Great article by Rebecca Hughes for SeaCoastOnline.com – Witnessing racism firsthand in York
Recently, I graduated college, came back to York for my final summer at home, and quickly began the search for a summer job. After filling out several applications, I went to a local restaurant.
Although the restaurant was closed, several managers were there and the doors were open. After introducing myself and settling in at the bar to complete my application, a black woman came in. In a thick Jamaican accent, she introduced herself and explained that she was looking for a job as a dishwasher. The kitchen manager, a white man, came out to interview her.
He told her that he didn’t have many dishwashers and that he would give her lots of hours. When she asked about the pay, he said the starting wage was $8 an hour. She countered with $9 an hour, but he responded that he was only willing to offer her $8.
While she paused to think about the offer, another manger (also white and male) came over to her.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“I’m thinking about the offer I just got to work for $8 an hour instead of $9,” she said. At this, the man snorted and said, “Well, you aren’t going to find anyplace around here willing to hire you for that much. You better take this job, because in a few days there won’t be any more left. We are one of the last places hiring.” The woman thought for a few more seconds and acquiesced. She was told to come back at 5 o’clock the next day for training.
After she left, the second manager turned to the first and said, “Good job, the Jamaicans only get $8 an hour?”
According to the 2000 census, York is a town that is 98.36 percent white. In a town with so few people of color, racism is hard to notice. But that day, I witnessed it.
No one told this woman that she could work as a waitress or as a hostess if she wanted to be paid more. Restaurant owners would rather have white college graduates such as myself out front.
Additionally, will customers (who are almost guaranteed to be white) be comfortable if a person of color is serving them? Probably not, and because of this people of color must work in the kitchen, where they will be out of sight and making significantly less money. This wage will barely cover their rent, which can be as much as $5,000 for the summer if they are living in one of the hotels that the immigrant workers who come to York and surrounding towns typically stay at.
I thought about all of this at the restaurant, but I didn’t say anything. I left feeling upset with myself and the town I grew up in.
We are all to blame for this situation. The hotels and landlords that charge too much for immigrants to live here, the businesses that don’t give people of color living wages or the same opportunities as whites, the customers for being uncomfortable by people of color, and me for not saying anything when I had the chance.
In a town that is so white that we have to import diversity, racism is hard to see. Its invisibility makes it all the more insidious and difficult to combat, but I believe in York. I know that by critically examining our actions and our subconscious prejudices, we can work toward creating positive change and eliminating racism.
Rebecca Hughes is a recent college graduate who plans to spend the summer working at home in York.