The Dirt on My Lens

The Dirt on My Lens

I go through life with a few simple principles to guide me. Those principles made this a challenging piece because I wanted to take great care to be understood without compromising my belief system or minimizing my experiences or that of others. The first of those principles that made this challenging is, “what is the objective?” The objective of this piece is to give you a truth through a different lens. It’s not my intention to alter anyone’s opinions or minimize their experiences, but rather to put mine, in those I represent, front and center without filters. Principle two is “don’t expect what you’re not willing to give.” Before deliberating on this piece, I spent more than a year researching, listening, and making every effort to understand others, put myself in their shoes, and look through their lens. That made this even more complex a task because while I was able to learn much about myself and empathize with people that I never sought to understand before this intentional effort, it also served to give me moments of frustration, moments of confusion, and the need to represent myself and those I’m perceived to represent without filters.

Conventional training suggests I start by demonstrating understanding to reduce the reflexive emotional impact. However, most of this isn’t traditional discussions, and for the parts that are, conventional methodologies haven’t been effective, so for once, let’s have a conversation without excuses. Answer this question, “what am I trying to overcome?” You may have a detailed response to that question but ask yourself the question in terms of a collective. By collective, I mean, what are you collectively trying to overcome when you think of others with similar looks, beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds, education, opportunities, etc., that you are perceived to represent? One of the things that I learned on this journey is that everyone has an expectation of respect at any cost, but how challenging is that to expect what you’re not willing to give? How hard is it to unlearn everything you were taught in the name of respect for others? How much energy do you have for that in the face of being or being made to feel disrespected? “Focusing on any individual difference, rather than differences having strong personal meaning and stemming from or coinciding with significant power differences among groups, would make all groups diverse, and would therefore make the entire concept of workplace diversity meaningless.” (Konrad, 2003; p. 7)

Let’s start where we can all agree.

We come into this world knowing absolutely nothing, possessing a genetic code that will determine some aspects of who we will become physically and some idiosyncrasies. Outside of that, we learn everything else after we are here, which would mean that all lack of decency or respect for humanity is taught in this realm.

I think it’s necessary to clarify the separation between prejudice and racism. You can use the term prejudice and almost anything without human context. Racism, however, can only be used in the human context. I believe these are sometimes confusing because they’re both learned.

Prejudice – preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. If I said I did not like hockey without ever attempting to play hockey or even attending a hockey game, that would then be a prejudice; however, if I went to a hockey game or attempted to play hockey and then decided that I didn’t like hockey that what was previously a prejudice has now been made true and it doesn’t involve human context.

Racism – is the process by which systems and policies, actions, and attitudes create inequitable opportunities and outcomes for people based on race. There are many other isms, and without attempting to minimize them understand that they are associated with attitudes more than systems and policies for the most part. Stay with me now because this is right about the time that this gets uncomfortable, and people want to advocate for any effect or any other ISM that has impacted them.

Yes, sexism and ageism are real; however, what other ISM has had the atrocious generational impact of racism?

I once asked the question, “is DEI real in existence outside of the workplace?”

It’s a hot-button topic, and many advocates, education, and resources exist. However, if you examine the most prominent people in that space, by human nature, they advocate for what they represent and the experiences that they’ve encountered because of their representation or association. Is this effective? Or does it result in a world full of people trying to be heard? Trying to be seen? Trying to be recognized, acknowledged, and respected? I’ve been challenged in writing this piece because while I feel compelled to draw more insight into what the experiences are for a black man in America, there have been substantial writings about this in the past that haven’t had an impact.

We are now at a place where other things come across as equally challenging, especially when discussing inclusion and equity. As I’ve said, it’s not my attempt to minimize anyone else’s plight or experience. Still, we must have conversations about our social constructs and historical impacts while simultaneously acknowledging the laws of nature. Yes, nature has laws. For example, every species under the sun, besides humans, operate under the law that the strong survive. Some argue that what separates us as humans is our ability to think outside of that construct and enable and empower one another. Still, the first law of nature is self-preservation, so is that what we indeed do?

