Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career: Role of Race Consciousness

BOND: How does race consciousness affect the work you do? And affect you? Do you see yourself as a kind of leader who advances issues of race or issues of the society or both of them? Are they same?

PINN: I think definitely both of those. Many people were, to be honest, surprised — and I think there’s some who never quite gotten over the fact — that a minority woman is heading an office that’s dealing with all women. It’s not an office of minority women. It’s an office of research on women. I’ve been able to — so I think it has made me much more sensitive when we develop our programs to make sure that our programs, our health perspectives, our career perspectives are directed towards and inclusive of women who are minority and non-minority so that we really have inclusive programs and I think that’s very important to do and will continue to do that, but in terms of how —

Sometimes I do experience episodes like recently where I was invited to a major university as a visiting professor for a program that I know was developed and funded to encourage women in science. It’s not a minority program. It is a program to encourage women in science. I always enjoy when I go to institutions meeting those who are minorities and minority students, but I like meeting students in general and especially when I’m representing the office because that’s what the office is about. And recently I was invited, and when I got the agenda, they had lined me up only to speak on health disparities, only to meet with minority students and I was a little taken aback because while I like to do that and often do that, I knew —

I felt they had really sort of stereotyped me and sort of narrowed my venue based upon what they knew about me personally because that certainly wasn’t — if you look at our programs, while we focus on minority women, minority women’s health, minorities in clinical trials, we’re focusing more broadly on women. And so I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want it to look as though I didn’t want to have that perspective, but I wished they’d been more honest up front in saying they were inviting me not as a woman involved in women and science — because that’s what their program’s about, I know their grant and that’s what our efforts are — but if they had said we want you as a minority woman to come meet with minorities, I think if they’d been more honest I wouldn’t have been as taken aback, so — you know, and that happens often where I’m invited as a minority woman so people up front and that’s fine, I love it, I love being able to say to young people, "Look, I did it. If I did it, you can do it because you’re brighter than I am, you’ve got more opportunities, this is fine and yes, I’m like you, we share a lot of characteristics." But I also like to carry the message to every woman regardless of race or culture, because those are the initiatives of our office and they should not be race blind either way. They should be inclusive but not restricted to just one group.

BOND: It’s interesting that you raise this issue because it seems to me it’s something that is both objectionable and understandable.

PINN: Yes.

BOND: Objectionable because you resist the pigeon-holing, but understandable because you are who you are.

PINN: Yes, and I can’t deny who I am or what I am.

BOND: How do you get over the feeling that on the one hand, don’t put me in that box. On the other hand, that’s a box I’m in.

PINN: I’d rather just be honest and up front about it. Then, fine, if they had said, "We’re inviting you because you’re a minority woman to speak to minorities in an environment where there is a mixed population — " It was not a minority institution. It was not a minority program that invited me, so, you know, and perhaps I shouldn’t have made as much of it but it sort of was strange to me —

BOND: It is strange.

PINN: — strange to me in 2007 that I do get brought to an institution where I know people of all types who were there and then to be directed only towards a limited group. Many times I will go and I’m asked to meet with students and then the minority student group will want to also meet with me. Or the Deltas, the students who were Deltas, will want to meet with me and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that — it doesn’t imply to me when that happens that it’s thought that my sphere of influence or significance is limited only to those in a certain community.