Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Color of Money: How White Becomes Green in the Workplace

It's a jungle out there for white professionals.

Allow me to engage in a little bit of self-disclosure.

I'm a full time graduate student who happens to be working a human resources internship for a small, relatively wealthy community just outside of Dallas. I have to say that I LOVE working in HR. One of the main reasons for this is that it satisfies my meddlesome desire to know what exactly it is that people earn. Since everyone thinks it's "tacky" to discuss personal compensation, being employed in a human resources capacity is the only way for me to scratch that itch - AND, miracle of miracles, I'm actually being paid to do it. Also, as you may already know, I am, or would like to think of myself as, what folks from my grandfather's generation used to refer to as a "Race Man." So, it is, therefore, understandable that I would be most enthusiastic about a project that was recently assigned to me that allowed me to research and compile income, race, gender and job category data for the entire organization and report my findings to the EEOC.

Here's what I found: Whites, in particular white men, occupy job categories that are most likely to be the highest paying and/or most responsible in the organization. Women of all races are heavily concentrated in administrative support roles. Latinos (or Hispanics, whichever you prefer) and African-American men are predominately employed in a service/maintenance capacity. For every African-American woman who is an administrator or a professional there are three who are among the lowest paid in the entire organization. Asians, especially Asian men are virtually invisible (except when they appear here and there to snap up a high-end position) and Native Americans don't exist at all. There are, of course, exceptions to this but, by and large, it is what it is.

Now, here's the thing: I defy you to take more than a cursory look at your own organization and come up with vastly different results than I have. God bless you if you can because, the more I think about it, the more I'm forced to conclude that EVERY SINGLE medium to large company for which I've worked can be summed up identically to my current place of employment.

Having said all that, there exists a wealth of information that examines race and gender disparities in the workplace and how they are maintained. Recently, I read a fantastic article about emotional labor and sex segregation entitled, "Women's Job, Men's Jobs." The authors of the piece, Mary Guy and Meridith Newman, examine what exactly it is about women's jobs that causes them to pay less. They conclude that a large part of women's work has to do with the application of emotional labor - labor based on those attributes that women are socialized to develop and administer that allow the work place to function more smoothly but are rarely, if ever, monetarily compensated. Guy and Newman argue that emotional labor helps explain both job segregation based on gender and the gender wage gap. Similarly, in his fantastic book, Gender and Racial Inequality at Work, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey provides empirical evidence about workplace segregation and describes how jobs are "sorted" out based on race.

My own experiences certainly bear these research conclusions out, and I know I'm not alone. Time and again I've seen managers eagerly promote undeserving whites based simply on the fact that they're more "comfortable" with them. In a few cases, I was the one who was passed over for the promotion. Most times, despite the fact that I knew what was happening, I said nothing and chalked it up to things being what they are (Aside to white people: I hear some of you complaining about the idea, of all things, that black people complain too much. If you had any conception of how many times during our work-a-day lives that we have to bite our tongues when we are being subjected to some sort of racially-motivated affront, you would conclude otherwise). One time, it was particularly difficult for me to do this because it was confirmed for me that I was, indeed, the most qualified candidate. After one interview, the supervisor stupidly let it slip that I was "by far" the best candidate among those who had applied for the job. Of course, that didn't stop him from passing me over and hiring a woman to whom he was physically attracted (it ended badly). Fortunately, this kind of thing hasn't happened to me very often. Generally, once I'm offered an interview, I'm a shoo in - I've been told it's because I'm likable and "articulate" (Aside to Bill O'Reilly: This is, at the very least a loaded compliment because it implies that whatever white person gave it assumes that black folks can't speak and is surprised that I can). At any rate, I can't imagine how it must be for people who've worked hard their entire lives, crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is and positioned themselves for a promotion only to be repeatedly denied simply because their supervisors are more comfortable with a Sharon than they are a Shaniqua.

