Okay, here's a truth that's hard for me to admit: no matter how much this good liberal would wish it to be otherwise, I remain a part of the deeply-rooted, systemic racism that continues to do discredit to this country--and, I believe, to our entire human species.
I first discovered this disturbing truth a good number of years ago, when I received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for a study of the work of the artist Charles White and soon discovered that none of the conventional tools of academic study I'd learned in graduate school applied to the research even on a distinguished African American artist. White's considerable body of work had been largely ignored by critics publishing in the national art journals. There was virtually nothing in the way of serious literature about him in the art libraries. I discovered that if I wanted to know much about the man and his work, I would need to travel throughout the country to meet with those who knew him, and with the handful of almost exclusively African American enthusiasts who collected his work. Virtually all the history was oral.
I am rediscovering the same truth many years later as I put together this collection of "boyhood memories." The fact that I have managed to attract only a handful of African American men to the project is surely a rather sad reflection of who I am and my circle of acquaintances. As I publish today's entry, I ask for the help of my readers in attracting more.
This story will still, I am sure, be all too familiar to African American men who possess the education, the experience, and the qualifications for a job, but who are passed over for reasons that are never allowed to be explicitly stated. The fact the Byron Barker's story happened many years ago does not, sadly, make it irrelevant today.
by Byron Barker
Some fifty plus years ago, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. Having had some problems with a couple of classes, I was proud to have graduated with above acceptable grades. And I was ready to be challenged by the work place, having worked in numerous jobs, e.g. house cleaning, assistant to a very special caterer, working in women’s garment industry, as well as head of the Cal Berkeley cafeteria dish-washing department.
I responded to an ad in the local paper for a job that looked promising for the future. I submitted my application for the job, and was contacted for an interview. Appropriate dress would be important to make a positive impression at this initial interview. I was already confident that the resumé and application would be well received.
I wore a suit and tie to the anticipated interview for the open position. I arrived at the office of the company and seated myself so as to be readily available to the interviewer. There were about nine or ten applicants, and the interviews proceeded accordingly. Finally, only one other candidate and I were left in the waiting room.
When the time came, the interview room door opened. The interviewer immediately passed me by and went across the room to the other candidate and said, “Mr. Barker, it is a pleasure to meet you.” With an expression of surprise, the other candidate said, “I’m sorry, but I am not Mr. Barker.”
Since I was the only other candidate in the room, the interviewer approached me and asked me to follow him for the interview. Needless to say, he was somewhat perplexed and not sure how to proceed. Nevertheless, at the end, he thanked me for the interview and said he would call.
It was clear to me that being black meant that I was not going to be the candidate who would be hired. And incidentally, no call ever occurred.