DEAR PRESTON: WHY IS MY RACE SUCH AN ISSUE?
June 14, 2011
As an African American in the wedding and event industry, I’m encountering a problem that’s weighing heavily on my heart. I live in Pennsylvania. Brides see my work, love my work, get referred by other brides, and make an appointment to see me. But then they discover that I’m African American, and they are stunned. Most of them are okay once they let my work speak for itself, but some of their fiances get quite nervous when they meet me. I’ve had some grooms who were outwardly uncomfortable with my race. I had one bride who went against her groom’s wishes and hired me. He was just not sure that a minority could deliver. He nitpicked everything down to a few hours before the wedding. Only after it was all done and they received rave reviews about my work from family and friends, did he finally let me off the hook.
I don’t know about your experiences, but it seems that if you’re African American (at least in Pennsylvania) that you have to prove yourself even harder. It makes me sad.
I hide pictures of myself on my website, blog and Facebook for fear that people will use my picture instead of my work to decide whether or not to hire me. Any wisdom you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Sad in Pennsylvania
Dear Sad in Pennsylvania,
Because I travel around the world for my work, I meet and see lots of different types of people. But one thing never changes: there’s always one group of people who are outcasts. Sometimes, these minorities are not even acknowledged; it’s as if they are invisible. This breaks my heart. It also makes me angry. I can relate.
When I first started in the wedding and event planning industry, I arranged to meet a new client. We agreed to meet at her home. When she opened the door, she saw this tall, bald black man, and she was so terrified that she immediately shut the door in my face. I never heard from her again. That encounter was one of the most hurtful experiences of my life.
Prejudice is all around us. The only thing that helps is hard work; I want people to know me first and foremost for my talent. Clearly, you’re doing the same thing. Continue doing great work. As you said yourself, your work and personality speak for themselves.
However, I’d like to also caution you. Please be very careful not to jump to conclusions. When I was starting out, many of my brides’ fiances and fathers also questioned my ability to deliver. They were concerned not only because I was a minority but also because I was young and they had never worked with me before. They wanted everything to be perfect for the bride. Maybe some of the grooms you meet are nervous, because they don’t want anything to go wrong.
Be patient. I know it’s hard. But eventually, if you continue to work hard and produce good work, your race will become less and less of an issue. In the mean time, please put pictures of yourself on your website and on Facebook. Don’t hide.
Readers, have you ever experienced discrimination? Do you agree with me that “Sad in Pennsylvania” should put her picture on her website? I’d like to know what you think. Please share.