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Monday
May062013

Reason #367 Why You Don't Have A Job? You're Black and You Don't Know the Hook Up

Nancy Ditomaso on The New York Times Opinotator blog writes how "Black" Twitter and your Facebook friends who put extra sayings in their names like Natasha Ohsofine Washington, are not helping you get a job. This is because they don't know anyone. This is unlike your friends on "White" Twitter and their Facebook friends who don't have clever handles because they might know someone who has a job connection and everyone knows fancy job places don't hire people with elaborate nicknames as googleable public record.

As if it weren't hard enough with black unemployment at 13.2 percent, now you have to worry about how you don't know anyone who, as 90s era Master P would say, "got the hook up."

From The New York Times:

Favoritism is almost universal in today’s job market. In interviews with hundreds of people on this topic, I found that all but a handful used the help of family and friends to find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.

And ...

Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are “like me”: the people who live in my neighborhood, those who attend my church or school or those with whom I have worked in the past. It is only natural that when there are jobs to be had, people who know about them will tell the people who are close to them, those with whom they identify, and those who at some point can reciprocate the favor.

Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality: whites help other whites, especially when unemployment is high. Although people from every background may try to help their own, whites are more likely to hold the sorts of jobs that are protected from market competition, that pay a living wage and that have the potential to teach skills and allow for job training and advancement. So, just as opportunities are unequally distributed, they are also unequally redistributed.

All of this may make sense intuitively, but most people are unaware of the way racial ties affect their job prospects.

Before the whole "blacksnob" thing happened and back when I used to look at Essence Magazine and The American Prospect and other magazines and wondered how people got to be writers there, I used to say my parents' only sin was that they didn't know anyone. And by "anyone," I mean I grew up in the Midwest with an engineer father and an ex-school teacher mother who had no connections to the worlds of art, television, journalism, film and writing I wished to be part of. So even though I was writing my first crappy novels at 13 and drawing elaborate cartoons and art pieces even earlier than that, I didn't get much more than a nice pat on the head and some attaboys.

What to do with my talent? No one really knew, including myself. We would go to the occasional art show or writing competition and just marvel at how everyone seemed to be in on something but us -- the only black people there.

Connections are how you get jobs. But you can't make connections unless you either are A) born into them B) go to the right schools and live in the right neighborhoods or C) get the right kind of jobs where you meet people. But often you can't get the "right" kind of job unless A or B happens. You need the connection BEFORE you get the job to get the job with all the connections in the first place. Since I went to Budget University and was not born in a major east or west coast city and my first gigs were in Midland, TX and Bakersfield, Calif., I needed an equalizer to get out of obscurity. 

For me, that was the Internet and blogging, but I STILL needed to move to New York and Washington, D.C. to make the connections you need to get work, to stay in the forefront, to get offers and gigs and opportunities. I needed that network and I could only get it by going out there and creating it.

The same exists for jobs in engineering and accounting and other white collar positions where family and friend networking hook-ups are crucial in a work environment where black unemployment is more than 13 percent

In the same piece, Ditomaso writes that for workers: "70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them."

That's a lot of friends and family helping friends and family. And when so much of life is about who you know, what do you do when you don't know anybody?

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Reader Comments (5)

You know, I've admired your work from afar for a veruy long time - heck, even before I began blogging. I appreciate this piece and the information shared. Because of it, I am about to abandon my family here in Memphis (seriously, who's going to discover me here, right?) and move back to New York City. But then again, I don't have any hook-ups or know anyone in the loop back east. So yeah, I think I'll just curl up and take a nap in the bosom of obscurity.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRiPPa

So, is there any real benefit to going to an HBCU?

May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUglyblackjohn

@ Uglyblackjohn

I think they're a definite benefit, but like with everything, it depends on which HBCU you attend. If you attend some of the better known ones in major metropolitan areas, yes, you probably can establish a really good network. The Eastern corridor and Howard University come to mind. When I was living in both D.C. and New York City being a Howard Alum (or Hampton Alumnus) seemed to have quite a bit of benefit since so many people who went to those schools went on to work in politics and media and the sciences. Other schools in other areas though may not carry the same history, cache or vast network of alums. The same goes for if you join a black Greek letter organization. The better the chapter, the better the connections.

May 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

I think it's a matter of class as much as a matter of race. You had a hard time with the hook-ups because you were branching out to a new industry. I bet your mom could have got you a hired as a teacher and your dad could have hooked you up in engineering.

My parents are both retired teachers. My grandma was a retired principal. My grandfather was big in union activities. My brother taught after college in the same school system as my parents and it wasn't even a question as to whether he would be hired. I had average grades in high school and I got into University of Michigan after meeting a friend of my grandfather's. I got a hook-up job with Ford Motor Company after college due to my grandfather. I started at Ford and there were like a dozen people in the orientation of all races. Every single person was there due to a relative. One person had that fresh-out-of-college look like me and she was the daughter of the HR person who interviewed me. I was working at Ford for six months and I received a letter from a major bank addressed to me at my grandparent's house (an address I never used) saying, "Thank you for submitting your resume. Your interview is scheduled for....) I went on the interview and got the job.

Everything after that (promotions at the bank, transfer to a new city, new job at a different company) was all without hookups, but I can tell you that black folks can hook each other up just like anybody else.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmosBanks

I went to an hbcu and yes it helped me a great deal almost All my jobs got me an IN where others didnt but all my work was black. Black offices black films,black businesses so you must love working with black people lol. So if there was a black project i am called. Now if you try to crossocer its a little tough white folks still know very little about hbcus so if you work for a main sream company you will have to hustle but those i know who do the ivy league thing sometimes are well off but personally its a fight im glad i chose an hbcu but there is still more to b done. I like that i didnt lose my identity in selling out but you do gotta eat make your choice

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjj
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