White voice, black skin, awkward interviews.

Sara Bee
Boston, MA

I have been passing as “white” most of my life–on the phone. People of all stripes seem to have misconceptions about what black people sound like, if their reactions to me in person are any indication. This happens especially at job interviews or when I go to see an apartment. One incident that stands out in my mind happened when I was about 21. I had a phone interview for a good-paying job and spent almost an hour on the phone with two women. I knew I nailed it when I was invited to interview in person. When I went to the company, I checked in with the receptionist and then went to the ladies’ room to make sure the summer heat hadn’t melted off my makeup. Anyway, I went back to the sitting area to wait. I saw a woman peek her head out several times, and then she spoke to the receptionist who pointed to me. The interviewer came over and asked me my name a couple of times, even asking if I was sure if I was who I said I was. I laughed politely and joked, “As far as I know.” We went into her office where we spent less than 10 minutes together. She was cordial but wasn’t as enthusiastic as she had been on the phone. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I’ve had similar reactions when I’ve gone to see apartments but so far, I haven’t been denied a place to live because of it. Whoever thinks we’re living in a post-racial country is fooling him/herself.

 

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