The upsides and downsides of being successful … and black

It ain’t easy being successful and black.

That’s the topic Christopher J. Lebron tackled in the November issue of The Atlantic. “The Personal Cost of Black Success” is a review of two books. One is Heavy: An American Memoir. The other is There Will Be No Miracles Here.

Both of these books and this compelling essay force me to confront my own uneasy reality. My parents — especially my Jamaican mother — pushed me to succeed. It worked. Not like the authors. They attended elite U.S. schools. They contended with that particularly virulent strain of American racism. I went to university in Canada, where racism is still alive but the volume is lower. I got a post-graduate degree in journalism. I worked my way to the soft and squishy middle class. But there were sacrifices.

I still feel ostracized from my own “community.” I grew up a black button on all-white tuxedo from grade school to the boardroom. I fashioned a mask to cope. It took me years to realize how that mask looked to others (white and black) and myself. My slang, my music, my love of craft beer, the way I walk, my white wife and my biracial daughter. I arrive at family get-togethers — the white sheep of a black family.

This stuff never goes away. I can alter my mask but it’s always there. This review reminded me that I’m not alone. It reminded me that it’s worth exploring how others fashion their masks. There are scars and open wounds.

There’s no healing without revealing.

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