- Posted August 16, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Everyday racism: Your stories
Wrong color for the job.
I applied to at least 4 places a day for two and a half months. The jobs I applied for were simple; factory assembly lines, warehouse worker or even helper, delivery driver and the like. The economy in Detroit was bad at the time but I was clearly more qualified than other applicants I met so I could not understand why I was not getting call backs. I did get a few interviews and after 5 potential employers told me the same thing for why, I left Michigan forever.
It seems that federal law required companies to follow specific hiring guidelines if they wanted to do any work for the government. Larger companies often used smaller companies who supplied them and exceeded these requirements as subcontractors in order to help with meeting their requirements. In a town where everyone either has government work or supplies someone that does, this meant I was either the right kind on employee or I was not; and I was not.
The 5 interviewers who were honest with me said that I was the wrong race for them to hire. If you did not live in that time and try to find work back then you would not today believe that it is possible that the color of my skin was the prime factor in keeping me from being hired, or that anyone would dare tell me so outright, but until the mid 80's that sort of thing was not only the law, it was encouraged by the government!
You see I had the misfortune of being born white at a time when the government required companies to engage in affirmative action in hiring non-whites.
I left Detroit and drove down to Texas to work in a lumberyard for $3.20/hour I stopped at a gas station because my car was overheating. There was a 60 year old black man there whose car was also overheating because the gasket on the manifold had gaps in it like someone had taken off the gooseneck leaving bits on both parts, then cleaned off one part and put it back together. I offered to help and got the tools I carried in my car. I was going to clean of both sides and put them together with a little Permatex (gasket sealant). I told him it would probably leak but slowly instead of gushing. Amazingly this gas station in the middle of nowhere had the right gasket for his 15 year old Chevy. I tossed the attendant a quarter for the gasket and was able to fix it properly. I then noticed his idle screw had fallen out of the carbonator so I fixed that and then tuned the mixture so the engine ran well. My car had cooled down by then so I packed my tools and got ready to leave. The old man asked "what do I owe you?". He was clearly shocked when I replied "I don't work here, I just stopped because my car was overheating too". He could not believe a whiteboy had just fixed his car for fun and wanted nothing from him. After much protest I finally accepted two cans of beer because it became obvious to me that it was important to him to make the gesture (it was awful beer and I did not want to drive with it in the car even though there were no open container laws then)
Why did I include this story with the one above? To show that I did not hold a grudge over racial laws that penalized me and drove me from my home, and that I did not see a black man but just a man with a problem that I could fix. Racism is wrong, always has been and always will be. It doesn't matter is it is supposedly for a good purpose or not. I was penalized for the color of my skin to correct problems I had no part of causing and have never perpetuated. No matter what the justification, it was racism and it was wrong!