This post isn’t intended to get sympathy or make excuses not to put in effort during a job search. These are simply my thoughts about issues that I see when seeking gainful employment as a black woman in America.
I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in May. Those are words that I’ve been waiting to say for the past 10 years. I’ve gone to some extreme measures for this piece of paper. I moved to an unknown city with no money for it. I joined the military for it (and anyone who knows me knows I had no business being in anyone’s military). Since I was little, I’ve been told that once I get that piece of paper, I can do ANYTHING. Now that it’s literally almost in my hands, you would think I’d be thrilled about it, right? Well I am, but there’s also a feeling of apprehension mixed in with that thrill.
You see, when I was little, no one explained to me that one day I would craft beautifully-written cover letters and resumes, and send them in to jobs that I’m perfectly qualified for, but get no response. No one told me the reason I didn’t get a response, was probably because of my “ethnic” first and last name. No one told me that two factors have a bigger impact than a piece of paper: being a woman, and being black.
My most recent glimpse of this occurred when I went to a job interview after separating from the military. The interview was for a temp job as a data entry clerk at a local bank. When I arrived, I realized that the interview actually wasn’t an interview; it was an impromptu orientation. The majority of the job applicants were black women in their 20s-40s. Many wore poorly fitted business attire, and clutched onto worn handbags as they quietly waited for the next step.
After completing paperwork and fingerprinting, a staff member took another young lady and myself on a tour of the production floor. It was a large office space with dingy lighting and more black women sorting through envelopes at their desks. As we walked around, the other young lady nodded her head with approval and commented on how nice it looked. I was much less impressed, and impatiently waited for the tour to be over.
I left the orientation feeling emotionally drained. What I had experienced wasn’t anything new, but this time made me especially disgusted. Although I applied for this job to make extra money during school, many of those women NEEDED that job. The energy of desperation and hopefulness hit me the minute I walked into that room. It was a temporary job with low pay, no benefits, and a poor working environment, but they would take it just to keep food on the table. I wondered how many of these women had gone to school and accumulated debt just to end up here. It scared me, and it still scares me, because this can be me….no, this IS me. I have work experience, military experience, an Associate’s degree, will have a Bachelor’s degree, yet I have never made over $40k a year.
Like I mentioned here, black women are not set up to win in the traditional job market. When we do, it’s because we’ve somehow managed to dodge the bullets of corporate America and come out on top. Even still, black women succeeding in traditional industries is the exception, not the rule. That’s why it’s important that we don’t fall for the hype of going to overpriced universities that we’ll spend years paying for once we graduate. That’s why it’s important we learn about multiple sources of income, rather than rely solely on the low pay that we’re expected to be grateful for.
I’m nervous about what the future holds, and if a degree will make a difference in my employment opportunities. But, whether I land a job with a decent salary or not, I will continue to invest, work on side hustles, and pay off debt. That way I won’t NEED a job for security, and this is the reality I want for all black women.