Consider this indisputable fact.

At 6’4, 310 lbs., when I walk into a room, you do not know my sexual orientation, my pronouns, my education level, my background, or any other nuances about me that make me who I am. When I walk into a room, there are two things you will readily assess: I am black and a man. These are the primary two factors you will share with anyone else if necessary to describe me without knowing what makes me who I am. That I am black, and I am a man. Your actions and reactions to me will be rooted in your prior prejudices and experiences with all other black men. That’s not your fault; it doesn’t make you wrong; it’s what you’ve learned since you’ve been here on earth. This doesn’t only apply to middle-aged and above, white people. This applies to other black men, black women, and those of any other race. There’s typically a dance that takes place. On one side, I’m trying to assess what systems, actions, and attitudes you’ve been exposed to regarding black men while you’re attempting to evaluate me as an individual best-case scenario. In a conversation with a gay man to help me understand his perspective, he said, “Just like you wake up every day as a black man, I wake up every day as a gay man. You didn’t get to choose, nor did I.” I had heard this argument before but never been engaged in a conversation about it with someone whose objective wasn’t just trying to be convincing.

Initially, I was offended. Then I shared something that I felt got my point across without him feeling disrespected. I told him, “You’re right.” You may not have chosen or have a choice but consider this. No one knows until you tell them. You know I’m black the minute I enter the room with no additional observation or conversation necessary.

As I sit in and interact in the DEI space, I notice that inclusion, more than diversity or equity, has taken the front seat. I believe this is because many seeking inclusion has never had to deal with systems or actions designed to limit equitable opportunities for them. I’ve heard comments like, “well, you were not a slave, and you don’t know any slaves.” They’ll say, “I’m not a slave owner, nor have I known any slave owners. That’s the thing about words. The truth can be accurate and used to defy another truth. You don’t have to be an enslaver to have benefited from the impacts of slavery. You don’t have to have been enslaved to suffer from the consequences of slavery. I have known relatives who were slaves. I can only assume that if I’m old enough to have encountered people who were slaves, who had a hand in my early development, many white people my age or older in America have had relatives who were slave owners that had a hand in their early development. The eradication of slavery did not eradicate the impact of slavery.

Beyond slavery, we are less than a lifetime from the end of the Jim Crow era.

What systems or policies have you seen come to an end in your life that impacted your attitude toward what that thing was? The overturning of Roe versus Wade is a perfect example in that the outcome of the case changed the reality of what women will have to deal with, but it did nothing to change anyone’s attitude about pro-life or pro-choice. Despite the ending of slavery or the subsequent 100-year Jim Crow span, the reality is that before any of those concessions were made, systems were put in place, and actions were taken to ensure a power structure and the continuing oppression of black people. This also included the psychological efforts to turn the black man’s number one ally into his number one enemy and use him as a scapegoat. That’s a very unpopular speech. It’s typically met with a lot of resistance. Specifically, black women in the resistance of such speech, confirm it’s true by blaming black men for all the evolution that resulted in the destruction of black households, rather than acknowledging the systemics intentionally designed to accomplish that task. Regardless of which equity or inclusion you fight for, there’s also a black man in that same fight. Imagine how hard it is for you now. Add the weight of his shoes to that.

Imagine having to explain to your son the dangers of the world that only exists because of his skin color. Imagine knowing there is no level of success you can achieve, no ground you could break, no accomplishment you can have that could protect you from the constant risk of your skin color. Like anyone, I see debates online about many social issues. Most of them enter a hypersensitive realm making it clear that these arguments are primarily perspectives. One great example is when the world stopped.

