I had five jobs in the five years I worked in corporate America, and I can relay a story in each one where I felt race played a factor. I left corporate America and had had my business for the last 29 years or so. I can also recount so many stories that made that enterprise more difficult than it had to be.
Now that I am older and much less arrogant, I can admit that what probably got me in the door in corporate America was affirmative action though I would balk anytime anyone insinuated that reality.
I was unqualified for the first job I got, given the posted specifications. They were looking for someone with at least a Masters in Computer Science. I had a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering and minored in computer-aided engineering. But I did write a Fortran program to simulate the controlled positioning of an ARCO drilling ship. The Vice-President of the division called me into his office, shut the door, and said, “Pat likes you. I don’t know why. She’s hiring you. But I want to tell you if it does not work out in six months, you are out of here. And I don’t want to hear a damn thing about Affirmative Action.” That was my entry into corporate America. I finished the six-month project in two months.
At my third company, I was called back three times, if you include the visit where they made me the offer. It was as if they did not believe my resume and the interview proper. At that same company, I made a software modification that solved a problem they thought would require a complete hardware redesign. When it was time to explain to the customer the solution and the reason we could deliver way ahead of schedule, I was told to tell another engineer all that I did because “my time was too valuable to be in that meeting.” When the other engineer was unable to answer all the questions related to exceptions in the software, they finally called me in to answer questions to a somewhat shocked set of customer engineers.
My fifth company siphoned me from the fourth one because of a particular skill set I learned specifically for the space station project. They hired me with a title below the previous job claiming they had a strict experience level associated with titles. I accepted it because the pay was higher than the previous one. Later a secretary would tell me in confidence that a new hire was less experienced, had a more senior title, and made more than I did. I did not have to wait too long as the corrective action was almost immediate.
Getting loans in the early 90’s was not difficult. A good friend of mine, who happens to be white, started a phone card company, and I formed a software company. Both had sales. Both of us wanted to borrow forty thousand dollars. Neither of us had collateral. We went to the same bank. He was invited in to talk to the VP. He got the loan. The VP told me that without collateral it was a waste of time to fill out the application. I built my company on high-interest credit card loans. My friend got a low-interest loan he never paid back as he blew most of his cash on cocaine.
After getting my business up and running, I went back to the same bank and told them they were going to give me a $40,000 loan (one I did not need at the time). The VP smirked and told me what I had to do. I FedExed the information that I stayed up all night completing a large three-ring binder. They approved the loan within days. But they refused to fund it until after Tax Day, April 15th. They held the money for over a month. Any ideas why?
This week the Harris County Our Revolution endorsed several candidates. Several weeks ago, it asked candidates to submit questionnaires. They denied an invite to two very progressive women who passed their Medicare for All litmus test; one was a woman of color, the other one white. But they invited their two counterparts who were white men. One did not support Medicare for all. The other was utterly unqualified for the job when measured against his opponent. The action gave immediate credence to a Bernie Bro faction of the Our Revolution movement.
I was a Bernie Sanders delegate in Philadelphia. I still support Bernie and what he represents. But the action by this Our Revolution group is a black eye to the movement. I complained to a few in the leadership profusely. Both women resubmitted their questionnaires. The white female candidate who is opposed by the white man that does not support Medicare for all got the endorsement. The woman of color still did not get an invite, and they went with the lesser qualified candidate. Thus far, every progressive group endorsing in the race have gone for the woman of color because she is the most qualified.
I cherry-picked my personal stories, but I have scores of them, and that is not hyperbole. It is the same story in different forms for many. I wrote a piece a few years ago to express the reality and adaptation many of us live through titled “I was Trayvon Martin the day I came to America” that provides a window. Jon Stewart did a piece a few years ago where he was able to relate an experience not foreign to most people of color. He got it.
Quick story. So we live in New York City, a Liberal bastion. Recently we sent a correspondent and a producer to a building in this Liberal bastion where we were going to tape an interview. The producer, White, dressed in only what could be described as homeless elf attire and a pretty strong five o’clock from the previous week shadow, strode confidently into the building preceding our humble correspondent, a gentleman of color dressed resplendidly in a tailored suit. Who do you think was stopped? Let me give you a hint. The Black guy. And that shit happens all the times, all of it. Race is there and it is a constant. You are, tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.”
Some will hear these stories and try to find an excuse for each. But when you live it, it is exhausting. It is even more tiring when the data, in the aggregate, proves a reality many, attempt to deny on a micro level. In my case, racism and prejudice have made me much stronger with an armor of steel. But for too many, it stunts their growth. It cripples their possibilities.