First, the latest issue of the T. T. Mitchell Consulting Newsletter, Good Customer Service Doesn’t Trump All, is available.

This morning I was at a board meeting for one of the groups I participate in. I was describing something I specifically noticed at the SOHO Show (Small Office/Home Office), an annual event in the Syracuse area. It seems that the show went back to something I guess they used to do more often in the older days, which is to have a high number of very attractive women “manning” the booths. Not that I haven’t seen attractive women in previous years, but this year the numbers skyrocketed, and it was something to behold for sure; hey, I’m a guy.

Anyway, I commented on how I noticed, and outside of their being attractive, wondered why I had actually paid attention to it. At that point one of the other board members, the only black woman in the group and on the board, “outed” me by saying that, like her, I probably always count how many black people are in a room when I go to an event and, because I count that, I probably count many other things, also like she does.

I told her laughingly not to give away an inside secret, but then I thought about it and decided to not only go with it, but reveal it to the general public. Yes, I count. For instance, I can tell you that at the conference I went to last week in Chicago, myself and one other person were the only two black males who were there for the event, not because we accompanied our wives. On the other side, there were 4 black women who attended the event. This was out of almost 450 people, by the way. I can tell you how many black people there were on each of the flights I took. I can tell you how many black people there were in every restaurant I went to that wasn’t a conference event. For that matter, I can tell you how many women were in half the restaurants I went to.

Counting isn’t necessarily something that’s instilled in black people, and it may be disappearing in today’s world, but it was something that came naturally in my youth. Whenever a black person was going to be on TV people would get on the phone and call each other. If a black performer was coming to town, the same thing would happen. Whenever we watched the news, we’d be hoping that the really bad stuff wasn’t being done by a black person because we knew that the next day we’d be the ones who’d be asked about it. Even now, we notice what we deem “code words” in this election year as it pertains to Barack Obama’s run for the presidency; if they weren’t code words, there wouldn’t be so many apologies and explanations after the statements were said (and all of them are pretty hollow sounding, by the way).

I count black people in movies; I count them in commercials. I’m not alone. And, it’s not endemic to black people either. Women will count how many other women are at a traditionally male event. White people will count how many other white people are at a predominantly black event. I’m sure other minorities count whenever they’re in a crowd. It’s typical to count when you feel a sense of “onlyness”, if you will. Sometimes it makes one feel uncomfortable; sometimes it just goes with the territory.

Early this week there was a buzz created by a black man named James T. Harris, who appeared at a John McCain event and literally “begged” McCain to bring the attack to Obama. He received a lot of hate email and calls, which was uncalled for in my opinion, but that wasn’t really what struck me. What struck me is that, in an interview he later gave to CNN, he himself indicated that he wasn’t a plant in the audience, as many had claimed, but that he had been ushered to the front of the room once he was inside because there weren’t more than a couple other black people in the audience, and he knew that they wanted to project a sense that there were more minorities in attendance than there were. So, even though his off the cuff remarks on video weren’t scripted, he knew he was being used as a pawn and went along with it. I thought about it some more as I realize that there are events I go to where I’m asked if my picture can be taken, so that it can be put into magazines or news articles to try to show that there was more minority participation than there actually was, and I’ve gone along with it.

The issues of race and gender are scary to deal with. It’s going to happen when the sides aren’t truly equal. I’ve come to terms with my counting issue, and I hope others realize that, indeed, they’re also counting, even if on a less frequent level. I was outed earlier today; now I’ve just outed myself to everyone else. What do you think?