Yes, I’ve Been to London

May 17, 2021

A few years ago, I attended a college fair at a hotel near the San Francisco International Airport. The colleges in the exhibition hall were showcasing performing arts programs. I decided to check out a booth for a school based in London. Looking at the glossy admissions collaterals with photos of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, I asked the representative where exactly was the school located. They said, “It’s in London.” After a few awkward seconds passed, I asked again about the location. Their reply was: “Have you been to London?” I confirmed that yes, I had been to London several times, realizing full well that they didn’t believe me. When they finally answered the question, my comeback was, “Oh, you mean the school is near the Old Royal Naval College, which is a few yards from the Cutty Sark and a short uphill walk to the Royal Observatory Greenwich.”

I will never forget this exchange because it typifies much of my life experience personally and professionally. That somehow where I’ve been, who I appear to be, and what I’ve done is not the same version of a role other people had in mind for me. Imagining that Kim’s life handbook is not the edition they had on their bookshelf. These frequent chance meetings with the dominant culture are simultaneously offensive yet entertaining. However, an element of me enjoys the mind-bending torment certain people display when they learn I’m more educated, well-traveled, and I live in a very nice neighborhood comparatively speaking.

Truthfully, I understand that everyone has biases, preferences, and prejudices; this is not news. But I wanted to take a moment to break down some of the connotations surrounding this issue especially as it pertains to what’s happening in the world today. As defined, bias is an inclination toward or away from one way of thinking. Prejudice refers to a preconceived opinion or feeling, mostly unfavorable, toward a person based on their affiliation with an ethnic group, religion, or organization. Discrimination is what happens when one takes action upon a prejudice they have about a certain group of people, for example.

Much of the tension and the turmoil we see today on the big screen, social media platforms, or in our communities is because things change and nothing stays the same. In my opinion, we are facing a culture reboot—making attempts to turn the page on what has been historically a very difficult chapter, especially here in the U.S. Unfortunately, there are those who desperately want to hold on to the status quo and their privilege. I believe many of us are trying to reimagine the societal house rules so we can move forward together benefitting everyone.

All of this leaves me with questions: The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder is May 25. Are we any further along in understanding the origins of racial injustice and that racism is real? How is it possible that some people still grapple with the fact that their position in life was not gained based on merit? What happens to those who brush up against the expectations for someone who looks like me or the group I’m from or caste to which they believe I was born? Is there a willingness to admit that what I look like and the metric of race have been used to determine my assignment in this society? Along with my perceived value, are attempts to keep me in a fixed place the modus operandi of a certain segment of humanity? If you have answers, reach out to me.

To paraphrase American journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson on class versus caste: “If you can act your way out of it, it’s class. If you can’t, it’s caste. There is nothing to escape assumptions and stereotyping.” Perhaps Wilkerson summed up my encounter that day with the college rep from London: the ability to put them unexpectedly in their place.

New ideas and opportunities are being created every day by talented people from different ethnic backgrounds, genders, ages, and walks of life. A culture that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive boils down to a few key elements—and how things get done so we can thrive.

As for me, my passport is current, credit card balance at zero, and I have an unused, pre-COVID-19 airline ticket with Air Canada. Quebec City awaits.

 

Article written by Kim Pipkin, president of Black Kite Consulting. Kim is also a member of the SMPS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. She can be reached at kimpipkin@comcast.net.