Racsim: Alive and Well and Living in America..
I came to live in the US some 24 years ago, in the earnest belief that there would be no racism in this my new country; I believed that this America was the greatest and most free place on earth. Clearly my impression stemmed from the context of an apartheid South Africa and an America subscribing to economic sanctions and boycotts in an attempt to bring the Apartheid regime to its knees. To me that spoke volumes.
Enter me into a racist free America, Los Angeles, 1985- five years before the release of Nelson Mandela. There was nothing more unlikely than the release of Mandela, nothing less likely than a “New South Africa” and least likely an all inclusive constitution and Bill of Rights that would seek to protect all South Africans regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. That was the context of my arrival; preconceived and unlikely…..
I arrived in the US having practiced law in South Africa for the preceding six years. Relieved to find work, after having paid some hard labor dues as all good immigrants do, I found a job and was soon appointed as Director of Legal Affairs for a Property Development Company in downtown Los Angeles.
My boss, stationed in his Beverley Hills enclave, so that he could snort cocaine while directing his downtown employees via speakerphone, asked me to hire a new receptionist for the office. Having placed our ad in the classifieds (no internet at the time) he informed me that he did not want me to hire a “black person.” I was absolutely astounded. Astounded! “This is America where there is no racism,” my naïve little mind endeavored to remind me.
Having left South Africa with the mere dollars allowed by currency control regulations for a new life abroad, I was desperate for this job. My first job was a $5.00 an hour showing people to their seats in a restaurant job. So when I got my important job, albeit the lowest salary in the history of important jobs, I was determined to prove myself and ‘do my time,’ pending the Amrican dream! Never before had I been asked to discriminate in this way. Even though I had lived in South Africa I believed I had escaped the confines of a racism at its worst, however now realizing that at least delineation by law, makes the parameters of one’s existence reliable and clear. “But here in America? How do I do that? What is going on? There is no racism here!”
Saddled with this confounding burden, and so far from the person inside of me; I questioned myself: “do I leave my precious yet disgusting job or do I find a way around this situation?” Here is where my “in the now” persona coupled with own desperation merged, as if one. I decided I would see all applicants for the job, regardless of my mandate and then deal with the choices after I found the best applicants. That would be it! I would simply let it all unfold. This was a perfect solution as far as i was concerned for a procrastinator such as myself – “dont deal now!”
So the interviews commenced. I do not recall how many candidates I interviewed, it was a decent amount. I started the process by choosing the most suitably experienced from the resumes and then called the candidates in for interviews. Mere months in the USA, I had no idea that names could denote race and so retrospectively I know for sure that any form of consciousness around name profiling simply could not have happened.
I narrowed the process down to top three candidates and then spent time making my decision relieved that none were ‘black,’ tereby extinguishing the need to even face the problem my boss had potentially bestowed upon me. I hired a very personable, well qualified young ladyfor the job. Her demenour and qualifications were exactly what would work in our set-up. Darlene (her real name) was perfect – she had a great outward appearance, and was really smart and I truly enjoyed her company. Darlene commenced work and was indeed perfect for the job and she enjoyed a good speaker- phone relationship with the boss who seemed pleased with her work. About three months into her hire the boss decided to bless us with his physical appearance. I will never forget his walking into my office saying, “I thought I told you not to hire a black person!” I was puzzled, Darlene was not black!
I soon learnt a few things. I learnt that black in South Africa and black in America did not always involve the same physical characterizations. In apartheid South Africa there were racial classifications ascribed by law and they were: Black; Colored, Indian and White, and these were indeed significant distinctions in South Africa which was divided by the Group Areas Act, placing us all in separate residential areas. Retrospectively if I were to place Darlene into a South African racial category she would probably have been classified as “colored” but never “black.” In my mind she was not black. So in my ignorance of US racism, I was duped, and my naivety certainly did not help; even if it would have made a difference to my decisions at the time.
Well as time went by, Darlene and I struck up a friendship where we used to confide in each other; she would tell me how her boyfriend drove a Porsche and was constantly being pulled over by LAPD because people of his color were not expected to show up in fancy vehicles. As it turned out Darlene’s boyfriend happened to be the now celebrated rapper, ‘ICE-T.’ The two of them were subject to awful racism in their leasing of apartments and through other forms of racial profiling.
Ironically and lucky for Darlene (and me too), when it came to her job at that time, I was a product of apartheid, where strict racial classification may have served to trip me up; and who knows what I may have done when confronted with losing my precarious survival to racism.
Darlene was a great employee and was even promoted in her tenure. I think as Ice-T became more famous- she left the Company. I left after one year as I had refused to participate in the boss’s -shall I say – “anti-tenant” behavior. I left with no job and no way to survive – but clearly made my way…
As we enter this mileu of profound racial consciousness, here in the US kids are being thrown out of clubs and pools, others are dragging effigies behind vehicles, hate crimes prevail and I can only wonder what will it take for this insiduous behavior to truly change?
