Each year, Professor Jennifer Nobles hosts a seminar featuring a panel of successful African Americans for her Psychology of the African American class, as well as the general public. This year it was held on February 19th from 12 p.m.to 2 p.m. in Harbeson Hall. The talk centered on issues such as racial prejudice in the workforce, black stereotypes, and skin colorization and the standards of beauty.
The panel consisted of six accomplished professionals: Alvin Chea, Marlene McGraw, Dawn Pamphille, Elizabeth Brown, Damon Brown, and Carlton Sampson.
Chea graduated from Oakwood University with a degree in English and education. He is currently a musician for the band Take 6, which has collected 10 Grammys and has performed with renowned artists like Lady Gaga and John Legend.
McGraw received a diploma from nursing school and graduate degrees in health care and gerontology from Oakwood University and the University of Alabama. She is now the Chief Nursing Officer for a veteran’s unit.
Pamphille went to Oakwood University to attain a bachelor’s degree in education. She later went to Mount Saint Mary’s University for a master’s degree in nursing. She works for a government agency.
Elizabeth Brown is a human resources director for a law firm, and she also sits on the executive board for that particular firm. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama.
Brown’s husband is Damon Brown, who is a corporate lawyer specializing in labor employment. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Berkeley and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.
Finally, Sampson is a anesthesiologist who went to University of California, Los Angeles for medical training.
Professor Nobles started the seminar by asking these speakers to share their experiences with racial prejudice in their workplace. Many of the answers they gave were prime examples of racial microaggression, or subconscious, brief, and commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities that express signs of racism.
Damon Brown would have clients who loved his work and whom he worked well with, but when they met face-to-face, he was automatically pulled off of the case. He has also experienced judges questioning him in open court whether or not he wrote the motion he was arguing. Elizabeth Brown witnessed white clients being incredulous of her knowledge and her ability to speak eloquently. Pamphille told the audience that she once had a Vietnam veteran say she was too “sweet to be a nigger.”
“We live in a society with 400 years where color means everything, so if you are a minority in a professional role, you will run into something or someone,” Sampson said. “Racism is subconscious. The person would not blatantly say they are racist, but their actions or behavior prove otherwise.”
Chea built on Sampson’s explanation.
“When you look different from the people around you, all eyes are going to be on you,” he said. “So when I go into a room, I do not just represent myself, rather I try to also represent African Americans like me who don’t get the same opportunities at life that I do.”
The conversation gradually transitioned into the conflict between having light colored skin and dark colored skin in the African American culture.
Elizabeth Brown has personally struggled with this issue since she was a child. She came from a household where skin color was something that was not talked about much. Her mother, despite having a darker skin tone, would still carry herself with high regard. And because skin color was not given much importance, she grew up thinking any shade of skin color was beautiful, even ones that are darker than others.
However, as she grew older, she began to see the difference that society place on darker skin tones and lighter skin tones. In school, she was told that she was pretty for a “dark skin black girl.” She also saw her aunt, whose skin was very black, express her shame for having the skin color in public. Another thing she noticed was that society tend to think of people with lighter skin as stuck up or narcissistic. She had a friend with lighter skin tone struggle to make a positive first impression on others because of this stereotype.
“People are led to believe that there is one true standard for beauty, but in reality, there are many standards,” she said. “You can be white as a sheep and still be African American, or you can be black as night and be African American.”
“The reason why it seems like there is only one standard for beauty is because in society, the rich gets to choose who to market to, which then determines what beauty is,” she added.
The seminar concluded with the speakers giving advice to the students on achieving their educational and professional endeavors, as well as reminding them that African Americans have come a long way since the days of slavery.
“As people of color in America, we have to realize how far we have come. We would not be able to do the things we do 300 years ago,” said Sampson. “You cannot let outside opinion of color be an excuse for you to not be who you want to be.”