Meet and scatter
These dreams make bright patterns
Then shatter in chaotic thoughts
Life goals replace nightmares
Day time work yields
I’ve been reading about the dignity of work. “Work is not punishment or a necessary evil, nor is it man’s means of accumulating control, power and wealth. These ideas are contrary to the biblical view of work. We understand work as something intrinsically good. We are co-creators of Gods world and work is part of our contribution. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected. People have the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.” The quote above is from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This statement is part of the social justice doctrine that many faiths ascribe to. However as it pertains to minorities, there are built in barriers.
An education is seen as the quickest way to secure a job that pays well. Many people find that they are not given the opportunity to advance in education due to economic road blocks coupled with bias within the public education system and the college and university admissions. It is not a matter of just choosing a college. Application fees and the cost of the SAT/ACT tests must be met. The cost to get to the starting line is often too much for people living hand to mouth. The money for these are the difference between food or electricity, medicine or gasoline.
The American Dream goes something like “hard work and perseverance will result in success”. This was the narrative at the beginning of the industrial age. Young boys selling newspapers were fed the idea that someday, if they worked hard enough, they could own the newspaper. If they just sold more papers, put in more hours, then they could rise from poverty to prosperity. Many still believe that this is the way for those born into poverty to shed their homelessness and unemployment. Even those institutions that tout their good works brag about how they educate and provide employment opportunities – if only people apply themselves. I wanted to believe too.
The truth is a bitter pill. There is a saying that reflects a parallel reality, “Its not what you know but who you know.” Looking at the fallacy of hard work and education being the difference between success and failure, the truth of having the right connections is hardly recognized. And this is where the prejudice starts to seep into decision making. I’ve seen it. I know it is real. This translates to a college educated and degree toting person of color who is unable to get a job in their field. One who settles for a part-time position in a department store in an effort to pay back student loans. They keep looking for that job, answering newspaper ads and even signing on with head hunters. They send out resumes and do phone interviews and eventually get a couple in-person interviews. The interview goes well and they don’t get the job. Rinse and repeat. The call back, if they ever get one, is the standard “I’m sorry but we filled the position with someone better qualified”. This only works for so long before the lie is exposed. Eventually they bump into a classmate who they tutored, who scraped by and barely graduated, who is working in the job they applied for. The “better qualified” candidate is Caucasian. I’m angry.
I’m retired. I’m not involved in the hiring process any longer. But I can think of a possible strategy. What if people of color were able to concentrate on getting degrees in human resources? What if human resource departments were shifted from all white to integrated to reflect the makeup of the population of the job pool? HR departments love and have ingrained in their culture to promote from within. It might take a couple of decades – because change happens slowly but eventually there would be a shift. I know it is a dream that I can’t change into reality. But I can continue to dream…