Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Welcome to the rest of the world

In the midst of job hunting again, I came across a listing for an NGO in California that is nominally led by a good friend of mine. They're looking for someone to handle the financial end of their operation and, while finance and fundraising are not my most preferred activities, I'd certainly feel a lot better about doing so for an activist organization than for yet another property owner. So I pinged my friend and asked if they'd be OK with me doing the job remotely, as I'm not currently compelled to go back to Cali. He said: "It's no problem doing it remotely, but I have to tell you, the board is pretty set on hiring a person of color."

...

The first thought that comes to mind, since I'm kind of eager to be employed again, is that it's frustrating as hell to immediately be discounted simply because of who I am. They haven't looked at a resume or even seen my name and already I am persona non grata. The second thought that comes to mind is: Welcome to what many non-white people encounter every day! Irritating as it is, it's almost impossible to remain so because there are probably 10 other jobs for which I would be ushered right to the top of the list, while someone who didn't share my skin color or gender would not be.

(H/T jabarkas for reminding me of this.)

Now, one competing thought is that the progressive political world is one that needs more people, not less. One of the defining characteristics of that world, in general, is inclusiveness. Anyone that wants to assist in reforming society or pushing forward an agenda that helps everyone, not just the rich, is going to be welcome there, regardless of color, sex, creed, whathaveyou. And not just welcome, but NEEDED. Gotta keep up with the Tea Party somehow, right? (Ignorance is always easier than reason.) On the other hand, it's also that world that should be at the forefront of demonstrating that people who aren't white can also be at the helm. It's that world that should be actively promoting the idea that non-white people are just as capable of performing any task asked of them. How does one do so? By counter-balancing the inherent racial attitude of society by creating accelerated opportunity. In other words, intentionally choosing people of color (and/or women.)

There is, of course, room for argument that doing so is inherently a racist act. I would be justified in the eyes of some by claiming: "I was encouraged not to apply simply because I'm white!" And that's true. As I said, the board was already slanted against me without even having seen my name. But there's a rather poignant example from the book, Freakonomics, on just how much impact actually seeing my name would have had. Those with "black-sounding" names frequently get less, or less positive, attention than those with "white-sounding" names. (And you don't get much more white-sounding than my full name.) I've seen evidence of this, first-hand, as well.

I just left a job on the south side of Taylor, the population of which is predominantly black. The company I worked for is fairly ruthless about rent collection and I had to review my delinquency reports with another long-time manager in an adjoining property to ensure that I was toeing the company line. Now, this woman is white and had been working in Taylor for at least 20 years. Every single time we came across a "black-sounding" name, like "Tawnisha", she would pretend to struggle over its pronunciation and then shake her head and grumble at the idea that someone would actually have that name, as opposed to something like "Judy". I always followed her faux struggles with a quick enunciation of the name in question ("Taw-NEE-sha."), which she responded to with a roll of her eyes. Accompanying that mild cultural resistance was a rather pronounced difference in attitude when it came to interpreting just why the rent wasn't paid. White names had reasons. Black names had excuses or lies.

So, in my personal circumstances, I'm disappointed that I wouldn't be given the opportunity. I like the sound of the job. It fits my principles. It's something I am motivated to do. I want the job. But there are many more people who may be as capable of and are as motivated to do the job as I would be who haven't had opportunities before this one and I think that's probably the more positive result for society, overall. Frustrating, especially while unemployed, but understandable.

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