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Bloom Into Your

Best Self. . .

March 2019


Walk A Day In My Culture. . .


Systemic Oppression (Part Four)

The Employment System
"Congratulations on your position of being the director," I told the woman on the phone "that is a huge accomplishment, especially for us." I continued.

"Girl tell me about it," she replied. "I couldn't let this opportunity pass me up!"

I didn't know this woman from a can of paint, and she didn't know me, I actually stumbled upon her because I was looking for referrals for my clients as I prepared for maternity leave. You see, about 90% of my clients requested a Black therapist, which is VERY hard to find. But this is what briefly bonded me and this woman on the phone as I called to see if she was taking new clients. The bond of us both being Black women, but not just Black women, the bond of being Black women who were working professionals. So even though this woman had limited availability in her private practice, due to being a director of a mental health agency, it was only right for me to congratulate her on her professional accomplishments. Why? Because this is a rare find. It is rare to find a Black woman (or man for that matter) in a position of such power within an agency or organization; and it is even more rare to receive acknowledgement for such an accomplishment. Because honestly the employment system is a form of oppression in the Black community. Let me explain why. . .

#1 - The Education System

Although today we are indeed focusing on the employment system, the education system is a system directly linked to someone finding employment. Without an education, you cannot get a job. I'm not talking about a fancy blue collar job, I'm talking about employment in general. Without a high school diploma, you can't get a basic job. And truth be told, you can barely get a basic job with a college degree as an African-American, but we'll get back to college in a minute. As for completing high school, you must first get through elementary school and middle school.

Many African-American students attend public schools, especially African-American kids in urban areas. As we all know (or should know), many public schools in urban areas are not up to par. This is not to come down on public schools, I am a proud attendee of public schools throughout my elementary, middle, and high school days and I turned out just fine. BUT, let's talk about the facts of some public schools.

A lot of times, materials are often worn down, extra-curricular activities are hard to come by, and teachers are over worked and underpaid. These things lead to children in urban areas not getting the best education from the start. You may ask: What does this have to do with the Black community? All races of children grow up in urban areas. And what does this have to do with the employment system? Yes, you are right all races of children grow up in urban areas, however Black children are often signaled out more often than other children. They have higher suspension rates, receive more detentions, and are often viewed as oppositional by staff. Just stick with me a bit longer and you will see how this connects to the employment system.

If a Black child attends public school, their first introduction to what education is all about is normally not the greatest. Most of the time these African-American children are dumped in an environment that doesn't value them or their neighborhood. And after a while, you often see a Black child become a Black teenager who is disgruntled with a system that has been treating them unfairly for years. A system that doesn't work for them. Research shows that African-Americans have lower high school and college graduation rates. Why? Because the example of education that Black kids get is often a stressed out, over worked, and judgmental environment. What about completing high school, let alone completing college, is appealing when this is the bar set for Black kids? How are we supposed to get jobs that sustain us financially, if we start off in a system that does not sustain us educationally?

And yes, we can turn to African-American parents to have them encourage higher education for their children, but what if they didn't complete or pursue their education for the same reason? Or what if they did pursue further education making it through college successfully? They most likely experienced forms of discrimination on the college campus. I know I did, my husband did, and many of our friends and family did too. On top of the discrimination, this Black parent probably struggles with getting any type of advancement in their career. So after WILLINGLY enduring an additional four to six years of not being held appropriately by the educational system, this Black parent is put in a position to encourage their child to continue attending a system that is hard to believe in. All while the Black child is witnessing how this system has failed their parent in the sense of creating equality, AND HAVING THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE of how the education system is currently failing them. It's a lot to wrap your mind around huh?

But let's say that a Black kid gets through all of those obstacles, and is now an adult. An adult who completed high school and holds a higher education degree. We now enter into the employment system and the ways it can be oppressive to the African-American community.

#2 - Difficulty Finding A Job

Unfortunately, discrimination normally takes place from the minute you hit the submit button on an application, and it sadly continues through the interview process (if you make it that far). From our ethnic names, to our skin color, to the dialect of our speech in an interview; African-Americans are judged from the very beginning. Not judged based on the skills that qualify us for the job, but judged based on our racial identity. I have heard countless stories of jobs passing up completely qualified African-American candidates, and hiring a White person with less qualifications. How do I know that a White person may have had less qualifications? Well it's simple, number one the field of mental health is small. And number two, many of us know each other. So if I know that Jane Doe applied for the same job as Tasha Doe, but Jane got the job even though I know that Tasha has 3 more years of qualifying experience than Jane, you do the cultural/racial math (names are obviously fictional). For African-Americans it is a constant uphill battle to find a job, and once you do, you are hit with the next dilemma.

#3 - Difficulty Proving Your Employment Skills

Once we are finally hired for a job, African-Americans must work extra hard to prove that we have the employment skills to maintain our job and do it well. From my own personal experience, I have recognized that things were not always equal when it came to my position in an agency or organization. I often worked harder, longer, and more efficient than many of my white counterparts, often not being noticed on a consistent basis for the work I was continually doing. I also witnessed my colleagues of color do the same intensive hard work that I was doing, all while also being given little to no acknowledgement for their work ethic. On the other hand, many of my white colleagues slid by the waste side, doing mediocre work and were often praised endlessly for their "work ethic." You may think I'm being bias here, but until you experience it, witness it being done to other people of color, AND recognize the same pattern in DIFFERENT employment settings, hold your judgement.