In addition to this, many times, I've seen a white worker plucked from vocational obscurity and simply handed the reins to his or her own promotional future. It's almost as if white supervisors want to rescue their similarly-complexioned comrades from having to do the same work as Negroes. I once worked in a call center with a white guy named Andy. As those of you who've worked in a call center before well know, the work environment is generally set up like a plantation. You've got a room full of little cubicles all within monitoring distance of a few big cubicles. The little cubicles are usually occupied by entry level phone jockeys. The big ones are manned by their overseers, um, supervisors. Now, at this call center, the small cubicles were filled overwhelmingly with minorities. The big ones were attended mostly (they had to allow a few of us to slip through the cracks) by white floor managers. At any rate, Andy was NOT a hard worker. Andy was often late to work (usually only by a few minutes) and just as often late coming back from his breaks. Yet, for some reason, Andy was a favorite of those individuals in the big cubes. So much so that they gave him special projects that allowed him to spend most of his day off of the phones - anyone who's done this kind of work knows how much of a big deal that is. Eventually, when a non call-taker position opened up and Andy applied for it, (he was "encouraged" to do so by management) he got it. After Andy was promoted, those sweet little projects dried up. Those of us who were left in his wake could only shake our heads as his "replacement," another white guy named Brian, was allowed to spend a good portion of his work day sitting in the big cubicles, fraternizing with his higher-ups. Membership, I came to learn, has its privileges.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

God's CEOs

MLK Enterprises: The Dream Has Changed

History was bound to repeat itself.

Still, I had hoped it wouldn't happen. Wednesday, the Burmese (yes, I'm using the former name of the country as opposed to the military-imposed misnomer) government began to disperse crowds of courageous protesters with randomly placed bullets. This in response to week-long street protests against the country's freedom-crushing junta, protests that were started by some of the country's Buddhist monks, individuals who Burmese citizens understandably hold in the highest regard.

The clarity of purpose that these monks have shown reminded me of a time when Black America could count on its religious leaders to stand up for social justice. Historically, the African-American church has served as a base for those in our community who have fought against tyranny in the forms of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK and many other assaults on black equality. One is left to wonder how our churches have devolved into the sorry state in which we find them today - helmed by men and women who have given up on the constant struggle for black progress and have opted instead for self-service. Men and women who seek not to educate and empower their congregations, but to fleece them. Nowadays, black church leaders certainly seem to excel at this, but when an opportunity presents itself to stand against economic injustice, these guys are too busy Scrooge McDuckin' it to notice.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind trading most of these pulpit coin counters for monks. Monks are well-regarded, and for good reason. They are sincere and live by the simplest of means. Conversely, our church leaders seem to drip with duplicity and pretension. Many can only be counted on to support their own interests. Some of you will refer to the Big Two. But we really can't count the contributions of Al 'Slick' Sharpton and Jesse 'Baby Daddy' Jackson because, well, let's face it, neither of those dudes strikes me as the selfless type. Everything that they do seems to have them at the center of it. Jesse Jackson launched his career based on a rather despicable lie having to do with his wearing a shirt soaked with the blood of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Al rode his way to fame on the back of the dissembling Tawana Brawley. More recently, Jesse Jackson helped conceive a love child in-between marriage counseling sessions with the Clintons. Al Sharpton, dauntless in his quest to become a poor man's Jesse, ran for president with the help of a nasty little Republican Svengali. These transgressions are bad enough but to top everything off, these chumps don't even have a church. When was the last time you heard anybody say, "One of the things I want to do when I come to visit you is get up early and go to Jesse Jackson's church."

But, even those Men-of-God who do have a church generally come with a ton of unseemly extras. By most accounts, Bishop TD Jakes, through his Potter's House charities and other philanthropic endeavors, has really done some genuine good. But the brother also has an affinity for posh mansions, diamond pinky rings and Bentleys. Sure, it was awfully magnanimous of him to dig between his sofa cushions and offer six thousand dollars to the Jena 6 Defense Fund but one gets the feeling that he just as easily could have spent the money on a couple of tie clips.

Another prominent preacher, the good Reverend Creflo Dollar (I do not possess the imagination to make that name up) advocates "Prosperity Christianity," preaches that true belief will be rewarded with material success, and owns three private jets.

Fast Eddie Long, the Georgia-based pastor who unflinchingly said, "I am looked at as one of the church's fathers. One of God's CEOs," created a charity that netted him over 3 million dollars income over a three-year period.

Then there's the "Prophetess" Juanita Bynum, who apparently couldn't predict that her husband would confuse himself with Ike Turner and who will, undoubtedly, write a profitable little book in the very near future about her ability to spiritually stave off an attack.

