You and Dad raised Rodney and I to believe we had to be two times better than white people just to get the same as them. I understand why you said this. I know it came from a place of love. But Mama, that set me up to believe it's OK for me to get half as much as I am worth. That is why I won’t be teaching that to Pepper. If the white folk can raise their sons and daughters to be mediocre and expect the moon, then I can raise Pepper the same way.
I understand this world is not fair. I know what you and Dad did was to protect us and forge us into the men that we needed to be, to not just survive in this world but to thrive. Yet, if we are being honest, the idea that we have to work twice as hard as a white co-worker just to get the same, if we are lucky, is a form of learned helplessness. Perhaps this was your way of conditioning Rod and I for a world that routinely undervalues the labor of Black men. Maybe it was your way of preparing us for a world that refuses to admit the existence of Black brilliance. May I suggest this was your way of readying us for a world that would deny us promotions, not because of the quality of our work, but because of the moral failings of our employers.
Despite your well-meaning intentions, this line of thinking has allowed Black people and others to be plundered by greedy white employers for centuries. If I am already resigned to not being promoted, I don’t cause a scene when it happens. If I am already expecting to be paid less than my coworkers—many of whom I am more qualified and perform at a higher level than—then when I am confronted with the reality, I just shrug it off. You, and many Black parents, wanted your sons to maintain continuous employment throughout our careers.
If we are being honest, the idea that we have to work twice as hard as a white co-worker just to get the same, if we are lucky, is a form of learned helplessness.
You had watched your father and husband get laid off or forced into early retirement. You knew that an unemployed man is a man who can become bitter and distant. You wanted better for Rod and I. You wanted better for the women we would one day marry. I know you gave us this directive out of love.
I just wanted to tell you, out of love, that I am going to break this generational curse for my daughter. I will make sure she is primed for the barriers and obstacles that will hinder her progress, both in the workplace and in academia. However, she will not be indoctrinated with any philosophy that requires her to accept anything less than what she is worth. I’m doing this because it is time that we stop accepting being plundered because we are Black and because they are white.
I love you, Mama!
Garrick A. McFadden, Esq.