In the last few Sundays, I've read several news
stories about the difficulties black men face in America for no reason
other than they are black. For example, The Washington Post began a series called "Being A Black Man"
in June. I read another article two Sundays ago about black men just
"going along to get along," and how it may or may not work.
It made me look at the phenomenon -- known as The Black Tax -- from a personal finance perspective.
Just being black makes it more expensive to live.
An article from the Associated Press called "Black men quietly combating stereotypes," is about adjusting every aspect of their lives just to break even:
"Every day, African-American men consciously work to offset stereotypes about them — that they are dangerous, aggressive, angry. Some smile a lot, dress conservatively and speak with deference: "Yes, sir," or "No, ma'am." They are mindful of their bodies, careful not to dart into closing elevators or stand too close in grocery stores.
It's all about surviving, and trying to thrive, in a nation where biased views of black men stubbornly hang on decades after segregation and where statistics show a yawning gap between the lives of white men and black men. Black men's median wages are barely three-fourths those of whites; nearly 1 in 3 black men will spend time behind bars during his life; and, on average, black men die six years earlier than whites.
Sure, everyone has ways of coping with other people's perceptions: Who acts the same at work as they do with their kids, or their high school friends?
But for black men, there's more at stake. If they don't carefully calculate how to handle everyday situations — in ways that usually go unnoticed — they can end up out of a job, in jail or dead."
So, just being black could cost us clients, promotions and income, regardless of our performance on the job.
I can identify. I'm constantly measuring how I speak. I have a very deep voice and I talk loudly (my grandmother is southern and my mother is a no-nonsense New Yorker. We shout when we talk. That's how we do). I often kick my voice up an octave or two and smile when I speak. I'm over six feet tall and I wear my hair in an afro. When I'm in a suit and heels, I dwarf people. I always try to sit down when I speak to other people or otherwise make myself seem less intimidating. Never mind that I am the least intimidating person I know. My problem is that I'm a cream puff! But I have to go through the motions anyway. It's annoying and frustrating, but it's also a reflex.
I have gotten the look on job interviews. You know, all the interviewer has is your resume. They like it and you get called in. But then you show up and they're flustered.
I like to think that they just weren't expecting me to be so beautiful...
Remember the skit "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong" on Dave Chappelle's show? He played a young, black executive who was successful and well liked on the job until one of his colleagues said something stupid like "Slap me some skin. You're the man!" Seems harmless and innocuous, doesn't it?
Well, the character snapped, started shouting profanity at his supervisors, threw up gang signs and chanted "Wu-Tang!"
Next, he was working at a gas station and living at home with his nasty grandmother.
Silly, maybe, but the point is obvious. People don't understand what we have to put up with and keep smiling like nothing happened. Everybody has their difficult situations and co-workers who drive them nuts, but for us it's ratcheted up a notch. Even if we play it cool, and most of us do, it still hurts us and there's no guarantee that years of good behavior will pay off. We're the only people who worry about losing our jobs or credibility when another black person does something stupid whether we had anything to do with them or not.
I have been very blessed. I have not had a problem getting the jobs I want. I haven't been hindered at work. But I think that makes me an exception, not the rule. You have to start wondering how much more money could you be making if all things were actually equal...