Not Everything That Glitters is Gold
About a week ago, I posted a behind-the-scenes picture of a commercial shoot I was in. The analytics on my page showed that this one picture reached more people than any other photo I’ve ever posted. I also received more praise for this exposure than any other post of mine. It actually shocked me!
But while so many people were impressed with how glamorous this ’15 Seconds of Fame’ appeared, I’m here to tell you about what was really going on behind the veil. The things I am about to share are ugly and controversial. But they are also enlightening and inspiring. It is because of the latter two effects that I’ve decided to come forth and share my story. Here it goes:
Two weeks ago, my older sister found an ad for a well-known restaurant that was shooting for their new marketing campaign. I read the requirements and got excited that the commercial had the potential to pay up to a little less than $1000. Knowing I had nothing to lose, I submitted my photo and a detailed email about why I felt I would be the ideal candidate for this shot.
You see, prior to this commercial shoot, I was obsessed with this restaurant! For years, my family and I had eaten there more than at any other restaurant. So it was a piece of cake for me to fawn over how much I loved their food.
I was thrilled when I got an email back asking me to come to the casting that week. Sure enough, I auditioned and was then asked to come two days later for the shoot. This is where everything just got weird.
The day before my audition, my sister found another ad from an agency casting for the same commercial. In it, the agency specifically said, “ ‘Such and such restaurant’ is looking for Caucasian and Hispanic talent for their new commercial, etc.” My sister wasn’t sure whether she should tell me about it or not. In the end, she decided to go ahead and share.
Let me tell you, it devastated me! Here I was feeling like I connected so well with the casting directors and thinking I was handpicked to attend but then found out that in actuality, I wasn’t what they wanted at all! Faced with a choice of staying home or attending the shooting, I decided to go anyway in hopes that maybe, just maybe, the ad wasn’t true.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and that couldn’t be truer. This little ad should have been enough to warn me that although I was invited to be a part of the campaign, I didn’t actually have a fair chance at getting any lead roles. And although the people there would proceed to treat me very kindly, they each played a role in implementing a discriminatory agenda that at best was flattering and at worst, was painfully racist.
What you need to know about me is that my experience with discrimination is very limited and bizarre. I am black yet I do not consider myself “African American”. That’s because I am a descendent of Haiti. The blood that runs through my veins and the culture that leaks from my pores is Haitian. Though a subject of pride today, once upon a time, I—and every other Haitian-American who grew up in the 90’s—was ridiculed for our culture.
For years, I was bullied by African Americans, who would say things like, “Haitians brought AIDS to the USA,” and “I bet you just got here Fresh Off the Boat.” So much was the taunting that I soon developed a fear for non-Haitian blacks and ran to the shelter of white people.
For years, white people to me represented safety and acceptance. I began to take on some “typical white” characteristics: I only listened to CCM or rock music, I wore Vans & Roxy, and as my African American bullies often reminded me, I “Talked so white”–because I didn’t speak Ebonics. It took years for me to forgive my bullies and begin to believe that African American men and women weren’t out to hurt me. (Strange. I know!)
Fast forward to today and most of my friends are still a different color than I am. Even my home church is predominantly made up of people I love who identify as Caucasian or white Hispanic. Though aware of all of the racial tension and social turmoil going on in America, I’ve more or less been able to keep an emotional distance from it because it wasn’t a daily reality for me.
That changed a week ago when I soon found out that this beloved restaurant I was so proud to talk about, directly hired a crew to cast and record talent that were white or Hispanic. Sure they probably wanted one or two ‘black people’ to not be slammed by the media for a lack of diversity. But for their principle roles and their photo shoots, they made it clear that all they wanted were people from the aforementioned demographics.
One may argue that I am being highly speculative but as a person who has quote on quote, “lost her black card” so many times, I am also the LAST person to pull “the race card”. In light of that, I still found myself struggling to give the benefit of the doubt because of 3 distinct things that happened while I was there. I later wrote an angry email to one of the directors about the inequalities I observed as well as regarding other grievances I had. Among other things, he replied, “the client wants what they want…”
I want to take a pause to express what this blog post is not about:
#1: This is not about propagating the notion that “racism still exists”—because that song has been overplayed. We all know that already.
#2: This is not about telling you guys to boycott a “racist” restaurant—hence why I’ve specifically omitted the actual name of this restaurant. And though the company has lost a fan in me, it’s not my role to tell others where they should or shouldn’t eat.
#3: This is not a post to get people angry about how I was mistreated. In fact, I will have you know that I have long since forgiven the executives at this restaurant who made this marketing decision as well as the crew members from the agencies hired to shoot the commercial/photos.
If none of the previous arguments are my reason for writing this blog, then what is? Glad you asked!
I’ve written this post because I want to share with you a process that my heart has undergone to overcome the rejection I faced as a child growing up Haitian and last week as a black young woman dragged along to meet a quota.
I realized today on my morning walk that I was feeling pretty bummed inside, though I didn’t exactly know why. As I prayed to God about things that were bothering me, it dawned on me that I had allowed last week’s mistreatment to cast a shadow on my self-esteem. I had allowed the lie to enter my mind that because I am black, I am not good enough.
In typical Sozo style, I forgave the offenders, broke agreement with those lies, and then asked God the truth about how He sees me. And OH! what glorious revelation ensued!
In that sweet, precious way He always does, God reminded me of the fact that I am ever lovely, ever chosen, and the beautiful apple of His eye. He affirmed my value and began to talk to me about the fact that people may reject me for what they perceive, but their opinions about me do not determine who I am.
Like a male model who stands in the middle of an art room, posing as pupils busily paint their perspectives of what they see—the best they can do is recreate a copy of him. Some who are sitting far away may paint a tiny little man. Some who only have charcoal will draw a colorless figure, void of feelings, thoughts, soul, and personality.
Do you get it? What people see is NEVER who you are!! Their own messed up, skewed vantage points is the problem—not who and what God made you!
I am enough. I am loved. I am accepted. Though no one should see it, know it, or even care—the Author of my life knew my value when He dreamt me into reality. Daily He affirms me and daily He teaches me to love myself and the people around me.
I forgive, I love, I express, and I soar. As we celebrate the powerful impact Martin Luther King, Jr’s stand for justice brought to people of color, I am reminded that dreams are powerful as well as the pursuit therein.
God is greater than any childhood bullying episode and any indirectly discriminate commercial shoot. And as long as I keep my eyes on Him, speak up when I can, and BE the difference I want to see—I’ll be a’okay!
That’s my story! What is yours? Share in the comments below!