Starting in Sunnyvale
A few moments after stepping off my flight to San Francisco, it was time to head to the first interview of this leg of the trip. Meet Orlando. We met up with him at his work, where he works to coordinate corporate and government communities for a tech company.
Orlando is an effortless ambassador for the communities he feels a part of. It's no wonder that his experience of America was put in the language of belonging and exclusion from groups in America. One of the most pointed parts of our conversation centered on how much "space" belonging can take up in a person's head. He talked about how as a black man in America, there is a layer of insecurity about belongingness above and beyond the personal layer of "am I good enough, do people like me." He remembered vividly when he had been the only person of color in an office and made a few mistakes on a task. His boss came by with a look that said to him, "do you really belong here?" He said this is a common experience for people of color in America; a sort of extra justification of whether you deserve the right to "be here" on top of the question of one's contributions while they are there.
Orlando grew up in Washington D.C. and struggled through highschool earning a GPA he's now hesitant to talk about. Looking back he remembered not caring about school, not seeing a reason to be engaged, and not seeing many black people in the school with a different attitude. He says the two were probably linked,
Orlando went on to Howard University, a historically black college, where he excelled academically and extracurricularly because he was able to take his belonging for granted and dedicate his full mind to his ambitions instead of his feeling of belonging. As we left, he asked me to remember that this type of community is a major element of how people experience America, and something that many white Americans are often able to ignore.