While attending the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I learned that my race didn’t dictate my grades. Hard work along with good professors (shout out to Professor Ein, now a Dept. Head) helped determine this fact. I earned a solid ‘A’ in one of the toughest mathematics courses at UIC, differential equations. Diffy Q as we called it was a make it or break it class for students aspiring to major in architecture, science, engineering or mathematics. For those who took Calculus in their freshman year, diffy Q was the first math class in sophomore year. Looking back, I realize it may have been a mixed blessing that I had low college entrance exam scores in math, therefore having to take some pre-reqs prior to Calculus. However, my slow start was soon irrelevant because as the only black student and female in my class I earned a 98% on assignments, quizzes, and test.
While employed at a previous job, I had a co-worker who always complimented me on how I answered the telephone. “You answer the phone so well. You’re always professional”, she would frequently say. I would politely say, “thank you” and roll my eyes when her back was turned. I wanted to respond with “how else should a college-educated person with intelligent parents and retired school principals for grandparents, suppose to answer the phone?” I never once heard her say this to non-black co-workers. My co-worker wasn’t the first person to make a comment regarding my phone etiquette. While a teen-ager one of my father’s friends mistook me for a “white woman” when I answered our home phone. In my home and my grandparents home, I was taught to answer the phone by saying “hello, Hamilton residence” or say whomever’s residence was appropriate.
I must give credit to the person who unknowingly inspired this blog post, Wayne Brady. Yes that’s correct the current host of “Let’s Make A Deal” game show and master of improvisational comedy as well as singer and dancer. I recently saw Mr. Brady on a segment of the CBS Morning Show, where he responded to comments about not being “black enough”. Because I do not want to misquote him, click here to view the video. What I will say is like him, I too was the kid who stayed in the house reading books and watching PBS. I don’t know when, why or how striving for knowledge and being diverse with regard to culture equates to being white. What I do know is that this black woman with her head held high, degree in Applied Mathematics; political and community activism; poetess self in addition to a laugh you under the table sense of humor, “really don’t care whatcha think.”
*Photo credits: Clockwise starting upper left: 1. Wayne Brady courtesy of WayneBrady.com 2. Barack Obama (c) 2007 courtesy of the author 3. Colin Powell public domain 4. Joyce M Rose-Harris and Richard (Prof. Griff) Griffin (c) 2012 courtesy of the author 5. Michelle Obama (c) 2007 courtesy of the author