August 17, 2015

A Brief Story About Ethnic Authenticity and Interviews

"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes..." 
-Paul Laurence Dunbar

As a freelancer, your life is filled with meetings, "projects," and temporary deals. Now that my most recent temp. job has come to a close, I have been interviewing and taking meetings, a lot. To make myself stand out, I have re-positioned my college info back to the top. (Hell, I worked hard for that magna cum laude.) However, as an unintentional consequence, my study abroad experience has become a new topic of discussion. While it has always been on my resume (since 2009),  professionally it has only been an honorable mention as the recruiter/hiring manager pours over my credentials. It has never been anything I have had to prep a PC interview answer for.

Don't I look so optimistic about the future?
Here's the truth: Erin Parks has a rebel heart. I really only have sheath dresses because I need to pay the rent, and to occasionally flex. (See photo.)

Going back to May of 2008, stepping off the plane in Accra, Ghana, it is hard to explain. I wasn't there "to feed starving children," I don't have a savior complex. I was there to learn. I wanted to soak up the accents, faces, and elegance that is a woman walking in perfect balance with her hand-woven basket of goods to sell at market. She is smart and perfectly dressed. I, a Black woman from America, am one of "the lost ones." My birth place hyphenates my very existence.

At one point during the study abroad trip, I got a little sick and spent the ENTIRE day in my room watching a marathon of some soap opera. That day changed my life. That day, the days we went through Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles, or the days I just felt free from not being a "minority," are not admissible, which makes the interview question about that experience itself somewhat invasive and false.

The whole interview process goes something like this:
Step 1: Firm handshake

Step 2: Convince the hiring persons that you're awesome. Your awesomeness is not up for debate, they just have to know how to see it, Valencia or Lo-Fi.

Step 3: Show enthusiasm for the position, and that you won't be a complete waste of space on the job.

Step 4: Ask a few questions to make sure you wouldn't in fact, be completely miserable, but with a smile on your face.

Step 5: Firm handshake

The most lengthy part of the process is Step 2, and unfortunately if the other person's filter is stuck on Willow there is not much you can do, but because you don't know that, you will try. You will avoid getting cornrows "to look more professional." You will find a way to contain your fro so you don't look too "combative." You will wear your sheath dress without the fun pattern. You will wear tiny ear rings, not the ones shaped like Nefertiti. You will use the King's English and say complex words, like interdisciplinary with amazing diction. You will say, "my trip to Ghana was great, it inspired me to travel and discover things for myself." 

You WILL NOT say the U.S. and French govt. need to stay the f%ck out of Africa. You will not say this process is exhausting. You will not say, "Love me or hate me, I get sh@t done." #nofilter, and drop the mic. Even if all of it is the truth

I once saw an article about the power of ethnic authenticity in the work place. The article emphatically stated that we have come into an age where people actually want to learn about other cultures and are not repelled by things that are different. My issues with this type of work/personal integration advice is that it focuses on how to "make it work for you," i.e. using the cultural elements that you are the resident expert in to make people comfortable. Talk about Chinese New Year, don't mention Chinese railroad workers. Talk about the whitewashed Martin Luther King Jr., not the MLK that called for economic equality and rolled with Malcolm. Talk about that salsa recipe you learned from your host parents, not the exploitation of immigrant workers. Well, my authentic isn't about placating people. So let's just focus on my Photoshop skills.  

From the Author
This is my perspective coming from working in a predominantly White, heteronormative industry where the environments reflect that. However, there were two times in my life where I interviewed, was hired, and did not feel "othered" during the process. Follow-up to this piece to come. 

Also, Part 1 of the Ghana album is here

July 15, 2015

Poor Camille

The title of this post really says it all. Like if I didn't type another line I think everyone would understand exactly what this post was going to be and why I stopped. However, the show must go on... and that is exactly what we are witnessing.

A few facts:
1) Bill and Camille Cosby were married in 1964
2) They are seven years apart, Camille playing junior
3) She has been a "shrewd businesswoman" and manager for Bill Cosby
4) She is alive and well at 71

I would like to point out the first and last facts as the most important. Meaning that the parade of women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape date back to 1965 all the way up to at least 2006. Ma'am, what exactly does the word marriage mean to you? Going into the last fact, that to anyone's knowledge, she is not incapacitated or suffering from any illness that could cause memory loss, means that she must have/must be well aware of her husband's infidelity, but swears by his daddy do-good image. Um... madam?!

