By: Teranderose Russell
Almost three years ago I applied for a hostess position job at one of New York City’s top restaurants. When I arrived for my interview, I informed the front desk staff of my appointment when they directed me to wait. Their reaction to me was sharp looks of surprise and excitement, as they explained how “pretty” I was, and how much they loved my biracial hair. I continued to wait for my interview, when about 20 minutes later, the hiring manager approached me and introduced himself. As I was led to his office, we briefly talked, “How is your day?” He asked, the normal chatter. As I took a seat, I felt a certain level of confidence and was ready for anything this employer was prepared to ask me, but I was soon taken off guard, when I was asked about three questions in which he seemed the least bit interested in the way I answered them. It seemed that he was just moving quickly through protocol. Just as quick as the questions left his lips, he told me I had the job. In one instance I was ecstatic about being offered the position, in another I was surprised at how little effort it took for me to get hired.
The thought of me becoming a hostess at one of New York’s top restaurants was very exciting. I was just a sophomore in college and looked forward to this next chapter of my life. I took my position as a hostess, seriously and it wasn’t long before my managers were getting great feedback about my appearance and outstanding performance. It appeared that many of the guests loved me and often asked about my whereabouts when I was not present. Although, I was making a great impression with some of the patrons, it wasn’t so, for my co-workers and other guests who tried to categorize me or question my ethnicity. I’m often bombarded by the usual questions, “Am I black or white?” “What do I consider myself?” And “which side do I identify with most?” I always thought that I was great and a valuable asset to my company, because of my work ethic not because of the complexion of my skin and curly hair. Within a year, I was rewarded with a raise for being a modeled employee.
This year marked my third, working on the job. With the cost of living steadily going up in New York City and school tuition hikes, I came to the conclusion that the only way I could make ends meet, was to ask for another raise. After days of contemplating the right moment, I finally met with a member of the management them and was quickly told that the restaurant does not give raises in the summer. I was completely floored and couldn’t believe how the time of year dictates when a person could receive a raise, instead of my performance on the job. Now, I may not own a restaurant, but whoever heard such thing? Raises are given during a certain time and season? If I would have known, perhaps I would have asked a lot sooner. So after months of working since the meeting and after much deliberation, I decided to put in my two weeks notice. Why should I stay in a place where I was not making enough money to survive?
According to Quentin Fottrel news editor of Market Watch “nearly four out of five U.S. students work while in school, with the average working student putting in 19 hours a week during the school year. Due to the recession of 2008, many students find themselves in a major financial crunch. As fate would have it, I’m one of those students.
After I put in my two weeks notice, it was unbelievable how the restaurant’s management was treating me. The once valuable employee that was always talked about was now being treated as if I was worthless and a traitor. The director, to whom I considered to be a close friend, didn’t even flinch to the thought of me leaving. He was surprisingly not moved in anyway about my departure. In his words, “life goes on and its time to move on.” I was crushed by this comment and was offended. It was as if my time working at the restaurant meant nothing.
During my last two weeks, I applied for many restaurants of various levels. I received call backs and went on a number of interviews throughout the city. Almost all of the restaurants I interviewed with seemed more impressed by my appearance than my skill set and prior experience. Being a bi-racial woman job-hunting in New York City is a difficult task. Through my experience, I realized companies hired me based off my looks and as a safe alternative to making their workplace, “Culturally diverse.”
My mixed — raced identity is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows me to live a somewhat privileged life and on the other, it’s difficult having to be singled out and looked upon as some kind of freak creation. With my previous employer, the restaurant has a large white clientele from Corporate America. To some, I’m a fair-skinned African-American woman or this exotic animal that men often gawk over, contrary to my own home, where some family members see me only as white, or not black enough.
My college years are also a constant struggle, if I hear one more, “what race do you consider yourself to be? Or, Are you Black? I’m going to lose my bi-racial mind. The last years of high school and the first 2-years of college, shapes most young women into adulthood. For me, deciding to quit my job was a very difficult and emotional decision. It meant that I had to step up and quit being complacent. It also meant, I had to give up my sense of security and gain more confidence in myself.
Life is very important, in terms of living for oneself. Making the best decisions for your future and working towards set goals are extremely important. I found that committing to myself was the hardest thing to do. Here I am, a young woman, who did not feel like I had a place where I belong or even feel like I am accepted as a person instead of an object on display. After all I’ve been through in the past few weeks, I’m beginning to learn more about who I am and who I hope to become one day. I’ve also realized the importance of taking accountability for my life so that I can achieve all the dreams my heart desire.
Feeling trapped with no where to go can make people loose themselves; they forget their own dreams and only work towards being apart of the economic food chain as a close friend once told me. Many of us often lose sight of our goals and work just to survive instead of working towards aspirations and dreams.
In the words of Sarah Blakely “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”
For me I feel I am young and still learning, but I had to decide what I want and where I want to go.