May 16, 2009

Diary of a Mad Black Woman? Double Minority Status and (Un/Under) Employment

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

I recently learned that an acquaintance, Jim, has been unemployed for a while. I don’t know exactly for how long, but this middle-aged white man had held a number of important sounding positions. I don’t know how or why he is now jobless, but he explained that he is still unemployed because he is the wrong race and gender to be hired today. “It’s because I’m not a black J0234700woman,“ he said.

I am. I have a doctoral degree and am the “right" race and gender—a twofer for any employer. They can check off two check boxes that demonstrate their diversity initiative in  action. African/American/black? Check. Female? Check.

In the context of this moment in U.S. history maybe his comment was understandable or excusable. There are currently two songs celebrating “chocolate”: “Chocolate High” and “Chocolate Legs”. And there’s newly elected President Barack Obama. Being black is in, right?

After all of the years of debates about affirmative action and quotas, blacks are preferred, right? All the talk about cultural competence and diversity means that companies are seeking blacks. And as a black woman—and therefore a double minority—I should be solid gold!

So why aren’t folks lined up at the door to hire me? Well, perhaps because I have not been looking for a job. That seems like a pretty good answer. But despite my supposedly ideal race and gender, my research position at a university (supposedly a bastion of liberal leanings) keeps shrinking.

It's not that I’m a terrible employee, which would override my race and gender in order to maintain important academic standards. All of my performance evaluations have been very good. I've also been elected to a departmental council, suggesting that I am also liked and trusted by my peers.

If I’m a good worker, well liked, and black and female, why am I under-employed? I’ve recently been made part-time as some of my grant funded projects have ended. Where are the overtures to me that Jim and others imagine?

In reality, being black and female is no guarantee of employment. Many states are facing their highest unemployment rates in decades. Even in prosperous economic times, unemployment rates among blacks in the U.S. are highest; this same group is being hit harder than whites or Latinos by the current recession. In February, the unemployment rate for whites was 7.3 percent, 10.9 percent for Hispanics, and 13.4 percent for blacks. Why might this be the case? (Think about the industries that have employed large numbers of blacks and those hardest hit by the recession.)

The institute at which I work has three departments and employs about 500 people. (Actually, because of the economic downturn, the institute is now part of a newly formed college that includes five other departments. However, given its newness and my relative unfamiliarity with it, I’m choosing to ignore that for now.) I’m on the faculty in a research position. And in my division, I believe I’m one of two faculty members who are not full-time. At the moment I’m barely over half-time and that is projected to decrease to 35%. (The other person in the department is a white woman who remains much closer to full-time status.) As far as I can tell, of the approximately 85 faculty at the institute, 7 are black; this is less than eight percent black faculty in a city that is more than one quarter black. So there is no clear advantage based on race and gender here.

clip_image002According to the Institute’s Diversity Plan, there is an expectation that “administrative and organizational processes” is evident in "hiring practices (and) staffing patterns". But as my experience demonstrates, this does not mean that there is any advantage to being black and/or female.

I don’t think anybody owes me anything. Well, that’s not quite true. A few people do, but they know who they are and that has nothing to do with employment. I digress. I’ve worked hard to earn everything I have and expect to always be successful. My success is also due to the fact that many people (of all hues and stripes) have gone out of their way to be supportive of me.

It was and is, however, rather odd to bump up against the notion that my race and gender put me in a position of privilege, especially at a time when I am under-employed. I don’t see this privilege in my own lived experiences nor in the statistics of what is occurring to others across the nation. What do you think fuels the notion that black women are forcing white men out of jobs?


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I'm not so sure that the notion in question is quite as prevalent as you make it come across. It sounds more like a case of a little bit of ressentiment than actual belief in the notion.

Good luck returning to full time status, I enjoy your articles. Things may be looking up soon since Obama seems to put a lot more stock into the educational sphere than the previous regime did. Fingers crossed.

Blog Response to Janis Prince Innis on “Dairy of a Mad Black Woman? Double Minority Status and Un/Under Employment”. I think Jim is displacing his struggle due to a lack of work in this economic recession, and wants to put blame on you to compensate and create an excuse for his shame. Everyone is being hit hard in this economy; people of all race and academic background are in this recession together. Perhaps black people of a 13% unemployment rate are being hit harder, but like you said this is probably due to the fact that the companies that employ those workers are the one’s who have been hit hardest and happen to fall in particular demographic areas where perhaps the black population was higher. I can’t imagine why a black woman would be the most privileged in this economy seeing as though that is a double minority standard.

Maybe Jim holds a point that today in this day and age it is about change. It is a strong idea that Obama is our president after all, tables are turning and now more than ever have black people gained equal and superior status and rise. I like to believe however that the job industry does not hire solely based on race, gender, or sex. I would hope to be considered for a job based on my knowledge and experience in the field, and not by the color of my skin and the fact that I’m female.

Cultural competence and diversity also includes Latinos, Europeans, Indians, and Australians. My point is that if a company wanted more cultural competence and diversity, in America there are tons of prospective candidates from all corners of the world to fill these jobs. This by no means gives the cultural advantage simply to blacks, and that does not necessarily mean the woman still would be selected over the man. It’s not about what we look like, rather the charisma we possess, the confidence, the dedication, and the experience we have in the field. This is how to be selected for hire in an economical downfall like the one we are experiencing now.

For a lot of men, not having a job is a threat to their masculinity. When this threat becomes a reality, they often will go into a sort of panic mode and will do and and say all sorts of ridiculous things. It sounds like "Jim" is at least coherent enough to construct a backstory LOOSELY based on current events, as opposed to, say, a " I am on a international blacklist" or a " everyone is afraid of my intellect" type of thing. I'm sure there are some bigger issues at hand here, but I would mostly put these in a "folk belief" "urban myth" category.

I absolutely agree with Hardison: there's definitely a masculinity issue at play here. American social and racial hierarchies are so intertwined, and are contingent on plays of power. What usually isn’t taken into account when addressing the idea of affirmative action, are the social barriers that must be overcome by certain members of society – the invisible ceiling that oppresses certain groups. What makes this implicit bias so potent is inherent in the fact that it is implicit; there is nothing that one could posit is blatantly at fault. In this way, implicit prejudice is that much more sinister than concrete, bigoted laws (rights to vote, marry etc.)

Funny enough, I just posted a similar article on my blog ( today, if anyone is interested in the topic

Race and gender is sitll having an affect on employment. Men are having problems getting jobs now a days too. Jim is a perfect example of a man that doesn't have a job and he is very sterotypical. He says he doesn't have a job because he isn't a black woman. With jobs allready being hard to find everywhere the race and gender issues are not fun to have to be against with all the other issues facing people today. The work force is at a minimum with jobs being avaliable and people dont want to have to deal with other issues.
Jim's masciulinity plays a part in this also. He is too masculint and too pridefull. He reacts to the situation and I think the situation might be a though situation to be in, but everyone is dealing with a job situation right now, in this day and age.

Jim is frustrated by his own situation and trying to figure out how this could have happened to him? He is trying to rationalize the reasons that he has not been successful in landing a new job. By placing the blame on black/females he is rejecting the idea that he is responisible for his lack of employment

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