The job search continues apace, with one small but terrifying development. I have applied for a position with a local Sheriff’s Office, which means I have to fill out a 10-page “Statement of Personal History”, which is like if I ran my own background check using only the power of my mind, and whatever bits and pieces of paperwork and ephemera I’ve kept over the years (does anyone have my Illinois Driver’s License from 1991? Because I’m supposed to give them that number). I am assured they will run their own background check, and my answers are to be used in a cross-referencing manner, to make sure I’m not lying about anything. In addition to asking my family members via our group text whether any of them had committed any felonies, and were they sure, the other scary bit was that I had to reveal my social media accounts, aliases (yes, even that one), and blogs (present!). Which I have dutifully and truthfully disclosed. I assume this is to make sure that I’m not marking myself “Interested” in the local White Supremacist Hoe-down and Quilting Bee, or that I’m not publishing internet manifestoes exhorting people to “Intercourse the Constabulary” or whatnot. Which, if you’re familiar with my Facebook presence, you will know is untrue, as it would interfere with posting pictures of cookies I’ve made, “liking” pictures of people’s pets, and long-running, verbose commentaries on PBS programs.
While this feels a little… exposed (I originally took to blogging under an assumed name to keep my Corporate Overlords from being aware of any of my opinions, and to shield my parents from regular rants about the religion of my upbringing), it is not the first time in this job hunt I have had to seriously consider how I’ve presented myself to the world. Is my Employee Me enough like my Sitting At Home In My JimJams Me? What about my Alto Me? Are we all in agreement, or do I have some alarming split personality shenanigans going on? Will personal authenticity make The Universe more receptive to presenting me with the right employment opportunity? Is this the most esoteric, yet boring mid-life crisis evar?
One of the jobs I applied for was at the City of Portland (reader, they declined to interview me. sorry for the spoiler, but I didn’t want you to be in suspense). If anyone has applied for a government job, you know that it’s much more involved than a standard application. In some ways, I prefer doing the extra work – because it’s writing, and I enjoy an assigned essay, especially when given a prompt – and especially when you are trying to change professions and you KNOW you can do the job, but you’ve only ever done it in a different context. “Tell us when you used this skill…” DON’T MIND IF I DO! But some of the government jobs are starting to want you to make a statement on equity and inclusion. They are working to change their institutions to be more equitable and inclusive, and they want to know that you, a potentially white person, are on board and willing to do the work. This particular request was just labeled “Writing Exercise”, but the prompts they gave were all in relation to that subject: tell us about your work in marginalized communities, write about a time in your workplace when you made a difference, etc. And I am ashamed to tell you, I could not think of a time when I was an activist, and corporate work seems to thrive on disempowering the mere cube-dweller. I am deeply allergic to insincerity and didn’t want to blow up the few experiences my pale, introverted self had with various organizations representing marginalized communities into some epic, self-back-patting nonsense. I thought for a few moments, and here is what I wrote:
The first thing I noticed when I moved to Hollywood was the extra tabs on the street signs clarifying precisely which neighborhood you were in. While I told friends and family I lived in Hollywood, in reality I was somewhere between Little Armenia and Thai Town. My neighbors were predominantly Latinx and Armenian, many Thai families living a few blocks north. When my pronunciation of Cahuenga marked me as a newcomer, a bus driver offered me advice on how street and place names were properly pronounced in Spanish (Sepulveda, La Jolla), and which ones the public had decided would remain incorrectly pronounced (San Pedro, Los Feliz). My downstairs neighbors were very friendly, but spoke little English, and I had no Armenian, so there was no way for them to warn me not to drink all the way to the bottom of their tiny cups of extremely powerful coffee the first time they invited me over for tea. I hope they were laughing with me, rather than at me. I eventually moved three miles south of the Dia de los Muertos ofrendas, the champurrado cart, the strong, sweet coffee, and into the Koreatown neighborhood, where I waved at neighbors in sun-visors and sun-sleeves (summer) and the now-familiar face masks (winter) on my daily walks.
But I also worked in Hollywood-The-Industry. My co-workers were white, Black, Latinx, Filipino, Armenian, Turkish, Korean, Pasifika, Indian. We had an IT team who were mostly South Asian, and an outsourced team in Guadalajara, who were very patient with me when I asked them how to pronounce their names correctly. I noticed, however, that all of the myriad Vice Presidents in my division were white. Go up the org chart, and most of Senior Management were also male. At quarterly meetings, I began keeping rough track of the gender and race of the presenters, with predictable results. One quarter, there were more Michaels presenting than women. There were plenty of women and BIPOC in the company; why were none of them moving up? I also took special notice when they showed us sneak peeks of movie trailers. I kept track of the gender and perceived race of each person in the trailer, and noted if they had lines. After several years, I was still shocked when there was a Black woman who had a speaking line in a trailer. How could a company in such a diverse place, in such a diverse country, produce entertainment reflecting the narrowest of possibilities? After each Employee Forum, they sent us anonymous feedback surveys, and I answered honestly. And while that meant occasionally the next forum would include a token female of BIPOC representative, no systemic changes were ever made. In fact, by the time I left, the only two Black employees in my department had been laid off.
While it would be nice to say that that’s why I left, that the inequity of the company caused me to leave my job on principle, I knew that other companies in my industry were no better, and we all have to pay rent. L.A.’s patchwork of Rent Stabilization Ordinances were not keeping up with the skyrocketing cost of living in that city. Each ballot measure that sought to bring equity to housing and homeless services was swiftly voted down. “Intersectionality” was not something I needed defined for me; it was obvious who suffered more from gentrification, unemployment, and health care rationing. I felt stuck, so many years in such a vibrant city, surrounded by people both like and unlike myself, yet disempowered to effect any change. When I moved, I vowed to take some initiative. The break of employment wrought by Covid has given me the opportunity to concentrate my job search for a workforce where they go beyond Diversity and strive for Equity, where I am empowered to make suggestions and carry out changes.
So that’s a whole lot of “Writing Exercise”. I had to remove a couple of sentences so it would fit on one page, as required. And who knows – maybe that’s why they declined to interview me (or they could have had a strong internal candidate, or 48 other people slightly more qualified than me). Now what publishing all this on my blog here means is that I can’t use it again (I don’t think? I’m not sure what the rules on self-plagiarizing writing exercises for government KSAs are, but it would seem unethical) and also, I expose myself as a pretentious, navel-gazing, and ultimately, passive ally. But what is this year about, if not radical honesty. Anyway, if you’re here from MCSO, “hi”, and I hope your day is going well.