My high school guidance counselor didn’t call me dumb. He didn’t have to. Without looking at my grades, the number of AP classes I was taking or the pile of geeky journalism things I was involved in – the school newspaper, the radio station, the speech team – he told me dismissively that I’d “never get into U of I.”
As in, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where my brother was already studying engineering. Instead, he told me with a touch of pity, I should apply to other state schools I had a better chance of attending.
The college professor who told me I’d “never be a reporter” didn’t call me dumb, either. He didn’t have to.
When I ran into him at a journalism conference several years after graduation, he didn’t initially remember me. But during a session later in the day, he did, long enough to caution me, without knowing anything about my years of experience at the time, that if I didn’t do something soon, I’d “never be a reporter.”
The editor who also said I’d “never get off the copy desk” didn’t call me dumb. He didn’t have to. He just laughed off my ambition to be a reporter, holding up reporting as reserved for only a special few that I couldn’t possibly be one of.
White people don’t always call black people dumb. They don’t have to.
And when we achieve what they have deemed the unachievable for us – graduating from U of I, becoming a reporter for The Associated Press, running our own media companies – we don’t call them racist to their faces. We don’t have to.
Photo of the Alma Mater by IllinoisLibrary.