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Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Being black in the US vs the UK: There's a big difference

Author, broadcaster, and financial advisor Alvin Hall posits that since he doesn't fit into the narrowly defined idea of what a financial advisor should look like in the U.S., he fell through the cracks and didn't get a fair chance.

Alvin Hall: Two facts. One, I define myself as a black man first, because that’s what you’re going to see when you look at me. Being gay is something I define myself second, third, I can’t decide really. But it’s not everything I am. It’s a part of a complexity that I am. And that’s not backing away from the fact that I’m gay. It’s just that there are other aspects of my personality which are much more important to me and how I negotiate the world.

My career in the UK and other parts of the world really came about because someone there saw my talent at being able to talk about money, personal finance, cultural issues, and my curiosity, and opened the door for me. I don’t think that I would have had the same opportunity in the United States.

Why not? Partly because when people look at me they don’t see my skill sets and they’re always filtered through their own prejudice.

In the UK and other parts of the world – not all but many – people will give you credit. They’ll give you the opportunity— even if it’s the opportunity to fail, but it’s an opportunity that you can turn into success.

I don’t think that what happened with my career in the United Kingdom would have happened for me in America. I don’t think that the affection that the people in the UK have for me would have come to me in America. I think that people saw my curiosity, saw my hunger, saw my ability to talk about things honestly and openly, and genuinely and they appreciated that. I will never know why we couldn’t convince Americans to embrace that side of me and I stop - and many years ago I stopped wondering. I just stopped.

When I use the term “coded” I mean when people know and don’t know they are bigoted, racist, or generally prejudiced but they try to hide it. So you have to be very much aware of eye movements, facial tics, hand movement, body language, even sometimes word choices, because that word choice can often telescope to you, suddenly, exactly what you’re dealing with.

And often the people who use those terms are so unaware that they don’t even know the import of what they’re saying. But if you know that means you can adjust yourself to the situation. They are not likely to change, and you will gain nothing by calling them out on it except next time it’ll be more subtle. So often when I see it, I adjust me because as I learned from that therapist many years ago, it’s me I have to change. It’s me I have to alter, not them.

Author Alvin Hall is a huge award-winning financial advisor and broadcaster in the UK, despite being born and raised in poverty in Florida. He feels, though, that he wasn't able to break through in American media because America, he feels, still has a lot of inbuilt racial prejudice. He posits that since he doesn't fit into the narrowly defined idea of what a financial advisor should look like in the U.S., he fell through the cracks and didn't get a fair chance. In the UK, on the other hand, "they'll give you the opportunity— even if it’s the opportunity to fail, but it’s an opportunity that you can turn into success."

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