As a people, African-Americans are hard workers, however we are often painted as lazy and unwilling to put in the work. Why is that? Why does a Black person at work doing the same exact job as a White person have to continue to prove they are worthy of the position they hold? Is it because we have always been deemed as just bodies that work and have no value? Let's think about the times of slavery. Even though the African-American was the one doing the labor that produced the income for the slave master, it was often the slave master who was praised for doing so well with managing the slaves. But the slave master did absolutely NO WORK, he simply profited off of forced and tortured labor. As mentioned in my last newsletter, that mentality is really hard to unlearn. So acknowledging the hard work of an African-American may unconsciously (but sometimes consciously) not be a thing of importance to the White person in charge. Which leads to my next point.

#4 - Difficulty Moving Up

If we look at the structural make up of many agencies or organizations, the higher up you go on the hierarchical chart, the whiter things get. Nine times out of ten CEO's, directors, supervisors, and managers are not people of color. Why is that? Why are so many companies not promoting people of color? It's a tough question to answer, but I will take a stab at it. The first thing that comes to my mind is continuing on the point I just made, which boils down to comfortability and familiarity. Think about it. For years on top of years, White people have normally been in positions of power when it comes to work environments. And although that is hard to type, it is a true fact. This is not to be confused with the idea that white people are in positions of power at work because they are superior in their employment skills; but rather this is how the employment system has oppressed us as African-Americans. I have witnessed on numerous occasions a person of color doing a majority of the grunt work for a supervisor or director, and the supervisor or director often gets the acknowledgement for "working so hard" at completing the task. When in essence the person of color is more qualified to be the supervisor or director than their white colleague with the actual title.

Again, I go back to slavery. Being a Black slave was unfortunately a job. A job where the slave owner was accustomed to forcing and torturing slaves into doing the grunt work, making themselves the profitable person who benefited from the work of the slave. This slave mentality has continued from approximately 1619 to 2019 in the United States of America (but since the 1500's in areas such as South America and the Caribbean). That is over 400 years of unlearning that White Americans need to do in regards to the value of African-Americans in the work place.

So now what? How do we combat this?

For Black people, and non-Black people of color reading this, here are some of my thoughts on how to combat the systemic oppression we experience in the workplace (white people I will get to you in a second). People of color, keep in mind the many levels of oppression we experience in the employment system. For one, we know that we are often underpaid and over worked, which is honestly a form of modern day slavery. Don't subject yourself to this. FIGHT for your worth and invest in yourself. DO NOT be afraid to begin your own business and set your own standards if advocating for equality at your job doesn't work. I did, and you can too! Many times you will run into discouragement, making you feel that you NEED the financial "stability" of an agency or organization, but that is simply a deterrent to prevent you from reaching your full employment potential. Because honestly, as people of color we are viewed as being easy to replace, so the idea of "stability" is fictious. If I listened to all the discouragement that came my way when I was ready to start private practice, I would have never taken the leap. I heard discouragement about limited income, lack of benefits, lack of clientele, blah blah blah! If I had of listened, I would still ultimately be a slave to the employment system. Remember, when an organization or agency is no longer working for you, take agency over your work and create something that you can be the master of.

Now to white people, here are my thoughts for how you can help African-Americans combat systemic oppression in the work place. It starts with YOU! Unfortunately, you are part of a culture that struggles to acknowledge the hard work of African-Americans. Now don't get all bent out of shape by my comment, because obviously YOU are trying to do different than the majority of your culture or you wouldn't be reading my newsletter. But you must hear my raw and unapologetic opinion in order to move forward. So I repeat. . . you are part of a culture that struggles to acknowledge the hard work of African-Americans. It is up to you to try and speak up where you can to make a difference. You cannot always rely on us starting this conversation for you. Are you at an agency or organization that promotes diversity, but they don't look diverse on the hierarchical level? Do they hire Black people on the "lower" hierarchical level just so they can use the term "diverse" when promoting their agency or organization? You may need to speak up about this dynamic and name the disparity in what they are promoting and what they are doing.

Let's hit a bit closer to home shall we? Are you one of those White CEO's, directors, supervisors, or managers reading this? Are you in a position of "power" and simply sitting by quietly? Are you shaking your head internally at the lack of diversity in the hierarchical structure? Then SAY SOMETHING! Don't allow your white fragility to get in the way, push past it and use your white privilege appropriately. NOT to make yourself feel better, but to make a difference within your agency or organization. To make room for the African-American that made it through the educational system. The African-American who landed the difficult job, and that has proven their work skills. Make room for them to sit at the table, a table they most certainly are worthy of sitting at, a table that can be the beginning of a talking point on how to break down the walls of oppression within the employment system. Do something at the table instead of just sitting there. Until April. . .
Snippet For Next Month's Topic

Remember, if the newsletter doesn't come as planned next month, then I am simply adjusting to the blessing of being a new mom. But don't worry, I won't be gone for long if I disappear for a bit. With that said, next month I am tackling the topic of colorism, take a read below at this quick snippet:

The variety of skin tones within the Black community are a direct reflection of slavery and colonization. I can hear you now: Narissa please with the slavery talk! We must address this again? The answer is YES! YES! And once again YES! As I always say, Black people continue to talk about slavery because we are still affected by slavery! And one way we are still affected is by our skin tone. We are clearly a people who are. . .
Cultural Tidbits

Take a read at the article below by Tanzina Vega as she breaks down racial discrimination in the work place for African-Americans.

Sometimes it's best to listen to everyday people talk to let things really sink in. Although this woman is speaking about the civil rights era, what she is talked about regarding workplace discrimination is unfortunately still relevant today. And her thoughts regarding how to make a change can also be applied to the present day. Take a watch below.
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