The case of George Floyd was seen around the world. Not because it was a rare atrocity. There was absolutely nothing unique about George Floyd’s case. I listened and watched legal scholars debate the nuances of the case. I listened and watched law enforcement debate the nuances of the case. I listened to and observed worldwide engagement, which included protests, many of which led to riots. I knew it would have never had the magnitude that it had, had it not been when essentially the world was shut down. If people could go about their everyday lives as usual, this case would not have had the impact it did. No matter which side of the issue you were on, whether you felt that George Floyd was guilty or not guilty, whether you thought his end was a result of actions before or during the arrest, at the end of the day, until you share that experience from the perspective of a black man having lived through it you cannot truly resonate with it. Like the effects of being in a tragic car accident, I suffer emotional distress in interaction with law enforcement. I know if I’m pulled over, I must be prepared to suffer any degree of humiliation necessary to ensure I see another day. Despite personal relationships with many members of the law enforcement community, my angst isn’t eased in these encounters. In one conversation with a ranking member of law enforcement whom I’ve known since middle school, he advised a group of socially assembled black men that our beliefs weren’t without merit. That “law enforcement is trained to approach and handle black men aggressively without consideration of any other factors.” He further acknowledged that the “blue code,” or “blue wall,” wouldn’t allow such to be a public discussion.

I can’t honestly say what my first experience with racism was, but I can tell you the first one I remember.

It occurred on a highway in Mississippi in April of 1982 and involved law enforcement. As recently as October of 2022, I experienced what’s considered micro-aggressions while traveling throughout Europe from my “fellow Americans,” which was deeply disturbing and unearthed my defenses for my wife and others in my fold. The number of times in life I encountered racism was enough to condition me to have extreme prejudice myself. Notice I said extreme prejudice, not racism. The reason being, I nor anyone who looks like me has the collective power to create systems and actions designed to develop inequitable outcomes for others. Fortunately, in my adult life, I experienced enough encounters to understand that nothing in human interaction is absolute, and you cannot approach humans with prejudice because we are individuals.

On my journey into DEI, I’ve learned that most of society is hypocritical. We lack principles. Everyone claims to be principled but ask them where they stand on a matter and change the details of the same issue, and they will change their minds. For example, I’m an advocate of free speech, a claim that many people and America would make. However, unlike most Americans, I don’t cringe at hate speech. I don’t try to silence unpopular speech or cancel their advocates. If it is a topic that I’m passionate about or that I feel requires a response, I don’t raise my voice or match energies; I improve my argument, as I did with the gentleman described before. I do so with an open mind hoping to learn from them as well because I understand that their position is the result of conditioning and would like to understand what were the things that created that conditioning because only then could I ever hope to have an impact on that topic.

I’m noticing a trend. A rather bothersome trend, especially amongst millennials, not to make that sound like age discrimination because it’s not exclusive to millennials. The trend is of fulfillment in how far boundaries can be pushed or made extinct in just about every area. By no means am I a traditionalist; however, pushing these boundaries seems to be done without thought to their outcomes and is thereby reckless. In many areas of society today where we experience tragedies, we first experienced the removal of a construct that would have protected us from said tragedy if not at least served to minimize it.

Let’s go back to a conversation without excuses.

We live in a time where technology can do everything except make us more intelligent or more empathetic towards each other. However, we continue to move in states of hypocrisy where we will deny our intelligence or even science for the benefit of being politically correct. Here’s where this gets ultra-uncomfortable. Try to stay with me. Sexism is the belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another sex and imposes limits on what men and boys can and should do and what women and girls can and should do. Again, I’m not a traditionalist, but I am a realist.

Reality shows that men and women can engage in many of the same physical activities; however, there won’t be equity in an attempt to do it on a co-ed basis. Ex. I went to an AAU basketball game. These were teenagers at the time, 14 and 15 years old, and were select teams. One of the teams had a player that was physically different from the rest, giving them a competitive advantage because this player’s nature was physically stronger, faster more dominant. The player didn’t have excellent basketball skill sets; the physical edge made the competition unjust. There was much tension in the building, as you can sense that many parents and fans did not like this allowance. No one seemed interested in taking the risk of not being politically correct. Some chatter reached the player’s parents and grandparents in the stand, who began to verbally show their support by cheering on this player. I thought, wow! In support of this player, do you understand what’s on the line for everyone else? This is where support can become blind.

