ve handled this situation at the moment that is happened, it probably would’ve went left. Experiences like this are opportunities for growth. I’m not someone who is actively on the battlefield fighting racial injustice, I admire and am grateful for those who are out there.  But, I will do my part, no matter how small.

Photo: Flickr

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