Some time ago, in that mythical land before the pandemic, I was invited to a surprise birthday party. We were all supposed to go to this one karaoke place, hide in a private room, and when the birthday girl was lured in by another friend, we’d all jump out and shout – SURPRISE!
It was only after I got to the karaoke place that it dawned on me that I didn’t actually know which room we were supposed to hide in, and the only person I knew who would know – the person who invited me – was at that very moment with the birthday girl trying to trick her into showing up. So I just sat there in the lobby and waited, hoping that I’d recognize one of the other people when they walked in.
Sure enough, this couple walked in, and I overheard them mention the name of the organiser to the receptionist. So I walked up to them and asked – Are you here for so and so’s birthday?
Except of course I didn’t say “so and so”, I said our mutual friend’s name.
“No, sorry.” They said, barely looking at me, and continued talking to the receptionist.
“My name is Al Ibrahim,“ I said. "And I’m here for the surprise birthday. I think we’re here for the same thing.”
Again, they just shook their heads, barely looking my way.
I was starting to get frustrated, so I loudly blurted out the name of the person who made the booking, and immediately, one of them was like – "Oh, so you know Davina?”
I think what happened was that they didn’t actually hear what I said the first two times. I think they just looked at me briefly, and when they saw that I don’t look like someone they expected, their brains didn’t even bother parsing what I was saying.
Instead, they just said No. Sorry. Sorry, we can’t help you right now. Clearly, you’re very lost. Clearly, you don’t belong here. Clearly, you need help finding your bearing. But no, we can’t help you because we are a bit occupied right now trying to sort out a surprise birthday party.
Except, of course, I wasn’t lost. I did belong there. I was exactly where I needed to be.
My point is, perhaps the brown woman from the office really did not have the experience and that’s why she didn’t get promoted. It’s possible.
But it’s also possible that the woman is perfectly fine. It’s possible that she’s experienced and capable and is exactly where she needs to be, except that whenever management looks at that fresh new position, their vision is obstructed by her gender and colour, and they don’t see her because they’re partial to someone who looks nothing like her.