I should change my name to Herman Garfunkel, and say I went to Yale.
The American job market has been a cruel, twisted game for the last two years. I have fallen from great heights. Well. At least they seemed like great heights from my modest perspective. They certainly do from today’s perspective. As I approach this topic, I understand that my thoughts and feelings will be read by people considering me for one job or another—people who hold the power of life and death over me. But that’s fine, because after this long, I’m tired.
I’m tired of expending time and effort jumping through undignified hoops that pull me further and further from what is essential to my life. I’m frustrated at having my competency, education, and character judged on a whim and out of context. I fear that my fourth well-researched and detailed job application of the day may be rejected, because in spite of the relevant content, I didn’t notice a sentence missing an article in the cover letter. It is an irritating thought.
The application wasn’t one for a writing or editing position, either. I’m simply applying for restaurant industry work. As long as we don’t count the volunteer kitchen work in high school or the few months at McDonalds in my early twenties, I have no relevant restaurant experience. Let’s talk about that.
This is apparently a very big problem. I spend a lot of time gleefully cooking in my kitchen. My coffee ritual is consistent and essential to the maintenance of my cultural identity and sense of self. But I haven’t been paid to make food (well, not officially, anyway). A decade of work experience interacting with the public, charming people, and learning about how they think and what they feel? Irrelevant. Why? Because I didn’t have a plate of food in my hand while doing that? Is that the message?
Adding value to customer experiences comes naturally to me and I have work history and references to prove it. People will tell you this is the tough part of the job. I have that part down. My experience comes from hotel guest services at luxury properties that are just as fast paced as the most popular five-star restaurants. The work is multi-dimensional, requiring problem solving and time management skills as well as “people” skills. You have your hands in everything—everything—that happens at the hotel. You are the contact between guests and a staff of dozens of people in various departments. I have not faced a more demanding job in all of my varied work experience. I don’t find the prospect of being a server the least bit intimidating. It’s more of a relief. It’s a simplified version of my old job.
I can’t wrap my head around why the restaurant industry insists on so much experience for their low-wage positions, in practices and techniques that might take a person a couple of weeks to learn, and a couple of months to get good at. I can learn to use an espresso machine, and I’m excited about it because it’s relevant to my cultural expression as a person of Cuban heritage. I can learn to use restaurant ePOS software, which can’t be any more complicated than hotel property management software. I actually want some experience in food service, because I envision making Cuban food for the public as a form of cultural expression, one day.
What’s the deal, here? It doesn’t seem like anyone is even willing to hire me as a busser. What, exactly, does it take to be qualified for this?
It’s great that this seemed to work well for people, especially since Baltimore especially sucks at social equality and… well, not being racist. However, I’m cringing for a few reasons.
One is the cultural impression propagated here that “Life in the Suburbs” should be idealized in general. Baltimore is a specific case and I can’t imagine these conditions can be easily replicated just anywhere. I hate headlines.
Another is that on some level, this seems somewhat… well, racist. Money obviously isn’t invested in the needs of these inner-city communities, but no expense is spared in exporting members of those communities to “whiter” neighborhoods and acclimating them to life in these places. The message seems to be that black communities and their culture aren’t valuable enough to deserve investment, but black families are worth the investment when they can be assimilated into white communities.
To be fair, the program was designed in the mid-nineties as a response to a lawsuit Baltimore lost for virtually corralling people on housing assistance in poor-neighborhoods. It was before new-urbanism and specifically addressed the need for that population to have greater access to housing. I get it.
And yes, pragmatically, being able to take advantage of well-funded schools and et cetera in these neighborhoods is a great thing for the program participants. And, introducing some diversity to these suburbs can be a good thing. Drop in the bucket on both counts, though. I have doubts that anywhere near enough African Americans are being helped for an impact on the greater community to be felt, and nowhere near enough of them are moving into suburbs to make an impact on the culture of those suburbs.
So, I guess what really bothers me is that this is a program implemented because of legal obligation to address a specific need, and this author dresses it for some reason as if it was a uppercut in the fight against poverty. It wasn’t designed to address systemic poverty or racism. But people will read this and move on believing that black people need to be assimilated and saved from themselves. The careless, perhaps naive, and maybe ignorant writing in this piece is exactly the kind of thing that will reinforce erroneous cultural beliefs about black communities.