Friday, November 1, 2013

Shopping While Black, Obama’s Dad, and the Death of HR as We Know It

A couple of weeks ago, Laurie Ruettimann of The Cynical Girl wrote an article in which she warned HR that we’re on the way to complete automation, and one of the reasons she gives is the profession has too many white guys in positions of power. 

I declined to comment, believing that my “Damn straight!” wouldn’t have added a whole lot to the conversation. But then a reader wrote this:

“I think the reverse is the problem in terms of race and gender. Too many HR departments think they aren't diverse enough if they hire white males, so they think they HAVE to hire a woman and or [sic] minority because they are in HR.

First of all, there are other types of diversity than race and gender. For instance, how about diversity of experience? How about age, part of the country you grew up in, majors in college, etc.? ...

Secondly, when you focus on hiring for race or gender, you don't necessarily get the most qualified employee. Affirmitive [sic] Action is great if you want to increase the chances of hiring an underqualified candidate.”

So I responded, and the reader replied:  

“How are you so sure that my theory is not supported by the facts? Do you have a study you can share, because I can tell you my experience is that at any HR networking event I attend in the DFW area, women outnumber men at least 80% to 20%, more than once I've been the only white male in the room.

And while the premise of AA is supposed to be all things being equal, I can tell you that in practice, it is very often the primary goal, especially when filling positions in HR.

I would argue that women or people have to be overqualified, that is no longer the case, because in 2013, we're living in a country that has elected and re-elected an African-American President. Actually, he's half black and half-white, but rarely seems to discuss the white portion of his heritage. Any objective person has to acknowledge that he has the weakest resume of any President elected in modern history. You would think if the deck is still so stacked against people of color, that Barack Obama would emphasize the fact that he is actually mixed race now and then, especially since his mother is the parent that didn't abandon him.

Finally, try having a white child get into an elite university or earn a scholarship if their GPA, test scores, extracurricular and leadership experiences in high school aren't FAR superior to minority candidates they are up against.”  

And I just gave up, because this man is so far gone (Seriously? Taking a dig at President Obama and his father?), I don’t have the time or energy. If he wants to believe the world is flat, then okay.  

But I know different.  

And so do Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, both detained in separate incidents by Barney's department store for having the temerity to purchase expensive items while black. Each has filed a lawsuit against the upscale retailer.

And I also know that every time I write something on this blog about racial profiling or discrimination, I’m going to turn off some prospective client who can’t handle the fact that I’m drawing attention to my blackness.

Because being black, and all the shit that goes along with it, is something I’m supposed to ignore.  

Blogger Matthew Simmermon-Gomes put it this way:  

“The way I dress in an academic setting, the way I speak and write, the extra-curricular activities I put on my resume as a teenager, [are] all carefully considered to avoid any shred of ‘blackness.’ Why? Because blacks with the gall to be black, to act and speak as you have deemed ‘black,’ are rarely deemed worthy of your respect. In this world you have created for me my blackness is a handicap I must not acknowledge, a loadstone around my neck that I dare not draw attention to because then I will be the ‘activist;’ the ‘angry black guy’ who doesn’t know that MLK fixed the system, reshuffled the deck so now that everyone gets the same hand but who still needs to be Snoop Dog; or worse yet I will simply be criminal and suspect, a potential gangbanger who might be carrying so we better stop him just in case. So I must perform if I am to get ahead or even to get by. And perform I will, because I want nice clothes and good jobs and to walk down the street unhindered by the authorities. I will do so to please you and you will think it right.”

There is so much wrong with this picture.  

And I understand that certain white people are tired of hearing about racism. I get it. They’ve got their own problems and believe no one is looking out for them.  

But none of that changes the reality for people like Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips or even Oprah, for crying out loud.

And when Bill O’Reilly says that Oprah maybe shouldn’t have made such a big deal about that Swiss shopkeeper—because after all, Oprah can hop on a plane and go anywhere in the world to buy a handbag—it’s appalling how badly he’s missed the point. No, she can’t, Bill. She actually tried, and it didn’t work. See? No handbag.  

So I agree with Simmermon-Gomes that I don’t know what’s worse—racism, or the constant, tiresome denial that it exists.  

But regardless, there’s only so much diminishing of self I’m prepared to do for someone else’s comfort. As we used to say back in the day, “Bunk that.”  

Which is why I appreciate writers and observers and thinkers like Ruettimann and Simmermon-Gomes and "Wicked Woman" Tamara Adrine-Davis, because they remind me I’m not crazy, and while I’m fairly certain I’m not crazy, it’s good to have proof every now and again.  

Proof that the world is not flat.


  1. Wow. Tough discourse to have, in this"post-racial" era. I had a conversation with a white male subordinate of mine the other day, a coaching session in which I recalled some advice a former boss gave me a decade ago. I advised him to 'smile more.' This boss told me the same, reporting that my blank facial affect makes me look angry or threatening to some. I rethink the advice I passed on often. On the one hand, why the hell should I be made to care about anyone's perception of what's behind my blank, relaxed gaze? On the other hand, if such a meaninglessness appraisal of my outer affect (clearly tied to the 'angry black man' stereotype) stands between me and career aspirations, isn't my duty to my family and other AAs coming behind me to care?

    Undercover racism makes life horribly complicated. But I'm sure our parents and elders would have preferred it over blatant, institutionally supported racism.

    1. "On the other hand, if such a meaninglessness appraisal of my outer affect (clearly tied to the 'angry black man' stereotype) stands between me and career aspirations, isn't my duty to my family and other AAs coming behind me to care?"

      Kevin, what an interesting question.

      Yes, I do think we owe it to our families to care. I'm sure our ancestors swallowed all kinds of whatever for their families' benefit.

      And would they have preferred more subtle racism to something more blatant? I suppose. No longer being whipped, beaten, or lynched for being black is an improvement, for sure.

  2. Excellent points, surperbly made. I have a similar struggle at work. I am one of the few black police officers in my area and I often have to play down my blackness. There are so many times I have to let racial slurs go unchallenged for fear of being dubbed the oversensitive angry black woman. It's wrong. Racism is real and should not be ignored. I don't care how tired people are of hearing it.

    Sharing this post right now... Thanks Crystal.

    P.s. What was with that guy?? I mean, seriously?!

    1. Serena, SMH at your comments.

      (And, BTW, you're a COP?? Get out!)