Thursday, June 23, 2016

Confessions

There are times when I absolutely feel like I have been stuck-in-place.

It is almost as if my feet have been cemented and I can not move.

What makes this the top-of-mind on this sunny, summer Thursday?

It is probably that I am feeling the stiffling suffocating smothering that is living in St. Louis, Missouri.

Let me explain.

This once hopeful, promised French founded colony that started with a nod toward inclusion and opportunity several centuries ago, is now mired in division, exclusiveness, and steeped in a racism that is as muddy as the Mississippi.

The background over the past few years, centuries even, threatens any opportunity for growth. That has proven to be true in the city and the suburbs through my nine years of living on this side of the state.

My feelings of being stuck are not unlike those I've heard from fellow transplants who are highly educated, highly experienced, and can't even get a barista job in this city that still celebrates high school graduations of sixty-year-olds.

They tell you that it is you, that you are just not a "fit" if you are older and black, or the black ones want to know what sorority, fraternity, exclusive mom club, or church you belong to before they would even consider passing on your résumé. The doors are slammed shut, bolted tight, and cemented over with red clay.

Someone close to me once told me it was all in my head. That it was me. That surely there was something wrong with my twenty-five plus years of management, marketing, and program management experience. Surely.

I did what any self-respecting professional would do, I asked the experts. They scrutinized my vitae up and down, queried me about my background teaching at several universities, about the extensive non-profit work I've done working with youth, about the marketing and communications work I've done in a corporate setting as well as a solopreneur. Nope, no holes, nothing wrong there.

My recruiter once told me to go and essentially pimp myself out to meet a white female corporate founder who got  her hair done at a certain salon.  In modern times, that is what they are telling experienced black women.

Nevermind the age thing. That is also starting to creep in as the twenty and thirty somethings knock down the few doors that are open or are taking their unencumbered existence and starting their own thing.

Being mired in place because of family obligations is something that it universal in holding women back, even more so when those women are bearing the weight of race and class.  It is like the woman who left her chef job to go and reprimand her sons for stealing only to end up in jail because society punishes black women for putting family first. Or the woman who moved here because of her husband's position only to be divorced because of his extra-marital-affairs and languish in the city that won't open a door, she is leaving this month for greener pastures and a position already waiting, taking her children with her.  Over and over, stories come to me and I wondered what is it about this place

At first, I examined myself ad nauseum. I revamped my résumé to dumb down my experience and education when they told me "you are a deeply talented woman who is just too experienced for this position." Then, I spoke with women who have two master's degrees and more experience than I do and they are not getting any traction.

What will it take to turn this city upside down and realize the brain drain?

Do we start our own exclusive mom clubs and only let in those who are not-from-here?

Do we play the game and create a list of self-congratulatory people to then tell everyone else how wonderful we are so we can keep all the balls on the playyard?

Do we turn the calendar pages until the last child graduates so their van goes one way to college and we go another way to life?

Do we accept our fate of being tied in marriage and place where only one career is allowed to thrive?

Do I just try to make do with what is here and go back to school?

I am not sure what the answer is.

I know I keep pushing, like so many other women I know who are trying to keep their families on track, trying to have a career, trying to hold off the student loan folks, trying to ask for a job lead without being asked to give the first born in exchange.

It is probably not limited to just St. Louis. I am sure women of lesser education and fewer professional opportunities are just as frustrated with being segregated into the stifling overcrowded "north of Delmar" divide that keeps them trapped in lack.

What I do know to be true is that this region can either die or dance.  If it comes together for the good of all, it can dance as a true shining light and gateway of opportunity. Or it will die, choking off life at the vines that tries to sprout up.


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