Back in the ‘70s I was pretty much gainfully underemployed in Denver. I taught a class or two at several of the colleges and universities in town, but adjunct professors are grievously underpaid. So, whenever I found an advertisement for a full time opening in a field in which I had some experience, I applied.
Thanks to having worked for a couple of years on a project providing coordinated child care services to employees of the University of Colorado Medical Center, I felt qualified to apply for director of a new United Way office to coordinate child care services to the larger Denver community.
The interview was routine: I explained what the UCMC project was about and what roles I had played, including serving as the Director for the final year of the project, and the interviewing panel explained their vision for their new office. It seemed like a good match.
At one point, the woman who headed the panel mentioned that the people I would be working with and serving would be a very diverse group, and gently inquired how I thought I would get along with “people of color.” I paused for a moment to frame an answer in a way that would be both sensitive and politically correct (this was the ‘70s), when an unbidden thought came to my mind and I apparently smiled to myself. I had paused too long. The woman asked me what I was smiling about. I paused again, and replied something along the lines of, “Well, while I was thinking about how best to answer your question, the cliché that ‘Some of my best friends are Black’ popped into my head and I was wondering how you would react if I actually said that.” The panel chuckled and thanked me for my time.
I didn’t get the job.
A while later I told this story to my good friend Mary (full disclosure, a former girl friend) and she challenged me with a tone of disbelief in her voice, “Who do you know that’s Black?”
I replied, “Mack! You should know. You introduced us.”
“Oh,” she answered, subdued. “I forgot Mack was Black.”