Ghetto Dudes Need Jobs Too
Evon Reid is a twenty two year old University of Toronto honors political science student with obvious African ancestry. The Canadian brother wears his dreads proudly. He recently applied for a cabinet office position as a media analyst with the Ontario government. On July 20th, Mr. Reid received an email from Aileen Siu, a fellow University of Toronto honors graduate who was handling Mr. Reid’s job application. The full email said, “This is the ghetto dude that I spoke to before.” Nothing else. To say that Mr. Reid was stunned is a woeful understatement. The email was obviously sent to Mr. Reid by mistake. It doesn’t take a political analyst to see why Mr. Reid didn’t get much of a follow up to his application. (Click here for the story in the Toronto Star)
Like just about any entity that operates in the public these days, representatives of the Canadian government engaged their best spin doctors in order to minimization the damage to their image. Ms. Siu was an unclassified and low-level government contract employee who just so happened to have been promoted from the janitorial services that day and didn’t quite know how email worked, let alone a sophisticated piece of equipment like a computer keyboard. Ms. Siu had inadvertently hit the wrong key and sent the email to Mr. Reid in reference to no one in particular. In fact, Ms. Siu is so low on the totem pole that she wasn’t even aware that Mr. Reid had already been selected as the most qualified applicant. In fact, Mr. Reid is now Ms. Siu’s direct manager if he wants the job. Protons don’t spin around neutrons as fast as officials in Canada can spin obvious employment discrimination.
As always people point to this incident and use the same words they do in any incident of discrimination or unethical behavior that reaches the light of day. This is an isolated incident that has never happened before in the history of the company, government, non-profit agency, charity, or whatever you may have. People say this when soldiers are busted abusing prisoners, when cops are caught red handed jacking a brother up because he had the audacity to ask about curfews in a flood ravaged city, when black men are killed in a volley of bullets on their way to their wedding ceremony, or when an immigrant of obvious African descent is sodomized with a broom handle inside a prison. However, Mr. Reid has too much dignity and character to jump to any rash conclusion that blatant racism may have played a part in this distasteful affair.
But I don’t. This hits too close to home for me.
How many brothers and sisters with the best educational qualifications and employment experiences or history have been denied employment because of their obvious ethnicity? The answer is far too many. Employers can review a resume and check qualifications and read glowing recommendations from references. For too many people who are gatekeepers to employment, none of that is enough when the candidate is black and wants to keep some semblance of their racial heritage in their appearance.
Yes black people get jobs. But if a black man shows up for an interview in a corporate environment with dreadlocks instead of an acceptable close cropped and neat haircut from the local Supercuts or some other generic hair salon that knows squat about African hair then he’d best forget any chance for employment. Unless it’s something that has to do with some form of entertainment or art with a specific application in mind many dreadlocked brothers don’t get much of an opportunity to prove their worth.
Not a month ago I applied for a job with a company who desperately needed someone to revamp their database application. A key member of the company was leaving who was never formally trained in the development and maintenance of databases was responsible for a good chunk of their information technology. After a couple of telephone interviews about a week apart they asked me if I was able to come for a face to face interview. The next day I packed my car and drove eight hundred miles one way for the occasion. The following morning I was exactly fifteen minutes early for my interview that lasted four hours.
The following Tuesday the recruiter handling the job informed me that the hiring manager at the company I interviewed with had concerns that I may not be able to do the job. I interviewed well and I had good answers for tough question but how do they know that I can do what I say? Forget the fact that I had my resume, my references, sample of applications that I had developed for other clients and employers, transcripts of my education, and anything else you could name at my disposal. The company couldn’t risk hiring me because I was an unknown quantity. They reimbursed me for my expenses and sent me on my merry way. I hope they go out of business.
Maybe it was just a coincidence. But there wasn’t a single minority working in this company. I really would like to know how often white people go for job in person interviews and be told that the employer doesn’t know if they’re qualified for the position or not.
I know what happens to Mr. Reid happens to just about every black person who keeps their blackness just outside what’s considered within acceptable parameters for white people. I know it happens to me. In the past month it has happened twice. I try to console myself by saying if a company doesn’t want to hire me for who I am or what I am chances are good I don’t want to be working for them anyway. But people have a tendency to forget that even “ghetto dudes” need to make a living as well. What happened to Mr. Reid is not an isolated incident or a misunderstanding or a keyboard used in error. It is standard operating procedure for white dominated communities throughout the world. Racism and prejudice is far from dead.