A friend of mine thinks I'm just being pointlessly mean for criticizing people like TD Jakes. She even defends him by arguing that most of his discretionary income comes from TD Jakes Enterprises, which produces books, (with titles like, Woman, Thou Art Loosed! and He-Motions) albums and movies. My rebuttal is always pretty simple. If Jesus were here, He wouldn't be CEO of JESUS, Inc. He wouldn't wear outlandish five-piece suits or gaudy jewelry. He wouldn't drive a Bentley or a Rolls Royce. He wouldn't have his own private jet. He wouldn't live in a mansion. WWJD? Not this. If you disagree with me you're either doing so out of spite or you've missed the entire point of Christianity - which is, of course, to be Christ-like: humble, obedient, steadfast, unworldly. It's relatively simple. To those Christians who don't think any of this is a big deal, consider this: If you're constantly distracted by moneymen like Jakes, perhaps you won't notice when the genuine article finally comes back around. Perhaps because you've spent so many years being led by Offering Plate Pastors who treat spirituality like a commodity, you'll find him too plain and pedestrian.

The thing is, I don't necessarily knock people for going to church. It's easy to figure out why they do it. Most go because it makes them feel good. Apparently, waking up early on Sundays, listening to choirs churn out the same songs and hearing a lavishly-dressed preacher loudly re and/or misinterpret a couple of already-familiar passages from the Bible while he theatrically wipes sweat from his brow is soul nourishing. Hey, to each his own. I just don't think it's a good sign when we can walk past the First Baptist ATM machine and not bat an eyelash.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 21, 2007

On Black Thursday, OJ, Idiocy and Mos Def..

Apparently, black clothes, 90 degree temperatures and a slick perm aren't as combustible a combination as I'd imagined..

As before, when I felt compelled by both internal and external pressures to comment about Mike Vick and D.L. Hughley, I'm now feeling the urge to provide feedback on a series of current events. I'll try to convey each of these opinions as succinctly as possible, mainly because my mother-in-law, who reads my blog regularly, can't seem to make it beyond four paragraphs.

1) I think that yesterday's Jena Six Rally was a tremendous symbolic success.

Some have likened it to the great marches on Selma although this is a bit much (for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Selma had MLK and Hosea Williams and Jena had Al Sharpton and Michael Baisden). I do believe, however, that we did very well.
First, we sent a considerable message, not only to the powers that be in Jena, Louisiana, but to the the American justice machine as a whole - an APB with a single idea. Namely, that black people will not sit idly by while biased enforcers of the "law" attempt to destroy our children's lives with 'the stroke of a pen.'
Second, the young brothers that were railroaded know with certainty that their people have their backs. Can you imagine how they felt (if they were allowed to see it on television) when they witnessed their town being besieged by a throng of that magnitude, responding to their predicament and saying simply, "This won't do?"
Finally, and less importantly, any time hundreds of thousands of African-Americans can be convinced to wear black as a sign of solidarity (in extreme heat!) that's got to count for something. I saw a significant number of purposefully ebony-clad black folks (albeit, mostly women) at both my job and my school. I'll be honest, it made me put my cynicism temporarily on the back burner.

2) I just can't figure out why "they" won't leave OJ alone.

There he was, in Las Vegas, Nevada, undoubtedly on the trail of the elusive Real Killers of his brutally murdered ex-wife and her lover, when somebody, probably connected with the LAPD, set him up (again). I mean, really, does OJ strike you as the kind of dude who would show up to a hotel room with a couple of goons and start making like a tough guy? Did you listen to the audio of the alleged robbery? Sounds more like Tony Soprano than OJ. I mean, who records themselves being stuck up anyway? I tell you what: I'm really going to start losing my confidence in our justice system if shit like this keeps happening to Orenthal.

3) "Don't tase me, Bro!"

Surely you've seen it by now. The video of the student being taken down and tasered by police shortly after he broke up a John Kerry town hall speech with a few "inappropriate" questions. I've had a ton of people ask my opinion about this episode. Are you ready? Here it is: that kid deserved every bit of that taser. Maybe I feel that way because he reminds me of the self-absorbed, self-righteous assholes with whom I attended undergrad. Or maybe it's because people are attempting to liken the situation of this assumably privileged nincompoop to that of those who are regularly harassed by the police simply because they are poor and/or non-white. Or maybe it's because this guy was indeed resisting arrest. Or maybe it's because he was hamming it up and trying to make a free speech martyr of himself. OR maybe it's because he ignored rules two, five and six of Chris Rock's PSA, "How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police." At any rate, NO ONE should mistake a legitimately applied taser to this. And finally...

