Ann Arbor, MI
The year was 1997. I was part of a small committee selecting MBAs for highly sought-after internships in China. I wasn’t prepared to be tested on my passionate belief that skin color doesn’t matter. But I am white. And when another white colleague said, “this candidate is African American, he might have a hard time with the racist views in China” I assumed my colleague was right. I agreed with my silence. While I no longer remember exactly, I believe the African American MBA candidate was offered an internship opportunity in a different country, like Poland. It was only a few weeks later that my passive acquiescence to a totally racist decision hit me in the face. Certainly an African-American MBA student at the University of Michigan had successfully handled racism in a wide variety of situations his entire life. Who were we, as whites sitting isolated in our meeting, to decide whether he could handle what China would dish out? Most likely, he would have been brilliant, thus helping a few Chinese people to also lose some of their racism. Instead, I was part of allowing the problem to persist. It’s a shameful memory. The only bright spot is that there is a painful scar, that now reminds me to be more watchful and outspoken against whites deciding “what’s best” for people of color. You can think it no longer happens where you live, until you do it yourself.