I have to confess that it chaps my ass whenever someone labels me with the stigma that I, a black man, am simply looking for a handout without putting in the work necessary to get ahead. I assure you that I have worked considerably hard. I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. I have nearly twenty years of experience in the development of various database applications systems on platforms from COBOL to Oracle to PL/SQL to Visual Basic to Microsoft Access. I have worked in industries such as oil and gas, communications, health insurance, architecture, commodities trading, risk analysis, and manufacturing and distributing. I learned carpentry and built houses with my own hands. I have helped others when I could and I have accepted help when I needed it. I have paid dues.
When my son was born I made a conscious choice to leave a consulting job that paid okay but provided no health insurance in search of something better for my son. My woman and I were living in a predominantly white area with few friends. Literally, we would see another black person maybe once a week. I didn’t want my son growing in an area so divorced from the black community and so removed from his black relatives. I made the choice to return home to the neighborhood I grew up in smack dab in the heart of a traditional, urban, black community. Now with the benefit of hindsight I could make an argument that this may have been a mistake. But health insurance became a priority and we simply could not afford it where we were. I left that job eight months ago in an attempt to find work with benefits.
In the eight months it took to find a job I packed bottles in boxes for just above the federal minimum wage. This was a job where I had to stand on my feet all day on a concrete surface. Even with insoles in my shoes, when I would get home my knee joints, back, ankles and muscles ached so badly it was all I could do to make it to the bathroom for an Epsom salt bath when I got home. I usually felt better in the morning. But one morning when I woke up and my fingers had locked up as if I had rickets I took the warning my body was giving me to heart and quit. After that, I helped assemble computer displays for a local company that needed nearly four hundred monitors modified when the vendor shipped the wrong item. Instead of shipping everything back the vendor paid to have the screens changed on the spot. I worked in a warehouse with little heat in subfreezing temperatures.
I applied for hundreds of jobs. I did dozens of phone interviews. I went to a lot of face to face interviews with several of them requiring me to go across country. I’ve never embellished my resume. But inevitably the first question I’m hit with is, tell me about your experience with quantum physics. I never worked with quantum physics. Well why did we bring you here? That’s something you have to tell me. I worked hard just to get employed. It is my personal belief that I worked a lot harder and jumped through more hoops than the average job applicant. There is no doubt in my mind. Maybe it’s the hair. It is far too ethnic for a lot of people. When I’m introduced to an interviewer and they briefly get that repulsed look or the look of being hit with a phaser set at maximum stun it would be a logical conclusion. When so many interviews start off with some pretense that there’s been a mistake the logical conclusion is that I am not conforming enough to the ethnic standards established for African Americans. I don’t know how but I lucked up on a job where the decision maker didn’t care about hair or ethnicity but about getting the job done. Although rare, there are jobs available where the person doing the hiring truly does not care.
But let me say something relative simply and straight forward like how messed up it is that black people who embrace their African identity have to go through all of these changes and have to canvas the job market so much harder, longer, and stronger and the white mindset will dismiss this reality with a cliché that I, along with a great percentage of like minded people, want a handout or want it easy and don’t want to earn our opportunities. But this begs a few rather straightforward questions: Why the hell should my search for a job be any more difficult than the obviously white person who searches for a job? Without knowing anything about me and my struggle, or other black people and their struggles, why do people assume that people who refuse to dismiss the disparity are lazy and do not want to put forth the extra work necessary to obtain an opportunity? Just deal with it is the popular refrain.
Because I say that black people have it harder, and without much investigation to the contrary by people with an overwhelmingly complacent mindset to the status quo of black subjugation, I am minimized as being lazy and wanting an undeserved handout. Ironically, it is the people with the mindset to dismiss claims of racism without any effort at examination that are lazy and undeserving. Without so much as a glance at the actual circumstances people burst onto the scene to defend the status quo with about as much willingness to examine the issue from all perspectives as an ostrich with its head in the sand. People pull unsubstantiated stereotypical ideas out of the air that are given credibility by so many members of the dominant culture. Why? Because even though these ideas lack merit they perpetuate white privilege and black subjugation.
A lot of people talk about racial diversity. But only by well established parameters that are culturally superficial. People who are looking for an equal opportunity should be treated equally and not be dismissed or minimized simply because they want a fair shot at a piece of the action without having to change who they are. There are black people who don’t have a problem with abandoning their ethnicity. That’s their prerogative. But they are not the only black people trying to get a job. Black people who want to conform and be indistinguishable from the racially generic that’s assumed to be white have accepted that arrangement for their identity. However, black people who want to be identified and acknowledged as black people and not mistaken as a racial eunuch, and who do not appreciate being told how their blackness has been subdued to the point that people don’t see it anymore are looking for employment and educational opportunities as well.
Generally speaking, the problem is that the dominant community has a distinct advantage because our culture will grant the candidate that appears to conform to established stereotypes an opportunity before it is willing to take a chance on anything outside the established norm. The norm is that the white candidate is more acceptable than a black candidate. And then the black candidate who makes every effort to minimize his or her black culture is much more likely to be given an opportunity before the black candidate who embraces black culture. And all these suppositions are based on nothing that truly indicates the candidate’s ability to do the job like experience, education, certification, and skills. Our culture may make some timid steps for racial diversity. But cultural diversity that includes true African American culture and not the canned crap readily accepted by the dominant culture that only includes black icons such as Rosa Parks, Doctor King, Harriet Tubman, and the like, is avoided like the plague. Racial diversity is not cultural diversity.