4) Yes, I did see Mos Def on Real Time with Bill Mayer.

Yes, I had been looking forward to it. Yes, he did sound like an uneducated, paranoid, pseudo-revolutionary idiot. Yes, he did waste a golden opportunity to represent hip hop in a positive manner. No, I am not supplying you with a link to this travesty. Find it yourself if you're so inclined.

To Brenda: I'm sorry I ran a little long. If you've made it this far I promise I'll treat you to dinner.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 07, 2007

Nigger Doesn't Live Here Anymore

This African-American might as well start looking for a new job right now.

Apparently, not even black people can use the "N-word" anymore.

That's what Eddie "Undercover Brother" Griffin found out during a performance at a Black Enterprise Magazine sponsored event in Doral, Florida last week. Griffin, who's built his career on embracing and fleshing out embarrassing racial stereotypes, was pulled off of the stage after repeatedly dropping the N-bomb in front of a crowd presumably comprised predominately of middle and upper middle class black folks. This episode comes fresh on the heels of the NAACP holding a mock funeral for the word. I guess Eddie didn't get the memo.

Wow. OK. My first reaction to this news was wishing I could have been there to see the look on Eddie Griffin's face. PRICELESS, I'm sure. He's probably still wondering what he did wrong. 'What kind of topsy-turvy world am I inhabiting,' he must be saying to himself, 'when I can't repeatedly refer to my fellows as n-words?' My second reaction was wondering what the hell the organizers of the event were expecting. I mean, they booked him right? I can't imagine him just happening to be there, milling around in the crowd, and deciding to jump on stage and nigger it up, for lack of a better description. Hadn't they seen any of his stand up? Did they find him in the yellow pages? Were they expecting him to pull out a sledgehammer and start smashing watermelons? Honestly, I almost feel sorry for Eddie Griffin. For going on two decades he's been allowed, no encouraged (rewarded with money, fame, movie roles, etc.) for doggedly sticking to his routine. He's never bothered evaluating himself about his usage of the word, or any of his other coonery, because, for one, he hasn't had to and for two, he's not a top-tier comedian.

All of the great stand-up geniuses, at one time or another, come to a point at which they question their own integrity. The dearly departed Richard Pryor, in whose godly image current black comedians have unsuccessfully attempted to mold themselves, went to Africa at the height of his popularity, came back home, publicly retired the word from his vocabulary, and said simply "I didn't see any niggers in Africa." Chris Rock, whose penetrating, Bring The Pain routine, "Black Folks versus Niggers," regenerated his career in the mid-'90s, decided that he would no longer perform it because he feared it was being misinterpreted. Most recently, Dave Chappelle, the man whom Pryor said reminded him most of himself, completely abandoned his show once he began feeling that some (himself included) were confusing his art with minstrelsy. Ironically, in Griffin's best work, DysFunktional Family, he pays homage to Pryor and refers to him as the greatest comic of all time. Yet, apparently, although Griffin was heavily influenced by his idol, he and other black comics of his generation failed to pick up on one of Richard Pryor's most important lessons.

One More Thing: In this Post-Nigger World of mock funerals, bum-rushed comics and almost daily Al Sharpton grandstanding, I can't help but wonder if we're fighting the wrong battle. I know, of course, the power of hate words. They are, as Saul Williams articulated "shards of metal DROPPED from eight story windows." But I'm still left cold by this suddenly amped up movement to cull the word from our collective vocabulary and cast it down the memory hole. Perhaps it's because it seems to be yet another way for the black middle/upper middle class - who're at the heart of this campaign - to police the actions of the people beneath them. Maybe it's the dull realization that eliminating the n-word won't put the kibbosh on white people's usage of it. Or maybe it's because, as Breez (she's brilliant, check her out) puts it, "Zero tolerance almost always equates to zero Negro tolerance." Just ask Eddie Griffin.

Labels: ,

Technorati Tags: ,
Add to: | Technorati | Digg | | Yahoo | BlinkList | Spurl | reddit | Furl | Technorati Tags: , , ,