Friday, December 11, 2009

On Being Black in a White Economy

I could have also titled this.... why I hate being Black or why being Black sucks. But I covered that territory and made that point plenty of times.

The experiences of Black job seekers in a recent NYT report seem to mirror some of my own experiences. I have been under-employed for quite a while now and have often wondered how much of a part race may be playing in my disappointing job search. Race certainly has played a part from a class standpoint, since the legacy of race and class did not provide me with the best opportunity to attend the most exclusive schools and have access to the kinds of networks that would get me in the door. If you are white and come from privileged circumstances, those things are sort of thrown in as perks. Granted, most of my job search interests have been in the government sector as opposed to the private sector (can't stand the private sector) but I have still had some of the same experiences described in the NYT report.

This was also covered on the FN blog a few days ago. (by Philadelphia attorney Wayne Bennett)

For example, I too have felt the need in recent years to "clean" my resume... to wipe clean anything that would indicate race. There has never really been anything too overt on my resume that was "in your face" race identifying... because that's just not what i'm about anyway. From a professional point of view, I have always known that this was not the thing to do...and I never had the urge or interest to do so.

However, years ago I was briefly a member of an organization called NOBLE... one of the most prestigious & impressive Black professional/social organizations in the U.S... but wiped it from the resume. I'm no longer a member...but even if I were... I wouldn't mention it. I also avoid providing too many Black references.... wiped my reference page almost completely....except for one co-worker. There are many great professors who I probably could have added.... but nope.

I have been on interviews where I sense a feeling of disappointment or confusion when I walk into the room (not that i'm not impecably dressed...but i'm not who they thought would walk in). I am not sure that the interview is over at that point, but I can tell that the normal hurdles get raised immediately, and I have to prove why I even belong at the interview. The signals that they give off = who do you think you are? and Why are you even here?.

I also leave the race box blank on any EEO forms that I fill out... or I will sometimes leave the whole form blank. There was one gov't employer that required that the box be filled in (still baffled by that...because I thought they couldn't compel an answer to that question). I will sometimes check the box for "other" just for fun. But I avoid "Black".... because this seems to be the equivalent of admitting to a disease that will prevent me from being hired (in the eyes of the wider society).

I am also someone who wants to avoid the whole victim thing... although I often joke with co-workers that the system is not for us. They don't know that i'm not always joking...they can't even conceive it... because in their minds, the existence of a Black President has made all of these problems magically go away. But I still don't like the victim branding.... because I think (I know) that I am just as good as anyone else, especially for the type and level of employment that I have applied for.

I also find that being Black and male seems much worse...than simply being Black. This seems to pan out in the stats.

And here's a twist... I don't completely blame white society. Sure, it shares most of the blame...but (in my mind at least) I assign some of the blame to so-called Black culture or the "Black Community" for fueling this situation. By virtue of being Black I understand that I am held prisoner to a race (whether I like it or not...and I hate it) that trashes and brings shame to its own image...and feeds the very stereotypes that so many people fought to overcome 40, 50, 60, 100 years ago. Some even gave their lives fighting for the dignity of Blacks.

Sometimes I see my skin as worse than prison bars... metaphorically that's exactly how I feel everyday.


Liberal Arts Dude said...

Comparing notes: I am an immigrant Asian-American with a very "ethnic" sounding name. I've had similar experiences of discouragement and underemployment early in my career but was able to attain a certain measure of success in the job market after I moved to the Washington DC area, gotten some solid skills and experience under my belt. I would say the first five years of my post-college career was really rough and the rest up to today is OK and with solid prospects for the future. The main thing that I see that may hold me back is my being very open as a political blogger in the Internet. I don't make any attempts to be anonymous anymore and my blogging activities are highlighted in my resume -- I am an Internet and social media professional after all.

Of course, the career path I chose may be more accessible and conducive to people like me (stereotype of Asian computer geek anyone?) and I am not aiming for high-level management posts but rather more technical and specialist positions.

In terms of race and the issues Angry Independent touches on about discrimination and racism in the job market I want to focus on answering the question: "what can be done about it?" I agree it's a big problem. I am also sensing that white society is becoming more and more intolerant and hardened against addressing issues of racism and discrimination by implementing policies like affirmative action.

The Angry Independent said...

Brave for being open.

I can't take the risk at the moment. Even my twitter name is a pseudonym. It's a purposeful misspelling of my own name. I'm paranoid. lol

I can appreciate your experiences. But hiring managers seem to have a particular disdain for applicants who happen to be Black and male. Perhaps they may have had a bad experience with someone..and whatever it was may have been particularly egregious and it sticks in their minds. Then they apply stigma to every other Black person who wants a job.

I just hate the idea of being punished &/or held accountable for transgressions of others simply because I have a certain skin tone... (which I have no control over). That's why I despise modern Black culture...and hate it when Black folks act like idiots. Because in the minds of sheltered White folks... Blacks who act like idiots represent everyone else who shares the skin color. Keep in other race/ethnic group has this burden.

These reports tell me that the marginalization and double standard treatment that I detect is not just in my head. It's real.

BTW...Being stereotyped for being smart isn't necessarily a bad thing Redante...although stereotypes generally should be avoided. But i'll take that any day over being cast as a rapist, a thug, a deadbeat, a POS, a menace to society, a criminal, lazy, uneducated, dangerous, supporting the ideas of Al Sharpton, etc. It never stops. I face this racism everyday from idiots at work...mostly white co-workers who assume i'm part of the "Black community"...and that I carry the banner for it. I've explained a hundred times that just because I have brown skin doesn't mean I have this belief or that belief, etc...but it's to no avail. Then i get it from Blacks too...who say.. "you are acting White" (because I talk like I have 1/2 a brain by using proper English). I catch it from both sides.

Regarding affirmative action... I don't really see that as the answer. I'm not a huge fan of affirmative action. I guess it depends on what kind of AA you are talking about....but even the modest forms of AA carry a stigma. If I am in a position, I don't want to be labeled as an AA hire. To Hell with that. I want to be there because I am just as good as everyone else (and I want them to know it). I guess that is my Conservative side surfacing.

Instead of AA to compensate for discrimination (which sort of creates a level of acceptance in society for discrimination)...shouldn't we just enforce existing laws more aggressively and do more to put an end to or greatly reduce the original incidences of discrimination in the first place, thus eliminating the need for AA?

Now I agree that AA was needed decades ago, when Blacks were uniformly blocked from all sorts of jobs. But I don't think we need it at the same level today.

I am for EEO programs to monitor organizations...but not formal quota programs.
I believe in AA only in terms of help minorities get an get a foot in the door...and to help qualified students get access to higher education.

Beyond that, it may do more harm to Blacks than good.