Rogette Harris

Rogette Harris has been following American politics from a young age. As a teenager, she became involved with civil rights issues and became

Jan 29, 2021
Published on: pennlive
2 min read

By Rogette Harris

I recently looked through old photos and came across my kindergarten graduation picture. When you are that age, you are told that all you must do is be good, don’t get into any trouble, work hard and the world is yours. Our parents, ministers, teachers, politicians such as President Obama tell us this. Life, however, teaches us differently.

We do not all start at the same starting line and who we are often determine what opportunities we have access too, and what obstacles we come across. This is especially true for Black women as we deal with the intersectionality of sexism and racism. The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the job and wage disparities in the United States.

Black children are told from childhood that we must work twice as hard to get half of what white people get. However, when job searching, sometimes even that is not enough. When you have the experience, then you are told you do not have the education. When you have the education, then it is the experience you do not have. When you have the experience AND education, then you are not a good cultural fit.

I remember a job interview where a panel of three white women, who had less education and experience than I, told me their main priority was to hire someone that could get along with different types of people and be a good cultural fit. Although it’s trendy now for companies to hire a diversity officer and claim they are striving for diversity and inclusion to help diversity their homogenous workforces, the phrase “cultural fit” is often used by interviewers to reject candidates. It has become the embodiment of unconscious bias.

It is well documented that even when they are more educated, Black women earn less money at work, in entrepreneurship, and in venture capital. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, at our current rate of progress, Black women won’t receive full pay equity compared with white men until the year 2119. That is almost a hundred years from now. In comparison, white women will achieve pay equity with white men around 2055.

Black women are the most educated demographic in the United States when you look at the number of degrees earned. However, for several reasons, our education levels, and the financial rewards we receive aren’t aligning, particularly in the business world. The toll that the job search has on Black women can be discouraging.

Sly Stone, a legendary black musician from the 1960s, once wrote a hit with the refrain, “Thank you for letting me be myself.” It is a fun song to sing, but harder for many Blacks to live. For much of American history, Black people have and continue to struggle under what some call the “white gaze,” which means looking at the world through the eyes of anxious and racist white people.

Living under the white gaze is exhausting. Always worrying about what they may think, what they may do, how they may react if your subjects and verbs do not agree -- or if they catch you eating fried chicken.

It is rare but nice to see black achievements when they occur, indifferent to the white gaze. To not be arrested, killed or fired from a job for not “knowing their place.” To be applauded.

Most, if not all White Americans have long accepted Black people’s humanity when performing. Entertainment and sports are two areas being Black is accepted. The problem comes when Blacks are not performing. When we want to not just patronize a business but own it. When we want to be president of a company, or even run for office. Both political parties need to financially support candidates of color more – not just come to our churches, marches, and communities during election time. These are some of the areas we are looked at with suspicion as if we don’t belong.

However, it is up to us to start mandating our Blackness on other stages. We can do more than just sing, dance and run. Not all Black Americans are in jail and/or need a pardon. We do not all live in urban areas, and it’s time we all have our voices heard and be recognized.

Discrimination is still alive and well in the United States, even as an elite layer in the Black population has integrated itself into the mainstream. Jim Crow is still alive and well – just in a different form, and the planation we now live on is in mental form. All the positive changes since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s have not yet been realized, and being a person of color is still looked at as a birth defect in many sectors of American society.

I, along with other Black college graduates did, and continue to do everything that our professors, alumni network, and career articles said we should do, but for some reason, there was always an issue.

I now know there were elements that are and continue to be out of my control. It is unfair, but it is also sadly the reality. To my fellow Black career seekers, you do not need to feel alone or that the problem is you. It is not you, but instead the society and structure that we live in.

Sometimes it is out of your hands, but it is not a reason to ever give up. SO, DON’T!

Rogette Harris, MPA, MBA, is a political analyst and is a member of the Editorial Board for PennLive and The Patriot-News.

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