THE BLOG

Being Black While Unemployed

04/01/2015 08:50 am ET | Updated May 27, 2015

I moved to Omaha, NE almost two years ago. I was told this was the Come Up state. Meaning, if you needed a job then this is the place to be. If you need to start a business then this is the place to be. The streets are lined with gold. Well, after my father became ill, and I was unable to find a job in New York, I decided to move here. I gave up the expensive, city life. A friend of mine and I decided to room together to save money.

I begin my job search with the reputable companies -- ConAgra Foods, Cintas, Mutual of Omaha and Nebraska Furniture Mart. I also signed up with many of the temporary employment agencies. I began the task of looking for a job. I was aware beforehand that Omaha is very white and very conservative. But, I just knew my experience, work history and charm would win over the staunchest racist.

I am in my forties but I don't look it. I have locks but I always pull them back in a professional bun. I am very well spoken and highly intelligent. I am dressed smartly. My hygiene is impeccable. I am smiling, pleasant and polite to the receptionist. I always arrive early or on time. Currently I am temping with one of the biggest employers in Omaha but my position will be ending in May. I have been very aggressive in looking for another job. Coincidentally, I would not have gotten this job had it not been for an African American woman in a position of power who saw my potential and abilities.

I have been looking for over 6 months. I have been told I was too ambitious. What does that even mean?! I've been told I interview very well and am very likeable but wouldn't be a good fit. I have been told that I was perfect for the job but they thought I would be bored. Wouldn't that be something for me to determine?! Basically I am what they need but not quite what they want. I have to wonder why. If I interview well, what is it exactly?!

During one interview I was asked a question and while answering the interviewer spoke over me to ask the next question. This went on for more than 20 minutes. It was as if she had already made up her mind and she was just going through the motions. During another interview I was left waiting in the reception area for 40 minutes. During another interview I was told that the customer service department would probably be a better fit for me. I just want to be clear I have no problem with customer service positions. But, the problem was the position I was interviewing for had a starting salary of $16.75 an hour. The customer service position I was offered started at $9.50 an hour. Why would I be better suited for a lesser paying job?! Would they have said this to a white candidate?!

With so much rejection it's very difficult to remain positive. Looking for a job can be devastating to your confidence. You begin to question everything. Is it my resume?! Is there too much or too little work history?! Did I not smile enough?! Do they think I would eventually want their job?! Is it the locks?! Is it my gender?! Is it my age?! Or, as is always a question in the back of my mind, is it because I'm Black?! IS IT BECAUSE I'M BLACK IN A VERY WHITE, CONSERVATIVE TOWN?!

When I look at the working demographic here in Omaha I find many Blacks and people of color are in service positions. We clean your bathrooms at Mutual of Omaha. We sort and deliver your mail at ConAgra. We are your cashiers at Walmart. We are the school bus drivers for your children. We prepare your food at Burger King and Applebees. We are seated at the security desk at Cintas. We are the customer service agents when you call First National Bank of Omaha. And sadly, these positions probably pay $11 or less an hour. Basically, the higher you go in corporate, the less of us you see. And it's not like we aren't college graduates. I have met a ton of Black folks with Masters who are taking half what they are worth just to make a living.

It's so difficult to determine what the exact reason is when you don't get a job. There are so many things an employer is looking for. For now I'll keep looking for a job. Keep smiling at the receptionists. Keep showering and brushing my teeth prior to my interviews. And I'll keep trying to persuade someone, anyone, that I am more than capable of doing the job. Oh...and did I mention that I'm partial to food and shelter.