Friday, September 30, 2011

Only Monkeys Dance for Peanuts

~ In life things happen to remind us of who we are ~

Tuesday morning I received a phone call from a woman who asked me if I was interested in attending a screening for Texas de Brazil. I was temporarily confused because I'd almost forgotten sending my resume to the restaurant about four months earlier when I was out of a job. I agreed to the screening the next day and the woman on the phone told me she would e mail the directions. 

Waiting to go in to my class that afternoon I checked my e mail and was quite surprised to see that along with the directions to the building was a list of requirements, including a $40 registration fee. I ran this by some of the other women in the Gender Department as well as my mother who all agreed that this was at the very least exploitative if not illegal. I decided then to reply to the e mail, seeking clarification on the grounds for this registration fee. The woman explained to me that she was running an employment agency J.A.&A. - Human Solutions and this was one of the ways in which she recouped her costs. This I agreed was not unreasonable but explained to her that I was unaware that an employment agency was even involved in this recruitment process and after a subsequent phone call, I decided to go to the interview based on this new understanding.

On arriving to the interview I had a brief conversation with the man at the front desk, having worked with him at a previous job. I spoke loudly to him based on my prior knowledge of his hearing condition. While being seated in the waiting room a woman attached to the agency asked if I had passport sized pictures to which I replied no and then she asked if I had the registration fee. Before I handed her the money I asked if the fee was for registration with the agency to which she replied yes. About ten minutes later I asked how long I'd have to wait before going in and asked someone else for the time to adjust the clock on my mobile after having just switched sim cards.

A few minutes later I was next. The woman who I'd spoken to on the phone and exchanged e mails with shook my hand and I had a seat. I told her she looked familiar and she responded by saying that we would have met at the previous screening. I realised then that she still did not understand that I'd never attended any prior screening or was even aware of her agency's involvement up until the day before.

Ms. Adams questioned me about my previously held job at a radio station and my reasons for leaving and I explained that I was not interested in being in news and the job was not a right fit. She then questioned me about a position I held in another media house WIN TV years before and I explained that I had a lot more creative freedom based on the length of the news cast and other factors. She asked again why I'd left the job and I explained that I had to go back to school and most of the jobs listed were held between June and August when school was on break. 

 J.A: Why haven't you tried to regain a position at WIN after graduating, maybe doing some other type of program?
Me: Well I'm no longer interested in working at WIN TV
J.A.: And why is that?
Me: Well I've been trying to get out of the media and WIN TV is now and Indian station
J.A.: But wasn't it always?
Me: No
J.A.: But doesn't an Indian own it?
Me: Yes
J.A.: So that doesn't mean that you can't do something there
Me: No it doesn't.I'm just not interested in that type of work right now.
J.A.: Well what type of work are you interested in? (raising her voice a decibel) I'm just trying to get to know you here.
Me: Well I am an academic and I would like to continue to with school, do my Masters, publish and teach.
J.A.: So what exactly are you doing here?
Me: Well to be quite honest my mom lost her job a few weeks ago and I just really need work now.
J.A.: Well everybody has their stress. Someone came in here earlier with cancer (and some other story I can't remember) but you have to remember this is a screening process and you have to present your best face.
Me: Excuse me? (confused)
J.A.: Well Stephanie I've been looking at you and you seem quite angry. It's not my fault your mother lost her job.
Me: *blink blink* she did not just say that!
J.A.: continues... Companies want to know that the people who work for them are committed and not just there to receive a pay cheque. I mean look at the way you dealt with me, Oh my God you sent me three e mails ----signs off--- Do you understand me?
Me: blank
J.A.: Have you paid the registration fee?
Me: Yes, which I quite regret now.
J.A.: So am I to take it you are no longer interested in the job?
Me: That's right.
J.A.: I will organize for you to get your money back.
Me: Thank you for your time.
Me: Would it also be possible for me to get my registration form back?
J.A: *cut eye*rips it to shreds. Even the woman out front said you had an attitude.
Me: Walks out the room humming Gyazette's "Crabs in a bucket" 

From the time we come out of our mother's womb we are taught to dance. For some it is a dance of liberation but for most it is one of constraint. How can we put one foot in front of the other without disturbing the water or rocking the boat? Existing in a post colonial space creates a hierarchical dimension to the West Indian dance, that being white over brown over black. So my question is: Are we still required to dance like porch monkeys if we want to eat from the master's plate?

Anyone who is familiar with me knows that my temperament is far from giddy and I have been accused of a sedate countenance but does this mean that my lack of feckless enthusiasm should render me useless to an employer and worst of all condescended? In the same way we are guided by various conventions and political correctness that call for respect of all languages, including the many variations of dialect that were traditionally marginalized, why isn't the same applied to the various existing communication styles? Is a woman required to wear the smile of a beauty queen in order to secure a position, or is she hired based on her skills and willingness to work?

As long as I can remember my face has looked the same. In pictures at the age of nine I had the same straight stare. That is who I am. Who I have always been. It does not make me angry, aggressive, sour, unapproachable or any of the other negative attributes that one can attach to un-smiling face. This does not mean that I cannot be angry, aggressive, sour or unapproachable at any one time or another but this is not definitive of any (unrealistically) stagnant or outward caricature. The very fact that I possess these characteristics makes me quite typical, as is it does everyone else.

At no point was I discourteous to Ms. Adams, who chose to grill me about returning to a job I'd left five years prior. In fact despite my pridefulness I confided in a complete stranger about my situation at home, believing that honesty was the best policy (and might help to explain a university graduate applying for a waitressing job.) Instead that information was manipulated in intention and used against me not more than  thirty seconds later. I was spoken down to and insulted  - all because I wouldn't dance.

Dear Ms Adams,

The Colonial days are over and I am not a wind up doll or your slave. I do not dance on que. I do not cartwheel, do tricks or any other activity that compromises who I am for a successful interview. I'm sorry that my royalty offended you.


♫ One blood family we bun bad mind nuff a dem go bow just fih de dollar sign and on dey back de have monkey ah climb 



  1. Wow. I am amazed that she can carry herself so unprofessionally and yet still be condescending to you for what was simply honesty. You are quite right we are expected to dance but with the unemployment rate increasing I'm afraid the reality has become who needs it most dances the best. *sigh*

    Great post btw.

  2. Give thnx sis and you're right - many women don't have a choice and unfortunately they are the ones most easily exploited.

  3. Things like this should provoke us to action. This woman is an indecent and bigoted part of society that fails to understand how their actions, and decisions can really continue the circle of anger, hatred and abuse.

    Steph, I am truly sorry that you had to be a part of this and I know things like this can cut your wind but, holdfast to the understanding that people like that will suffer and in ways in which we cant and aren't meant to understand.