This is where inclusion can be extreme. This is where we have to be honest about potential outcomes above and beyond an individual state. I want to think I’m not hypocritical in this thought. I believe some situations deem exclusion and others that though they may not deem exclusion, it should be allowed. I think back to just a few short years ago when national media took an interest in a story about an otherwise successful gentleman who was not allowed membership in a gun club because he was black. Other than the fact that there weren’t any black members, there was no documentation of the selection process, illustrating that was the reason why. So, was this racism? Or was this someone playing the quote-unquote race card? I remember my thought at the time was, “so what.” Your choice of how to spend your time and your dollar discernment is one of your most significant powers. Why would you want to use that power in a place that’s not interested in you being there when you have other options? However, this was a private club, not a public organization or association whose constructs must be reevaluated from the time they were formed to ensure they can sustain in the future. One such organization is NAEA. The premier association for enrolled agents whose licensing has no restrictions to race, sex, or age. However, there are some facts that we have to be mindful of. One of those such facts is that the IRS was not created until 1862, a short 3 1/2 years before slavery ended. The enrolled agent designation wouldn’t come about until 22 years later, in 1884, through the enabling act, also known as the horse act, whose purpose was to regulate representatives of people making claims to the treasury department.

There’s a valuable piece of history right here because the first thing we must realize is that there was a 22-year fallout after the civil war in which the treasury department was still feeling the impact, much like I believe we will as a result of the policies from COVID. Also, it’s worth noting that a standard was created with suitability checks and criminal records, moral characters, and all these factors along with testing in that those who passed the test became known as enrolled agents. Yet, it would be another 110 years before the initials EA was designated by the Treasury Department as that of the enrolled agent. But this designation, created in 1884, allowed you to represent someone before the IRS, not that of an attorney or a CPA, which didn’t come about until 12 years later. In fact, it’s been said that in the 1880s, you did not even have to finish high school, let alone go to college, to become an attorney or a CPA. You simply apply to the school of your choice and, if accepted, you went no other regulation. Some would argue that AICPA was formed earlier, in 1887, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was after the Enrolled Agent. What does matter is that AICPA had an 85-year head start on NAEA, which still shows up as a different organization when only the initials are searched.

Some additional interesting considerations is why an organization that wasn’t formed until just over fifty years ago lacks DEI. As I stated earlier, policies and actions do not change attitudes, and the attitudes in 1972 were not far different from 1965. Add to that the license originated from representing people who had claims for losses in the civil war for horses, timber, land, and yes, even slaves. So how many black people do you think required representation before the IRS at such a time? And so, I find myself not only defending myself as a black man but also defending my license and designation amongst other industry designations who simply had a better marketing strategy and a significant head start. Did you know that the first black attorney was Macon Bolling Allen, who lived from 1816 to 1894? Very easy Google search. In 1921 only 25 years after the first CPA certificate was granted, John M Cromwell Jr. became the first black CPA. You can find the first black American to do just about any professional occupation with a straightforward search except that of the first black enrolled agent. Why is that?

A September 9th, 2022, article on shows that 55% of enrolled agents are women, that most enrolled agents are north of 40 years old, and that only 9% of the enrolled agent population are African Americans. That isn’t the smallest race representation within the population, but African Americans represent the lowest average salary of enrolled agents. Guess who’s at the bottom of the list?

I am not a DEI scholar, nor have I enough substantiated experiences to be considered an authority in the space. However, I am a student immersed in learning and feel a responsibility to contribute to the conversation from the lens of those I represent. I’ve shared some additional resources via one of my mentors Jason R. Lambert, Ph.D. (he/him/his) Chair, Chancellor’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Council Texas Woman’s University. play-a-role-at-your-company/


Gavino, M., Lambert, J., & Akinlade, D. (2021). Diversity Climate of Respect and the Impact on Faculty Extra Role Behaviors. Journal of Business Diversity, 21(3), 97-114.

Leopold, J., Lambert, J., Ogunyomi, I., & Bell, M.P. (2021). The hashtag heard round the world: How #MeToo did what laws did not. Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: An International Journal, 40(4), 461- 476.

George Dandridge Jr., Ph.D., EA, CTC