Christopher Carr
Cover Image © Christopher Carr

Black Perspectives #23: Christopher Carr (Associate Dean & Chief Diversity Officer)

Equality vs. Equity vs. Liberation

SSD: What inspired you to get into what you’re doing?

CC: I’ve worked in education (academia adjacent) for many years, and always found that people seemed to be clueless about why Black People weren’t going to their colleges, or applying for their internships or scholarship program. And upon looking into it – folks were legitimately clueless.

So what started as just trying to be a simple educator turned into an opportunity to help right some of the historical wrongs that have been done to Black People over the years. Creating opportunity, respecting history, challenging biases, and making room for us to be our authentic selves.

Christopher in a cool shirt taking a selfie in a mirror.

SSD: You did two things just now. One I’ll ask you about later, but one – I’m curious about now…

You said that people were clueless about why Black People weren’t getting involved with their institutions — based on your experiences, why aren’t Black People applying to those places you reference?

CC: Stereotype threat – most often we think that we can’t because for so long we’ve been told we can’t. We aren’t smart enough. We don’t have what it takes. We don’t apply for prestigious awards cause we were told to be humble. We can’t celebrate ourselves without feeling like we’ll be punished for it.

SSD: That’s deep. Actually kinda’ stings a little, to be honest – haha!

What are your thoughts on Corporate America waking up to the need for CDOs in the wake of the events of the summer of 2020 (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, BLM Protests, etc.)?

CC: I mean, better late than never. My big thing is, now that you are awake – what are you gonna’ do? Black Squares on Instagram ain’t it. How are you showing up today? I don’t need apologies, I need justice. Don’t just change your logo, change yourselves.

And then I remember that the change takes time. MLK noted that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. So we are on the right trajectory – though I wouldn’t mind if we picked up the pace a bit.

Ride along with Chris.

SSD: Earlier on, you mentioned that your work is tough — what would you say are some of the toughest parts?

CC: Toughest part is walking into work when I am facing my own trauma. Christian Cooper, Ahmed Arboury, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and too many others happened in such RAPID succession — and while I’m still grieving, still processing what it means to live in a country where my skin color begets hate, I have to go in and comfort others.

[There are] Many who look like me and need a place to lean – but also, so many who don’t look like me – and instead look like my tormentors. And I have to help them understand that this isn’t new… That performative actions just don’t cut it.

The other hard part is not losing hope. Every day can be grueling. And some days I get more bad news than good. But staying positive is essential in making these changes.

SSD: Flipping that (because I’m not trying to bum you out) — What would you say are the best parts of your job?

CC: Seeing a breakthrough with someone you never expected to see. That aha moment.

Oh, and curating spaces for all the people of color to get together where everyone can take a collective breath, ’cause we get it and don’t have to explain [anything] to anyone.

SSD: Big Question — How do you feel about America’s general changing cultural landscape and its treatment of the sensitivities of minorities and other underrepresented communities?

I mean, I don’t know if you follow this type of stuff or not – but you literally still have people like Mitch McConnell making public flubs (they’re dog-whistles – let’s be honest) that seem to casually separate African Americans from Americans.

CC: Every six months or so, I get on this kick where I start looking into having a child. I think about who I would be willing to co-parent with, I start looking up surrogacy costs, etc. And then I get immensely sad because I don’t know if I want to raise a Black Child in the United States.

In so many ways, I’ve made it! Great job, great salary, own my home, relatively debt-free (Me and Navient still beefin’), great support system. Perfect candidate to have a kid.

Christopher Carr modeling.

And yet; I know I made it here through much turmoil. Much trauma. Much pain.

Do I want to subject someone else to that? Is that fair? Is that ethical? To think – from “the name I choose”, to “the complexion God gives them” – it is all left to chance about whether they will receive the love and respect they deserve outside of the home I provide.

My fears aren’t invalid. I mean, the Duchess of Sussex had to deal with fears about a baby being too dark – and she [was] damn near a Princess. Which shows that racism permeates EVERYTHING.

Anti-Blackness is everywhere. How do you handle it? I handle it day by day. I see people’s hearts and minds change all the time. I see people surprised when they realize the truth. I’ve seen true reformation in places and spaces I’d never have thought.

The landscape is frankly shitty – but remember, that can be fertilizer for a brighter future. And I‘m still looking to be a Dad – so that’s something.

SSD: That is both one of the most “honestly sad” yet “honestly hopeful” statements I’ve heard shared in this series of interviews – and the sad part is I know EXACTLY what you mean by all of it (although some may not), so thanks for sharing that. It sounds like it comes from a place of internalized life lessons and experiences. That said…

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson that you have personally taken away from doing diversity work? How has it changed you (if at all)?

CC: That we are ALL recovering bigots. When I’m driving down the highway and some car cuts me off without regard, I zoom around it and look to see who they are so I can make some snap judgments about them. Every single time that I am cut off, I have to push down that impulse.

I’ve been conditioned to blame our generalizations – which often fall to things like race, class, gender, etc. I try to remember that once in my life, I thought all Asians owned Chinese restaurants, dry cleaners, and nail salons. I thought all Indo-Pakistanis owned and operated gas stations. I thought men didn’t cry and all women wanted to be mothers.

I, too, have to remember that I was programmed by society and that it took me time to unlearn the untruths. So, my greatest lesson is grace. Give it often, and ask for it often. We are so much more than our flaws.

The last thing that I would note is how crucial it is to take time to love yourself. We aren’t perfect, but we’re trying. I make it a point to read something for pleasure and find something to laugh at every day because those things bring me joy. And joy – is an act of resistance.

SSD: Well said. Ok, last question — Remember I said you did “two things” earlier? Well, it’s finally time for the second one…

You touched on a word that I would love to get your further opinion on: Authentic.

What does authenticity mean to you, and how do you think institutions and organizations could better encourage it?

CC: It means showing up as I am. Flaws and all. It means noting that I still get scared when a cop gets behind me (even though I ain’t doing anything wrong). It means telling folks when I’m angry. It means asking for what I want. Authenticity is about showing up raw and unapologetic – it’s ugly. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s necessary.

We have to put down the veneers and niceties. We have some UGLY truths. Now, let’s dig in.

The glasses are pink this time!

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