The last I checked, remaining married to a serial cheater is questionable at best, but refusing to distance yourself and play a part in the farce is just plain sad. This is the kind of behavior where you can no longer just say she was in it for the money. Those women raise their 2.5 kids, have vacation houses, and drink vermouth- or so I've been told. At best, they come out a few times a year as a couple for some gala or another. This is all quite contrary to the very active role Camille has played, which is undoubtedly her trying to defend her worth as a woman in the world. But boy did she pick the wrong one.

I'm not married, I've never been, and the closest I got to a serious relationship was being stuck in an expensive dress in Macy's. So I am comfortable with critics who will shout, "but you don't understand luhhhve...," because I don't. I don't understand this kind of love for powerful men who are incapable of being faithful. It always boggles my brain.

The real news breaking accusation for me, besides the more recent allegations that were settled in court (he was 60-something? EW.), came from Therese Serignese who not only shared her story, but provided copies of the paperwork of a payout. Now she says it wasn't hush money because she still hadn't even admitted the incident to herself, but as Bill "Jell-O Man" Cosby, what obligation would you feel to pay a woman you hardly knew, especially 20 years later, $5,000? THEN, as a wife involved in your husband's business, how could you not notice/question said payout? Granted 5 stacks is like peanuts when you have a hit show on, but still. Did she just assume it was a charitable donation?

At the end of the day, Sway ain't got the answers, and neither do I. This whole trainwreck is horrible to watch. I mean the fall of a false god is never pleasant, but for the women who love them, I truly send my condolences.

Full comments from family friends on the New York Post

July 14, 2015

The Rebel Flag Is Down, In One State,
Now What?

Symbols have meaning and illicit strong emotions. This is a fact. I will not argue that hateful symbols should be removed, but then what? While the media was telling us to argue with racists about something that will have very little impact on our everyday lives, decisions were being made about an even more powerful symbol. The Almighty Dollar.

If you don't know about DuckTales tho, we can't go together.

Real friends talk about money. Not the "I really hate to ask this, but can I borrow..." conversations, but the "Are you investing in X" conversations. A real friend wouldn't want their friend to be broke. So as a friend to everyone reading this, I feel need the need to share two things: 1) As a nation, we're all kind of broke, and 2) It's not really an accident.

The minimum wage is bull sh*t. (Sorry, I'm not sorry.) 2 or 3 dollars above min. wage is still crap, and it disproportionately affects women. Women overwhelmingly take on jobs in the service industry, not because they're "easy," but because that's where the jobs are. Prior to February of this year, for every job that opened at Wal-Mart, a SNAP application was almost sure to follow. Recently I moved to Denver, CO from NYC, and became one of those women.

Now this is the part where I confess that it hasn't been all glitz and glamor. I was working two crap wage jobs (see: 2 dollars above min wage), freelancing, and barely paying for my expenses. My parents had to give me a few pep talks and money to get my hair trimmed. My brows were looking CRAY, and at one point I was dealing Blackjack in the basement of a former mansion, turned event space. Not because I had done anything wrong, but because I wanted to give myself a new start, which everyone deserves.

Enter, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) bill*. While we were appalled at how South Carolina could fly a symbol of hate, Congress was making a decision that could impact the livelihoods of most women in the U.S. I will fully admit here that I am not a political analyst, but I do I know how to read a graph. The truth is, the economic aftermath of the free trade agreement passed during the Clinton administration, known as NAFTA, wasn't pretty, and the Obama administration is gearing up for what some real political analysts are calling NAFTA 2.0.

To avoid sounding like a conspiracy theorist and give you time to check the resources on this agreement and what it could mean, I'll keep this short. My message, and hope for everyone who reads this blog, is to be open. You should trust your heart, but it's OK to check under the bed when you catch your man home early from work. Be down for the cause, but know that it could be bigger than you think and the target could be somewhere off center.

EP Out!

Oh wait, while we're talking about money, I'm just going to go ahead and tip my hat off to Rihanna for the #BBHMM video and all the silly people who got in their feels.

That face you make when you know someone BSing you,
but you bout to get yours...

*The bill itself has not passed in full, but a "fast track authority" was approved in relation to the TPP.

Resources on the TPP Business
The Guardian
The Washington Post