Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.
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T. J. Holmes
I'm 5' 11" and 165 lbs. I don't know many people who would look at me and think I played professional football. But, would you believe, a man thought it was more plausible for me to be a professional football player than a college graduate with a successful career.
I haven't come in contact with a lot of blatant racism in my life. Yes, I've been called the N-word. To be honest, it never really upset me because as soon as that word comes out of someone's mouth, I'm pretty sure that I've won the argument. That person has just confirmed how ignorant they are.
I don't necessarily consider most people racist. I have, however, seen a lot of racial bias. What I mean by that is people don't hate me because of the color of my skin, but they simply don't see me as an equal. Some may say that by not seeing me as an equal, that's the very definition of racism. Rather, I believe people have so many misconceptions and preconceived notions about black people. They make assumptions based on the color of my skin.
One of the clearest examples of what I'm talking about is a simple incident at a car wash. I was a news anchor for three years at a station in the Bay Area in California. And when I lived there, I drove a big, white SUV. It had 22" chrome wheels, dark-tinted windows, and a few personalized touches. It was hot! I would always wash my truck myself at one of those car washes with the pressurized hoses where you spray your vehicle down yourself.
Of course, when I go wash my car, I don't necessarily look like a news anchor. I look like a guy who's washing his car. I wear sweats or shorts or jeans with holes, I wear tank tops or t-shirts, I might have on a bandanna or be wearing a baseball cap backwards.
One day a man came over to me as I was washing my truck and said, "Man, I just gotta know. What do you guys do to have nice cars like that?"
He was a nice enough guy and wasn't really nasty when he asked the question. He truly seemed puzzled about how a young, black man could be driving such a nice car. He went on to ask me if I played for the San Francisco 49ers. Again, I'm 5'11" and 165 lbs. No, I don't play for the 49ers.
The guy's first thought at seeing a young, black man in a nice car was not that I could have gotten it through education and hard work. That is what I mean by bias.
It didn't cross his mind that maybe this young, black man went to college on an academic, not athletic, scholarship.
If he couldn't imagine that then he couldn't imagine that maybe this young, black man graduated from college in four years with a degree.
If he couldn't imagine that, then he certainly couldn't imagine that maybe I used my college degree to start a successful career.
And, if he couldn't imagine that, he certainly couldn't imagine that maybe, just maybe this young, black man was making more money than him.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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