By: Elizabeth Law
The question that inevitably permeates through countless other thoughts and surfaces in most Black minds after we’ve been terminated suddenly is, “Is it because I’m Black?” No matter how much we may fight the question and the realities it presents, we usually find ourselves lingering, unable to truthfully commit to “No” being the answer. Why is that? Why can’t I know that I was fired or let go because my work was inadequate, my performance was low, or any other valid reason to terminate someone’s employment?
Why is that my mind is almost comfortable leaning on my Blackness as the explanation for my professional shortcomings? I can’t say I’ve questioned whether it was my womanhood nearly as much as solely my Blackness that has made me a competitive candidate and qualified professional at first glance, but just as easily the first one deemed as disposable without reason. The shady business that is White America never lets me down, or should I say never let’s up.
I spent a year teaching English in Spain. My choice not to renew my contract hinged mostly on my need to be present and active in the Black community at a time like this back in the States. Living and existing in Spain while Black and female was no easy feat. Don’t be fooled by the romanticized tales that have been told by people that lack melanin and locs. Don’t get me wrong I loved Spain and plan to go back but the living’ wasn’t always easy being there.
After returning back to the States, specifically Texas, I realized transitioning from life overseas to the Wild Wild West would be a trying and often testing experience within itself. My twenty somethin’, recently graduated from Howard University, Black and “worldly” self was not prepared for what I was met with in Dallas. I was relatively “new” to adulthood at 23, and until I reach 25 I’ll be comfortable sticking to that.
Hailing from Atlanta, calling Washington, D.C. home throughout college, but built to dwell in New York, you can imagine my displacement in Dallas. I came back with the intent to work, save money, and relocate elsewhere within 6 months, while possibly getting my yoga certification to encourage other sista friends to join me on the mat.
However, I had certain self-imposed rules of where I could and would not work. In hindsight I have no idea what I really based the criteria on because I still found myself occupying spaces that were not created for me, but I’ll get to that. I was chasing a quick dollar, so I had no time or interest in working at places that had lengthy hiring processes AKA any position in corporate America, nor did I desire to be doing anything I deemed as office work that would lead me to inevitable boredom.
With that being said, I really had no intention to use the $40,000+ degree I earned to secure a job, so I headed for my dear friend that always comes through in a time of random need, Craigslist.com. I have relinquished any and all shame or embarrassment that comes with being a frequent visitor of Craigslist.com because that site has really come through with the most random and legal, but necessary opportunities.
The loyalty is real there, don’t sleep.
I landed a job at an upscale Pilates Barre Studio in one of the many affluent areas in Dallas. This posh studio was colorless, literally. Enclosed with white walls, staffed with White people. I was one of the only two Black employees, and we serviced nothing but Whites. During my 3 months there I saw only one Black female client, and a handful of Asians.
Internally I was fighting a quiet battle, but externally I was code switching and maneuvering like the best of them providing quality customer service to the clients, and a “friend” to my co-workers. I didn’t even know there were levels to fitness but apparently there are and to this day I still don’t know how my Black ass got the job, so there really shouldn’t have been much surprise when I lost it unexpectedly.
Useless “How are you’s” filled the air and short exchanges of small talk segued into the swift termination. “After today we’re not going to be needing you anymore…You can leave your keys with me. I’ll pay you through the end of today.” Her words were said with such casualty I almost mistook them as continued trivialities.
My immediate silence signaled my confusion, but her privilege told her I was owed nothing, so the silence prevailed. After moments passed by I asked, “Did I do something? Did something happen?” To which she replied in frustration, “ No it has just not worked out.” By that time my confusion had morphed into annoyance because during my employment I was never tardy for work, reprimanded, issued any warning, or given any other disciplinary actions, indicating that I was not “working out.”
My response came out with a hint of attitude, “It hasn’t worked out? In what way?” This line of questioning continued and to no avail each and every time she had less and less to say as to why I was suddenly being fired on the spot after driving 45 minutes expecting to work. Her response to my repeated questions of why and for what I was being fired for were always more ridiculous than the last, because she had nothing to say for herself!
In my last attempt to understand why she was pulling the plug on my source of income and thus causing me to hop on the struggle bus, she responded saying, “There’s no reason in particular.” That was the answer I’d been waiting for all along, the truth, so why was I so shocked to have heard it come from her lips? The audacity of the owner of an establishment firing me and telling me I was fired for no reason in particular was mind blowing to me. Was she asking for a lawsuit?
After analyzing those moments over and over again I realized the root of my anger was really rooted in how hurt I was that she as another human being could look me in my eyes, strip me of my means to survive, and feel no obligation to offer me a reason as to why I deserved such treatment. I felt there was a disregard for my humanity and that hurt. I left immediately following her words, handed her my key, and clocked straight out, there was no need for me to stay throughout the day.
This was my only move to keep my dignity about myself. I can’t say that I was no longer needed that day because I was Black, but I damn sure can’t say that isn’t why. My Blackness could’ve been what attracted her and lead her to hire me, and it could’ve very well have been the leading force behind her firing me. I will never know, and the question doesn’t pierce through my head anymore because I am unbothered and unconcerned with little Becky.
The teachable lessons I’ve drawn from that experience have been innumerable, and although I will not say I thank her for being triflin, as many Black women must, I’ve found the good in a terrible situation and used it to move onward and upward.
I remember it like it was yesterday, I have my terrible memory, but awesome journal entry titled, “Tripping into My Turning Point” to thank for that! I made it a point to document the day I decided never to give anyone, particularly people who show no real interest in my well being AKA the majority of White folk, power over my livelihood and survival, because they have blatantly shown time and time again not to care. I noted the events of that day, and vowed to care about myself as a Black woman navigating her way through spaces and places that were never carved out with me in mind.
I vowed to care enough about myself, as they do about them and theirs. To take opportunities that feed me in more ways than money, but of course a girl’s gotta eat, so I’m still not working for free. I’m just being ever so selective, which is something we as Black women think all too often we cannot afford to do, but I’m here with my fired self to let y’all know, THAT IS A FALLACY!
We have to be just as selective with where and who we align ourselves with as the next person. My father shared something with me a while ago that really stuck with me, he said, “These employers need to realize and recognize that the interview and hiring process is not the same. People must realize their worth, and approach job interviews with similar mentalities as the employer. It’s an interview for both parties, because the employer has expressed a need, and you have responded willing to fill that need, if the shoe fits (for you)”.
In the same way we are being interviewed, we as the potential assets to someone’s firm, company, non-profit, organization etc. must make sure we conduct our own interview or sorts. We need to make sure not only will we be a good fit for the job, but that the job is a good fit for us, and what we have going on. We need to interview the employer to make sure it is worth our time. Is this really something we should entertain? Is this really a role I wish to fill or will I be exploited for all my greatness and receive little in return?
If at the end of those necessary questions you find yourself with a string of “No’s” that should be your answer to accepting that position. Let my misfortune in Texas be a cautionary tale to all Black Women, move and operate in places you are needed, nurtured, loved, and valued.