This morning before I left for work, I had picked up my mail. I had
received three identical envelopes, from the same place. I was at
first confused not really sure what the hell this was, but I
hesitantly but inquisitively opened them. They were background check
clearance letters. So, why did they run my background check three
times? I think I know the answer, but I will not yet fill you in. I’ll
let you come to your own conclusions.
I am a black woman. In my early thirties, with no kids, no criminal
record, and not even so much as a ticket. Trust by all means I’m not
looking respect or to be lauded because the reality is not having a
criminal record is the hardest thing to ever achieve as a black
person. Here’s why it’s so hard! Cops start things with black people!
Long before body cameras and cellphones were used as evidence that
helped get officers off on unwarranted assaults done to civilians
because of some minor infarction like the body naturally jerking back
from being pulled, or punched, or stomped. It was the black
civilian’s word against the officer. Black civilians..never win.
I don’t cross the street if I see a cop even if there is visibly no
traffic because I’ve had many friends ticketed and harassed by
officers for jaywalking. I’ve had friends attacked by officers waiting
at the bus stop for a bus and then charged with loitering, I’ve
experience officers yelling out their cars at me and my black
trans female friend calling her “Dude” and other offensive remarks I
won’t say. And one morning at the age of 18 an officer pulled out a
gun on me and two other shelter mates because in his words “He wanted
to keep us punks off the streets” We were on our way to the grocery
store to buy cocoa puffs. He detained me in his cop car and ran my
name over and over and over. I saw my ID photo on the screen, but he
had no record or offense. He had asked me to spell my name, provide my
Date of birth and I did so without a single stutter. As we were one
block away from the station I saw him visibly panic because after all
what was he going to arrest me for? So, he let me go because he felt
“I was a good kid and don’t let him see me outside again” I froze at
the lack of logic of that statement because he probably would see me
many more times the police station was only four blocks away.
Most non-black people (and some embarrassing black people) believe
that if black people participated in identity politics that we won’t
look suspicious and if we don’t look suspicious we won’t be harmed.
All we had to do was speak the right way, walk the right way, dress
the right way, and wear our hair the right way. As I get older and
wiser I call B.S. on this because I and the entire world has noticed
what was seen as threatening on a black person is considered highbrow
fashion on a non-black person.
So, before I get back to my three background check result letters. I
would like to take you back six years ago…
I was in poverty. I had literally tried to make a dollar out of thirty seven cents. I had rearranged the pennies and nickels over and over again hooping that that change would transform into a dollar because a dollar somehow felt much more complete than thirty seven cents. When you are broke and hungry you begin to hallucinate in ways that are bizarre after the fact, but are normal during that time period. I remember checking the refrigerator over and over as if I had suddenly went to the grocery store and bought so much of it, I remember drinking several glasses of water to cover my stomach growl, I remember forcing myself to sleep instead of and although my starvation period lasted 7-10 days. I had gotten tired of living this way. I knew I needed a job because I didn’t want to live this way anymore. I wanted security, I wanted comfort, I wanted to live in some semblance of certainty. So, I began my job search.
After several months of applying for jobs. I applied for every job imaginable and was hyped about jobs that no one wanted, but for me it was a start! I remember being really hyped about being a janitor or receptionist. Whatever it was I knew that I would take pride in it and lift myself out of poverty, but as months went on I had not received a single word back on the positions I had applied for. I began to lose hope.
I still believe that it is in the moments when we lose hope, good things begin to happen. And surely enough it did. I received a call for a gas station job!. I scrounged my apartment in every crevice to make sure I had had enough change to catch the bus all the way out to the suburbs. Hoping the interview was under an hour which was when my transfer expired. I had answered every question thoughtfully and carefully. I even told my weakest strength was that I was detail oriented or I’m a workaholic! (I didn’t really know if that was true seeing that my only job was as an artist). The interviewer gave me a few eye rolls, but I was determined to get this job! I thanked her for her time and ran like hell in dead ass winter to get to my bus stop.
A few days went by when my interviewer assured me that I had passed the interview portion, but I had to have a background check. Knowing I didn’t have a record wasn’t the least bit worried.
“We have to do a background check, but if something shows up on your record we can’t hire you”
“Our background checks are really thorough”
“Look, if it shows up that you have a record we can’t hire you!”
“I know and Ok”
My interviewer had told me it shouldn’t take longer than a week and to give her a call back if I hadn’t heard from her. It took six. Every Monday for four weeks straight I called her to see if my background check had went through. She’d reply “Nothing yet, call next week”. After four weeks I had known I wasn’t getting this job and by week five I had no longer cared. I had interviewed, was offered an entirely different job, and did a background check in less than week at a place bit more prestigious. The job was only one bus away and the pay was almost $3 more than what I had asked. I was able to start the Monday following!
Week 6 I had started my job. While I was on my lunch break I received the results of my background check which showed I had no record. I was then offered a job at starting pay $7.50. I politely declined and thanked her for getting back to me I explained to her that I was offered a job elsewhere (I told her where) and had already started it. She said this “Ok. Well, if you know anyone that needs a job you can give them my number”.
Oddly enough an ex best friend called me to complain about her job search that week and I had let her know a gas station was hiring. I gave her all of the interviewers information. She had an interview two days later and told me it went well afterwards. The very next day she called me to let me know she didn’t get the job. Shocked because it took me six weeks to get results from my background check I had asked her:
“Wait! how do you know?”
“Because my misdemeanors showed up! Damn, I gotta get those expunged!”
My ex-friend is white and I am black.
Back at Strike One: I found the fact that my background check letter was both excessive and a little humorous because:
- My interviewer had forwarded a copy of my photo ID to HR and a week had gone by when I hadn’t heard a single thing about my background check.
- When HR did finally get ahold of me it was to tell me that they didn’t yet run the background check and would get back to me next day with the results.
- Looks like nothing popped up in the system. I may need to get my fingerprints redone despite the fact that fingerprints are good for a year and that I had mines for my job currently 3 months ago.
- Called to double check my birthdate, ID Number, and the expiration date on my ID despite already having my ID Photo.
- Contacted me again to let me know that I may need to get my fingerprints to let me know that nothing is showing up again and that I need to get my fingerprints. I asserted that I shouldn’t and I work in a facility with elderly and that my fingerprints were good for a year.
- Finally, to let me know my background check cleared and wondered when I would like to attend Employee training.
So, now you tell me? Why do you think my background was run three times?