Last night I cleaned out my junk drawer and found the business card that I should’ve thrown out years ago. It was from my very first professional job interview. I was a new grad and eager and desperate to land my first job. I drove to a little upstate New York hospital after having a dynamite phone interview. We hit it off straight way. I dazzled him with my personality and even though he knew I was a novice, he welcomed me to meet him face to face.
Nervous and wanting to make a good impression, I picked up a large box of doughnuts, bagels and coffee from the local coffee shack. When I entered the building, I swear, movement slowed down. All of a sudden, people just turned around to openly stare at me. It was then that I knew just how very black I was.
The receptionist looked…uneasy as I approached her. Remembering my Rules of Talking to White People Manual, I smiled at her. I told her I was here to see Mr. X, from the Nursing Department. She made no move or sound. I explained that he was expecting me. She stammered, ” Have a seat, uh, miss, and I’ll let him know you’re here.”
I sat down and scanned the room. I was the only black face there.
I began to notice how everyone that walked by me was trying ever so carefully not to look at me. It was then that Mr. X walked up to me, shuffled his feet and said tentatively, ” Miss Truthbetold?” I nodded and offered him my brightest smile and extended my hand to shake. He hesitated before accepting it. We walked down this narrow corridor and I noticed that not one person who passed by looked at me directly. You know that old Urban Legend: If you look directly at a Negress, you’ll turn to dust?
I sat down when prompted and pulled out my meager resume. I was shaking. I knew that this would not end well. I felt his “vibe” all over me. He looked at my resume and said he was sorry but the department needed an experienced person. They couldn’t train anyone new. I felt defeated And for a reason that I could not explain…ashamed. I wanted to cry but stubbornly I kept my eyes dry and voice even.
“OK. Well, thanks for your time.” I got up to leave and half expected him to say something reassuring. He said nothing. I got in my car and the dam burst. I cried for allowing myself to feel the exhilaration of hope. I cried for the hate stares I received that penetrated me. For the lies he told…he knew damn well I was a novice. I cried for wasting my gas to drive up to that damn racist place. I cried for the way my blackness made everyone uncomfortable. I cried for my weakness and my curse that will never be lifted. I cried in despair. I cried in rage. I cried in fear of never finding a job.
I cried because I am black.
I drove home with a deeper understanding of what it means to be black in AmeriKlan. No college course could ever teach me that. I would no longer doubt that I was imagining things when I felt that “vibe” coming from whites. I would no longer doubt that AmeriKlan hated me for no other reason than the colour of my skin. And perhaps, most importantly, I would never again allow anyone to diminish my Black Pride. With each toll booth that passed, my depression lifted and became defiant rage. I thought about this unknown, uneasy feeling I’ve had my whole life. It was called Blackness. And now, I knew its name.
What was your first job related racist experience?