Is Your Resume Too Black?

March 7, 2013  |  

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When I first moved to New York, my life was the epitome of struggle. I was living in a two bedroom, mouse-ridden apartment with my cousin and a strange, attractive, but eccentric man who, as far as I could tell, only drank apple juice. Unemployed, I spent everyday in somebody’s library using the free wi-fi to look for a job.

There was a library in the Bronx that had a career counseling center and my cousin suggested we speak to someone. Honestly, I thought I was a bit above it. I’d seen career counselors in college and talked to enough professionals in my field to feel like I knew what I was doing. But often times when you don’t have a job, you inevitably find yourself doing things you once felt were beneath you, out of either boredom or desperation. So, there we were sitting in the career counselor’s office.
Even though, I wasn’t too keen on speaking to a counselor, she made me feel comfortable. She was one of those witty, old black ladies who never realized the Jheri curl phase had ended. With wire-rimmed glasses, fading lipstick and Delta Sigma Theta paraphernalia around her office, she seemed like a woman who had been around, seen a lot and didn’t have time to waste if you weren’t serious. Though she was clearly no nonsense, I could tell that she was genuinely interested in helping us. Before, my cousin and I had said a word, she asked us, in a moment of sheer clairvoyance, whether we were happy with our living situation. Though, it was nice to know that someone cared, I did not want complete strangers to know that we were living in squalor. We had to do something different. And if she was perceptive enough to know our struggle, perhaps she also knew where we could get jobs.

First, she asked what it was that I wanted to do. Then she asked to see my resume.

She didn’t like it…for several reasons. The header was too bold. Not professional. I needed to explain more succinctly and highlight the contributions I’d made at these various organizations. Take this off. Add that. Expand that. She had plenty of suggestions. Some I took with a grain of salt, some I implemented; but one really threw me off.

When she got down to the list of my college activities, she noticed that I’d included National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). She weighed her words carefully before saying, “Now, I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but you might want to take this off. You don’t necessarily want people to know your race before you come in for an interview.”  She went on to say that though she was very proud to be a Delta, she didn’t have it on her resume.

At first I was shocked. Then I tried to find a polite way to say there was no way in hell I was going to take that off my resume.

NABJ had meant far too much to me. In high school, my city’s local chapter had selected me to participate in a journalism workshop for high school students. When the piece I wrote won second place, I knew not only what I wanted to do with my life, but that I was good at it. In college, our chapter of NABJ was the very first student organization that welcomed me into its membership. They connected me to people and resources who made it possible for me to maintain my sanity in the highly competitive, immensely stressful, predominately white environment that was my university and the journalism school specifically. As I progressed in college, I decided to serve on our chapter’s executive board, devoting hundreds, if not thousands of hours, working for our members, the way the alumni had worked for me. Beyond the work I put in, members of NABJ became my family on campus. When I questioned, again, whether or not I was pursuing the right major, it was participating NABJ’s Student Projects at the National Convention that let me know that my passion had not changed and neither should my major. When I graduated from college, instead of kicking it at my parent’s house the whole summer, NABJ awarded me a paid internship at MSNBC. I said paid.

The organization had invested entirely too much in me for me to start acting ashamed now. And beyond that, I am black. Even if I hid that fact on my resume, when I walked my black behind in for the interview, the cat would be out the bag. Though many have tried, for centuries, to convince me otherwise, being black is an asset and not a liability. I wasn’t going to remove the blackness from my resume just like I wasn’t going to purchase a wig to cover my afro, as my mother had suggested. That’s a story for another day but the sentiment is the same. I wanted then and I always want to work for companies who not only know, but celebrate the fact that I’m a black woman.

I told her I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that and shortly after, made the decision that I no longer needed her services.

And about two months later, black me with my black resume got a temp job at a “white” company and then later a job at a black one.

What do you think about removing indicators of race from your resume?

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