I have had some time to think about what it is that I want to write and if the words will have consequences. I don’t know that I am worried about any of the consequences as I am more concerned with having to write the words.
A few years back, I would say maybe twenty years or so, I was talking to someone and we were discussing the state of black men in America and how they often would use the excuse of the system keeping them down as a reason for not having a job or not being able to help provide for their families. I’m not going to lie. Back then it seemed like an excuse to me, and I remember rolling my eyes and thinking that any able-bodied person who wanted a job could find one. Grant it; it may not be the job that they dream of. I mean we all can’t be rocket scientist right? Someone has to be a brain surgeon. I’m just saying. I came across this conversation again recently, and I was surprised to find that there was no rolling of the eyes on my part. There was no doubt that systemic racism has been a constant foot on neck reality for not only men of color, but women of color as well. I remembered my previous position on the issue, and I felt bad. I really felt sickened that I had once doubted that there was a systematic process in place that kept my people from gainful employment, better housing, better neighborhoods and even the ability to be bonded out of jail.
Not only does it stop people of color from getting jobs, but it clearly puts Caucasians ahead of the game whether they are qualified or not. We all recently heard of the scandal regarding college admissions. Was I shocked? No. I have worked in education for years, and some of the things that I have seen and heard would put a lot of schools out of business (some have gone under already). So, to find out that the rich pay for scores and grades for their already privileged children did not shock me.
I have another confession to make. It is not easy to write or to admit, but I think that once I get it off of my chest that I will be better for it. I worked for a healthcare company for six years. In those six years, I have to say that I was treated “differently” then other people on my team. I worked as an eligibility analyst/claims processor. We had some of the largest accounts in the company on our team, and I was really happy with my job. One day I came into work, and I was the only one there. I thought maybe something happened on the highway since I was the only one that came from the opposite direction into work. I worked until about one or two o’clock, and then I finally asked my manager where everyone was. I was shocked to find out that they were all working from home. I had no idea we had the option to do that. I would love to work from home. I asked how I could work from home too, and I was blown off for about three months. I finally asked again on a day that I was the only person on the team in the office, and I was told that because I didn’t have a degree that I couldn’t do it. Oh. I said. I knew that having a degree had nothing to do with it because I had gotten the job without a degree, but ok. I had an Associate’s degree at that point so, two more years and I would have a Bachelor’s. That very day I called around looking for an English program that was offered at night. I found Governors State University and decided that I would do it. I had small kids, a husband and I was actually working two jobs at the time. I worked part-time as a customer service manager for an alarm company call center. I would have to quit that job. I remember thinking how I would hate to give up that income, but I believed that getting the degree would be better for me in the long run and that I would be able to get jobs that paid more as a result, I would then only have to work one job. Off I went. I hit the ground running. My husband supported my decision to go to school, and we found other ways to deal with finances. I used loans, financial aid, borrowed money, gift cards, whatever I could get to pay for books and any tuition overage that I incurred.
Finally, I completed my degree. I took my official transcripts and diploma to the human resource office to be added to my file. I updated my resume and had that added as well. I went to my new manager and asked about working from home. I was blown off again for a few months. I asked again, and I was told that the company would be downsizing, so no one would be working from home anymore and that all of the analysts would be laid off. I was devastated. It happened though, and we were given resume packages, counseling, and a severance package. That was the first time I experienced workplace racism. I went on to get other jobs and to experience other forms of racism. The biggest disappointment and shame that I experienced and what led to this part of this post came three years later after I had now completed a Master’s degree. I applied for a junior accountant job and went on about four interviews with the company. When I was declined for the position, I was shocked and confused. I just knew I had it in the bag. I always ask for feedback to see what went wrong or where improvements can be made. I was told that I just wasn’t the right fit for the job. I was really confused because in all of my interviews with them I had been told the opposite. Here is where the shame comes in. Back then, the accounting field was dominated by white men. I was a young black woman. I told them, without checking with my husband mind you, that I would do the job for one month for free and if I didn’t do a good job and if I were still not a good fit for their team, then I would walk away no questions asked. At the time I thought that it was a win-win situation because I would get the experience and they would get the work. The company declined my offer. I would later find out that there were broader issues at that firm. That company was later sued by other people of color for workplace discrimination, and four years after my interviews that firm was closed. I never got a job in accounting. I did, however, get the same responses no matter where I went. I had my resume professionally done, I worked with a coach, and I practiced my interviewing skills. I honestly thought it was me. I was right. It was me, but it was the part of me that I could not change and would not change if I could. It was the skin that I am in. Being both black and a woman was the issue. I’m not proud of my actions. I would never do it now. I have a better understanding of things.
The word privilege has been around forever, but it was not associated with white people and their actions, lack of consequences and specialties back then like it is now. I have worked for black men and women who have also treated me like a crab in the barrel. Instead of reaching for me and pulling me up, they hit me with sticks to keep me down in the hopes that they would either look better for doing it or that their bullshit would be missed in the process of them finding fault in someone else. After years of this sort of treatment and disappointment, I started to doubt myself and my abilities. I took lower level jobs because I knew they would be given to me with no questions asked. I would no longer have to go through the racist bullshit that comes with my skin and gender. I always believed that if you work hard, it will pay off. I can’t say that I believe that anymore. I am a pessimist of sorts, believing that the glass is half-full and that the sun will surely show up after the rain. I am right. The glass is half full if you keep pouring and even if it rains for seven days straight, the sun will eventually show up. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, so I will be grateful for being on the road and call the rest experience.
If you are in a position to help someone, then you should. You should always leave a person better then you found them. I have always given people a chance even if I knew going in that it wasn’t going to go well. I hoped for the best, and I opened a door for them. I gave jobs, wrote resumes, helped with bus fare, gave rides to and from work and anything that I could do to help them understand that even if we are all crabs in a barrel if we don’t pull each other down we can all get out.