Racism in NH: The Jamaicans only get $8 an hour

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.

1 Comment

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One Response to Racism in NH: The Jamaicans only get $8 an hour

  1. Lu

    I am black and lived in Southern Maine/New Hampshire for 15 years. I worked in some 15 restaurants as a waiter/bartender, cook, front desk etc. Only one place wanted me to work in the back exclusively back in 1996. I had worked for them as a part time dishwasher in 1994 and was fast. I came to them in 1996 to work out front but they wouldn’t let me even though I was an experience waiter. At the time, 1996 they offered me $10 an hour, all the food I want to eat and drink just to wash dishes. I was simply that good. I turned it down and instead continued to wait tables in Portsmouth at a fine dining restaurant. I never had a problem getting hired out front, even though I had an island accent. I am from the Caribbean. Owners and managers actually though I was the shit….. I think it depends on how you look and approach. I happens to be considered attractive and fit looking and also confident and lively. Was there racism I experienced; yes I did many times, but I was good at pretending to not hear or notice and would laugh at it. I always made it a point that Blacks from the Caribbean were superior to African Americans. As of now, I have my Masters from UNH and living in San Diego. Sometimes I missed the life I had there but at the same time, I was limited to grow beyond the restaurant business. I experienced alot of the racism when I went for job interviews. I have an Italian sounding first name and British last name. I also speak very fluent and educated so with my accent, it is nearly impossible to detect I am black. I don’t sound like African Americans so it was often assumed I was white. Amazingly I got called in for a face to face interview once I cleared the phone screening. As soon as I stepped inside and greeted by the interviewer I got phrases like “Oh, so you are …….. where did you get that name? ” In other words, you are not white!!!!!! Each of these interviews were then comical (to me) since they had no intentions of hiring me, no matter how qualified or prepared I was. I often got shifted to consider some incredibly insulting positions that required one to only breathe. I also got remarks like “We want someone with credibility to be in the visible position.” I came to conclusion, that I was wasting my time trying. Despite my New England accent and go getter personna, I simply couldn’t get pass the underlying racism.

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