Copyright 2009; Melanie Nathan/Oblogdeeoblogda/©
Okay so after I wrote this Blog I went on line looking for links and look at what I found:- an interview with Darlene – whp probably does not know my side of her hiring story. I had no idea it was a fake resume until today….oh for the internet …. Iguess when you read about that ‘nice lady, it must be me -lol- I did not remember Darlene’s last name until I googled her; she probably did not remember any of my name- Melanie Nathan!
“ …..the fall of 1985, she moved to Fullerton (an hour car ride from the city) with her sister and attended a local high school. After three months, she decided this situation wasn’t going to work. Darlene and Ice continued datingduring this time, although distance hindered the frequency of their rendezvous. “I didn’t drive and he didn’t have a car [Ice’s Porsche had just been wrcked], so it was difficult. Sometimes he would borrow a friend’s car or someone would drive him out there. That’s a long way to come to see somebody. When I was ready to leave my sister’s house, One day, I just told him, ‘I’d like to move in with you.’ I don’t know if I just threw myself at him, but he said, “Okay.'”
Ice was still struggling to get signed in the music biz, and there was no real income coming in, so Darlene went out to find a job only to have a chance meeting with a woman who was fascinated with her look. At a graffiti exhibition featuring the work of one Fred Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddy), Darlene was approached by the curator’s wifeand was asked to be the host of the Charmers French Market restaurant she was opening in Santa Monica. The project wouldn’t be finished for months, so Darlene was offered a position as a receptionist at Ace Gallery on Melrose until the restaurant opened. “
I loved it. Ice had just gotten the Porsche together. He’s had that Porsche forever, but it was wrecked and we could only afford to fix it up to a certain point. It had no seatbelt, no headlights, no windshield, no top. So here I am trying to go to work from Hollywood to Santa Monica. One night, I left the job at two in the morning. It was raining and I got my first ticket. I was scared. But I had to do what it took to get to work. The cops were busting two guys, but when they saw that car go by… Here I am, bleached blonde with a headband [in her Madonna phase] driving in the rain with no top, so I’m getting wet. I got no lights, no windshieldwipers. I thought it was too far to be taking the bus, and coming home late was too scary, so I was like, ‘we gotta do something about this.’ That was is. I quit that.
Though Darlene was still very much excited about L.A., things began to get tougher. “I had to get a job because he was persuing his music and, of course, his friends were still out there doing their thing that he stopped doing. There wasn’t any big money at the time, so for him to be doing the music and his friends still making money, it was hard for him. He was totally doing his thing legit and it was hard. I was behind him. I was in love with him. I was excited and thrilled to be here, so I went out and got a job and started going to night school at Hollywood High.”
Family and friends were skeptical of Darlene living with a Black man in big, bad Los Angeles, but she was out to prove that she had evolved beyond the small-town confinement. Since she was already capable of typing 78 words per minute, Darlene, then 20, created a fake resume and landed a job as a receptionist at Sassoony Developing, a company responsible for constructing mini-malls around the metro L.A. erea. “I loved that place because they gave me so much respect. I was the youngest person there and started off as a receptionist. I eventually moved up after a year when the lady who hired me made me her personal secretary. Then I got to hire my own person for the receptionist position. It felt so good. I was excited, like, ‘I’m moving up big time.”
More than meets the eye
ARTICLE Story: Allen S. Gordon
Photography: Roger Erickson
Magazine: Rap Pages – September 1999
http://darlene-ortiz.com/Interview1.htm – full interview.
This entire BLOG was inspired by this in the DAILY BEAST:
Bullying Behind GOP “Racist” Win
by John Avlon
Audra Shay, accused of endorsing racial slurs and hate, was elected to lead the Young Republicans yesterday. More shocking, reveals John Avlon, were the tactics: sexual innuendos, voter intimidation, near-fisticuffs. Read on…..
My Comments: -How do we bring an end to this? We live in the USA for goodness sake. Is our failure to grow beyond the superficiality of hues and complexions a matter of mere education, a matter of poor leadership, a matter of hypocrisy, a devilish evilness disguised by religious conviction in the shadow of its own dogma – what is it? Why is it?
3 thoughts on “Racsim: Alive and Well and Living in America”
Well said, my friend.
I share your sense of frustration as well. It seems simply unbelievable that more that forty years after the Civil Rights Movement, and just seven months after the Obama inauguration, that we still haven’t put this ugly chapter of history behind us. I suppose we can only hope and pray that someday, somehow, we as a people will overcome our differences and learn to live together peacefully. Until then, people like you and me will just have to keep trying. Don’t lose hope.
I haver just updated the article – read
Racism is the great American pastime.