I am going to hire the palest Irish nanny to push my baby in a stroller in the upper west side.
A former boss said this to me as our New York yellow taxi cab was stopped at a red light and crossing in front of us were many babies being pushed by nannies who could be considered the opposite of pale.
My immediate reaction was a jaw drop and a WTF?
This was, of course, all inside my head.
The grimace on her face was not inviting conversation.
Fast forward to 10 years and I find myself in Paris. The nounous here seem to all hail from former French colonies in Asia and Africa. They push strollers with pale babies to the park and they pick up the kids from school. And I remember what that grimacing boss of mine said long ago.
I also notice that were I work, nearly every assistant and all the cleaners are persons of colour. Not so much as you go up the ladder.
The question is, if you never see people that look like you in positions of power and influence, how can you ever aspire to it? If all you see reflected are in are nannies and cleaners what would give you the nerve to be the CEO?
Meaning, how can young African, Indian, Nepalese, or Ingenious, girls aspire to greatness when they rarely see people that look like them in power or influence in their work place, in media and in the public sphere?
And when they do dare to aspire and realize their goals, they are questioned. We've heard recently of several African-American women MD being asked repeatedly for their medical license when volunteering to assist ill passengers on a plane. When they question her, they are saying: you can't possibly be a doctor.
But why would they even think that?
Perhaps because those second guessing and suspicious have a certain idea of what is the appropriate place and role for persons /women of colour. Maybe because the African American MD has reached a perceived higher echelon and they simply cannot accept that (basically their brains are exploding). Or maybe every day they see examples of persons cleaning, working in fast food and serving them and they've absorbed this as just the way it is. They don't see daily examples to challenge their assumptions and stereotypes.
Opportunities for education. Opportunities for work. Opportunities to get out legacies of poverty. Policies that stop discrimination in hiring and promotion. These are essential.
But just as important are mentors. We need to see those who look like us doing what is beyond us. We need those who have risen (despite it all) to show us the way. The recent US elections offers a flicker of hope by electing diverse women to office.
Being examples of greatness are the legacies of Michelle Obama, Oprah, Jumpha Lahiri, Maya Angelou, Venus and Serena Williams, Malala. They are beacons. To rise towards. To rise above.
But we need more of them. And not just stars. But in our daily interactions. A little girl should know by just taking a sweeping glance around her and seeing herself in leaders that she too can be whatever it is she wants to be.
Rather than constantly of being told in a million silent and loud ways, she doesn't belong anywhere near the top.
Because she does.