Let us bow our heads and pray, "God give me the confidence of a mediocre white man."
Two years later, writer Sarah Hagi's daily prayer to overcome impostor syndrome is as relevant as ever. 2016 bears witness to the reality that there is no achievement that falls beyond the grasp of a mediocre white man. The near constant radio play of Justin Timberlake's applesauce bland single, "Can't Stop The Feeling." The absurdity of the television show This Is Us, thinking any of us care about Kevin's Pretty White Boy Problems plotline—GIVE US MORE RANDALL! And, also see: 2016 Presidential Election.
Even before Hagi's prayer became the daily affirmation of women around the world, I was fortunate enough to work for an older white man that had already instilled in me this special flavor of confidence not usually savored by Black people, much less Black women. Life tends to demand that we operate under the guiding principle that "you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have," as famously echoed on Scandal by Olivia Pope's daddy.
I've worked for a lot of older white men. Who hasn't? #whiteprivilege #patriarchy—but D.D. was the only one that carved out space for me to fail and still succeed like the white boys. As seen on the "Racist As Fuck" episode of Insecure, this is a luxury Black women rarely receive. After one botched meeting, Issa Rae's character laments, "I made one mistake during my presentation and they lost all faith in me. You know, now I'm the black girl who fucked up. And white people at my job fuck up all the time!"
All. The. Time.
Just like Issa Rae's character, all the jobs I've worked have had plenty of white people on the payroll. When one of them fucked up, they didn't have to live with the constant worry that their every mistake would reflect poorly on their people as a whole. They didn't have to worry that a poorly chosen blouse, a poorly worded email, or a poorly planned event was going to make it harder for the next Black woman to get on at their job.
There are probably white people reading this thinking, "That's ridiculous!" Please consider that most white people have one Black friend, as reported by the Public Religion Research Institute. When it comes to said white people, it's either their Black co-worker that's one of their friends or one of the few Black people they engage with on a regular basis. However, these interactions might be the only thing offsetting all the bullshit the media and the entertainment industry tells them is true about Black people. For Black people, that shit is stressful.
I don't think D.D. was consciously making an effort to give me the same benefit of the doubt white men are cloaked in daily. He wasn't one of those "I donít see color" Tomi Lahren types, and we certainly had our fair share of interesting conversations as a twenty-something Black woman riding around in a car with her fifty-something white man boss. His priorities were more about having good salespeople on his team so we could deliver on our sales goals at the end of the year. That meant he hired people he knew could get the job done and stood behind his people. His West Coast team became the most diverse in the company. It was basically like how sports low-key became integrated because teams with Black players started dominating the all-white teams.
Before working for D.D., every mistake I made at work made me feel like I was about to be fired. That all changed one Friday afternoon when I had a customer I supported call to complain that some supposed error on my part had cost him a $5,000 sale. I spent 20 minutes curled up on the floor of my closet sobbing into my stilettos before working up the courage to call D.D. and tell him I'd made a mistake. His response was essentially, "That rep sells millions per year, that is nothing for him. He'll get over it. Have a nice weekend."
In the end, it turned out the lost sale wasn't my fault. Over the next few years that I worked with D.D. anytime a complaint was brought to him—and for whatever reason it always tended to be white men with major egos who wanted to complain about me—he shrugged it off. In his eyes, they weren't worth focusing on when he compared it to everything I was doing right. I learned I didn't have to be perfect to get ahead. I just needed to be good enough. I went on to be the top salesperson in my region because I stopped worrying about the little things and I felt emboldened to take more risks. Plus, I had D.D. there to protect my reputation if I made a misstep.
These days, when I'm in a business interaction, I now default to leading with the value I can bring and brushing aside any shortcomings. In this way, for me, Sarah Hagi's prayer for the confidence of a mediocre white man has been answered.