Being Black in America: Clarissa Nickerson Fourman

In her own words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we’re privileged to host, The News-Gazette asked African American community members to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

Featured today: CLARISSA NICKERSON FOURMAN, a Garden Hills resident who has represented District 1 on the Champaign City Council since 2015.

If you’d like to share your story, email jdalessio@news-gazette.com. To view the entire series, click here.

Their Turn Fourman

Clarissa Nickerson Fourman near the site of the future senior center in the Bristol Place development in north Champaign.

 

‘I read once somewhere that anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone’

By CLARISSA NICKERSON FOURMAN

The best way that I can help people who are not black understand what racism is for us on a daily basis is to give you an example from my lived experience.

You fill out a job application. You turn in your résumé. They call you. They do a phone screening. They’re so excited to meet you. They cannot wait for your interview, which they schedule for the next day.

You put on your best outfit, you have your hair done nicely, you’re very presentable, you’re ready to sell yourself. You show up, you go in, and you say,’ Hi, I’m Clarissa. I’m here for a job interview.’

Then the person you are interviewing with comes out. They say, ‘Clarissa?’ because they’re making sure that it’s you and you say, ‘Yes, I’m Clarissa. I spoke with you on the phone yesterday.’

They keep a straight face and say, ‘Oh, OK,’ and in that moment you know that they weren’t expecting you to be black. They never even considered that the person they had read the résumé of, the person they had spoken to on the phone, the person they were much very excited to meet — they never once thought that I could be black.

And it’s not so much the fact that they weren’t expecting me to be black, it’s that I can see that they are clearly disappointed that I am.

Champaign council

From left, Champaign City Council members, Angie Brix, Vanna Pianfetti, Clarissa Nickerson Fourman and Alicia Beck and Mayor Deb Feinen chat outside the Champaign City Building on Sept. 12, 2017.

I read once somewhere that anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone. I think that’s an experience that most black people will tell you they’ve had.

Showing up black is an everyday thing for black people in the United States — no matter what you do, no matter where you go, you show up black.

This notion that people don’t see color and they don’t see race — it’s not the reality. Until you experience showing up black, I can never fully explain to you how deep racism hurts.

If you’d like to share your story, email Editor Jeff D’Alessio at jdalessio@news-gazette.com.

 

Garden Hills resident Clarissa Nickerson Fourman has represented District 1 on the Champaign City Council since 2015.