Graduating from USC with a degree in industrial engineering never could have prepared me for the racism I would face living in Orange County, CA. In fact, my education at USC did the exact opposite. I moved in diverse circles, chatted with folks from all over the world on a daily basis, and even though I was born in a predominantly black area in Oakland, CA, I had pretty much become accustomed to racial heterogeneity. There were tons of people like me on campus and in Los Angeles. Then I got my first job at a popular theme park and everything changed.
I was 22. It was my first job. I loved the company and intended to be there until I retired. I had pretty much worshipped the brand since I was a small child. I basically came in both wide-eyed and with my eyes wide shut at the same time.
I was the only person of color on my team, but that didn’t bother me. It actually seemed like an asset at first. Being black with an engineering degree drew people to want to know more about me. No doubt they thought I was some kind of exception -– even though I really wasn’t. I enjoyed it nonetheless. I was more than happy to show my analytical ability in just about every scenario I found myself in. I was confident.
I had an older peer, about 60, who had been at the company for 40 years. He was a pretty nice man. He made jokes about everything and knew the theme park like the back of his hand. Our jobs required that we work in close proximity to one another. He was a white male who, as he got more comfortable with me, frequently used the term “cholo” as an adjective. He found great amusement in the Spanish-speaking staff on campus. I never said anything. It was the combination of a fear of ruffling feathers, desperation to have a paycheck for my growing family, and acquiescence to authority that silenced me.
One day we had some downtime in the office. We were chatting about life at the park. He started,” I have been here a very long time.”
I was eager to hear more.
“You know, when I first got here, you had to be dressed up to go into the park. All the receptionists, hostesses, and food workers were these tall, thin white women.”
He chuckled. I did too.
Then he pointed at me and said, “And, ‘Africans’ -– like yourself –- they would never have been allowed to work front of house. They had to stay in the kitchens.”
I froze. I had no idea where this was going next, but I was already hurt. I just stood there and plastered a smile on my face.
Read the full article at xoJane.