Being 'the Black Guy'

Black men are still under-represented in the work world

guess it’s always been this way, but over the last few years I’ve really begun to feel like no one hires Black men. Master’s degree or GED, it’s all the same. It’s very reminiscent of the days immediately following slavery when it was best to get in with some “good white folk” that liked you in order to have steady work.

As I walk up South Street in Philadelphia near where I grew up, I see that every restaurant has Mexicans working there. When I was young, every single one of those places had Black men cooking for the patrons. While I have no problem with Mexicans finding work, I can't help but to feel like a Black man couldn’t get a job now in some of those spots even if he had 20 years of experience. They don’t want him; and just to make that clear, much of the time, the “Help Wanted” signs are in Spanish.

Just as Asian businesses seem to only employ Asian people, perhaps Black businesses should do the same. Yet it feels like even those companies tend to stay away from male hires. Women are good, but men can forget it. When you stop by a Black-owned business, you are usually greeted by a woman, further helped by another woman, and then when the boss comes out to see what’s going on, it will be yet a third woman.

I believe the problem is that people don’t want Black men in their place of business simply because of the images on TV. There is no need to rehash here the way brothers are portrayed in the media and how that affects everyone else’s perception of us. Most people – at least one’s that are doing the hiring anyway – think that a Black man is one reprimand away from beating up the boss and/or taking hostages and waiting to shoot it out with the police. 

If they don't think that, then they certainly think we’re lazy, won't show up on time (or at all) and will be unmanageable. Rather than deal with all of that drama, they’ll just hire a Black woman so that no one can say they don't hire Black people.

Once a Black guy finds a job, there are other challenges…physical and mental.

Don’t believe there are physical problems? I worked in advertising at a big corporation in Manhattan years ago. It is located in a modern high-rise building, but that posed a unique problem. The air-conditioning. The climate inside the office was fine all winter, but once the summer rolled around, the air-conditioning must have been set to “arctic,” because the cold was unbearable. The air conditioning would cause my nose to run and force all of the Black people to use portable space heaters in our offices… in July.

Other things work on your mental stability. When I was an editor at the website for one of the country’s major sports leagues, I was the only Black person there. As each new employee came in, I noticed that a veteran worker or a supervisor would take the new person under their wing and initially guide them along and ultimately look out for them down the road. No one did that for me. Soon, they began promoting people over me who were clearly less-experienced in the field than I was.

Then there are the politics. I couldn't always talk openly about my opinions. For instance, when Michael Vick was first arrested, I remember this woman aproaching me to talk about “what an a*shole” Vick was. I couldn't really get into it with her because I knew I was the only one in the office in support of Vick.

Another time when I mentioned to a white co-worker that no Black people were working there besides me, his response was, “What do you mean? There are plenty of minorities working here.” He then rattled off the names of all the White women in the office.

That brings us back to the politics. You see, as far as I’m concerned, white women are not a “minority.” They don’t seem to have trouble finding work and last I checked, they earn more money than Black men.

The bottom line: in 2012, Black men are still under-represented in the work world, which sometimes is, but isn’t always our fault. Until companies that hire get over their negative perception of us and we learn to navigate hostile politics in the workplace (and runny noses in July), this situation won’t change.