As I've been searching for a job, I've applied for many different positions in several different places: from teaching to nanny, from receptionist to research associate, from server to hotel concierge. I've got the skills and the ability to do any and all of those jobs. In more than one way I've felt myself hampered not by my skills- if anything, the fact that I'm willing to do any kind of work should help me- but by the attitudes of my friends (hardly) and family (profoundly) when I discuss with them my applications and why I choose to do so. And it ain't just them. This, I think, may just be a community-wide thing.
Let me go back into history to explain why this is such a bigole pain. My great-grandmother is still alive, and almost 90 years old. She is amazing. As far as I understand, she barely finished school, and never went to college. She's literate, but her handwriting, though cursive, isn't exactly refined. She doesn't use it in her line of work.
She was a domestic worker- a cook and sometime housekeeper- for all of her working life. Then, during her retirement, she would take care of some of my cousin's kids until they were school-aged, which allowed said cousin to work. She still tells stories of the times when she would cook for these rich white descendants of plantation owners, how they'd act toward her, and how proprietary she felt toward them. They might have felt she was theirs, but in reality things were more the other way around.
My great-grandmother only had one child, my Grandpa (not to be confused with Grandpa Earl), and through that line especially I've learned the importance and pride not only in hard work, but in a craft and service - the combined abilities to use your hands well and to use that for the benefit of a community. Ain't no shame in being a domestic or blue collar worker. This is a big part of my worldview. It wasn't always- I was really trained to it in purpose and example.
So we know that my family, especially on my mother's side, should see no problems with service work or manual/blue collar work, because it is an honored tradition for us. With me so far?
The other line I get from my family is that of constantly improving yourself and your station through education. My father's life is the big lesson on that topic- I remember his college graduation quite well, because I watched him walk across the stage. In MY lifetime, he's gone from being janitor to air-conditioning repairman, both blue-collar, to working in computer analysis for the government- very very white collar. So I also get this sense that the only reason to get an education is to help you improve your class station and get that high-payin' job. Not just for the education itself or to raise the level of education in your race or class or community, but for the monetary rewards. You pay for it so it can pay for itself. I understand this. And I do agree that education in this country, expensive as it is and can be even for academically gifted people, isn't worth the money you spend if you can't earn enough to pay the loans back OR do what really makes you happy.
Then there's the fact that economically, black people stand to lose a great deal because of entitlement attitudes and lowering education and employment levels. The public education system of this country was made to turn out educated LABOR so the country can run. The US already in trouble with companies exporting labor and service positions because they're cheaper and in a lot of cases people don't kick up too much dust when asked to actually do some work. Of course those same companies can get away with a lot more abuse, but that's another entry. My point here is that as part of a community that doesn't have all that much to begin with my reality is that you have to do with what you have, or you won't have anything. If I have no job and many skills, then I should apply as many places as possible so I'll get some job somewhere, and work from there. If I want to work my way up the ladder I can start after I have a way to fill my mouth and sleep warmly at night.
Still with me?
The reason for my frustration of late is that every time I mention that I've applied for a nannying or concierge or waitressing position, I get insta-commentary from family members and certain friends to the point that I should NOT be trying for that kind of job, that I have a college degree and that I'd be wasted there. In essence,that I'm above such things. It is that attitude that has me soooo frustrated. For example, in two different conversations I had yesterday, I had someone first question whether or not I was trying to be in the hospitality industry, and then, in a later conversation, point out that immigrants have such great chances now because they take the low-paying and manual jobs that
black people are too proud to take anymore, like cooks or janitors or agricultural jobs. (The incidents in Herndon, VA, were on the news, and we went into a discussion about that, just to give some context.) Same person, not an hour between both statements. I'm not even really angry about it anymore, but it does have me thinking.
My question is, can we have it both ways? Because as a BLACK Gen-xer (I think- or am I Generation Next? My parents are baby boomers, but I digress), I know, in my heart, that my family and community want simply the very very best for me and my generation. I mean, we're only one step- sometimes two- from the time when being a pullman porter or a teacher was the MOST prestigious job someone in the Black community could have! People were blacksmiths and subsistence farmers and construction workers and carpenters and were proud of their honest work. When we lose that pride in our work we lose work period. I don't know a single soul who can afford that, black, red, brown, yellow or white.
At the same time, it only contributes to a great level of frustration and confusion to tell me, as an educated person, that I'm too good to be a teacher or a front-desk person. Am I really too good for anything? Dont' get me wrong. I really want a great, high-paying job. I want to get the education so I can have it. But on the way there, I don't see a thing wrong with being an educated nanny or service worker. I know that it may be a stop on the way, but not the last place I go, either. I'm not going to take being condescended to , and I'm not going to be ashamed because I have a BA and a blue-collar job. And I also know that I'll end up as an executive officer or a doctor if that's what I want. We've got to stop holding ourselves to a double standard. Because what we're holding onto is our own progress. Let it go!
Now. I know I'm not the only person who has had this thought, so please holla back... and I dont' care if you're black or not! I just want thoughts.