So I was reading the new chimamanda book 'Americanah' and I found myself thinking of the many racist/racially demeaning things that have happened to me in my working life.
One event clearly stands out in my mind as the moment where I felt truly black . Not that I have never known what color I was :-) but my naive self had always thought that capability transcended race and it didn't matter what color you were if you knew how to get the job done. How wrong I was...
Several years ago, I had applied for several part time telephone help-desk jobs towards the end of the year to suppliment my income as Christmas came by. Anyone who knows me would know my voice is one of my most unique features so I usually got jobs like this quite easily. From travelling around with my mother as a kid, I did not have a 'specific' accent as such and most people thought I was American as I say pants, trunk and color in the American way.
One of the customer service agencies called me for a telephone interview, which I passed with high praise. She asked if I could come in for a face-to-face interview the next day....I was free. I said yes.
The next day, dressed, prepped and on time, I sat in the waiting room with 10 other hopefuls. The only other dark skinned person was an Indian man who started a conversation with me. By his accent I assumed he was from Birmingham as he had quite a distinct birmy tone.
The interviewer would call out our names by the door and we went in one by one. Mark (my new Indian friend) went in but was out rather quickly. Seems it didn't go too well but he was'unsuitable' whatever that meant...
It was my turn and I walked in....she looked up (I never knew her name) and she positively jumped in her chair....she looked down at the stack of papers in front of her and said in an irritated voice 'No, I asked for Valerie Kerri...'
Her face visibly fell as I told her that that was my name....and she was a little flustered as she asked me to sit down. She half-heartedly asked me a few questions but said at the end that she didn't think I was suitable. My anger was slow to grow and I was able to ask the Secretary outside what she thought I did wrong. The secretary said she had no idea but she knew that they had recently closed thier offshore customer service sites in India, as people were complaining about non-UK call centres.
As I walked away I wondered if the interviewer knew that Indian and African people didn't all automatically have weird indecipherable names and accents, were not all fresh illigal immigrants and most importantly seeing as I would be on the PHONE, my skin color was the least of her problems.
After that experience, over the years I started noticing things a little bit more when it comes to race. Or maybe I just got paranoid. Whatever it may be I have still got to ask myself...'is it cos I am black?