Was it racism?
What follows is a true story of how racism interfers with work flow. I have deleted any identfying remarks for obvious reasons. I have agonized over whether this story should be included on this web site. The topic of Racism, Prejudice and Bigotry has a chilling effect on potential business opportunities. When an African-American speaks about racism his utterings are seen as excuses for poor performance or sour grapes. So while I risk being judged as uncooperative and a trouble maker here is the truth - as I see it. The story is long but hang in there.
Several years ago when I was a freelancer, the president of a direct marketing company asked me if I would consider working for him as a full time production technician. He said that he was upgrading his equipment and that he wanted an in-house person who was creative, as well as technically knowledgeable. I said that I was interested. He told me to contact him in a month.
When I called a month later about the proposed job, I was referred to the current Art Director. She seemed reluctant and non-commital. But, she said that she would get back to me after she talked to the president about the requirements for the position. I didn't like the sound of that. I felt that I was being voted out before I got in. There was a rotten smell in the air. I didn't wait for the AD to call me back. I called the president directly. I told him that my funds were really low and that a full time job was an answer to my prayers. He promised that he would speed up the process and that he would instruct the AD to consider me first for any freelance work that came up in the interim.
I found out later that not much planning had been done regarding the new position that I was about to occupy. A job description was hastily written that said that the job required me to do practically everything that was needed in the Art Dept. From designing to production to illustration to computer consulting, I had to cover a wide range of duties including tutoring the other artists.
When I finally started, I was on a probationary status for three months. This meant that I was not entitled to any benefits for 90 days. I assumed that this was common practice in the hiring of all the employees and did not think anything of it. I found out later that was not the case. It seems that the AD had another artist in mind for my job. Subsequently, this person was brought on board. He disliked me intensely. I was told that he did not have to wait 90 days for his benefits to start.
On my first day back as a freelancer with the possibility of becoming full-time, I met a graphic designer in the hallway. I knew this fellow from working at the firm before. I smiled and said cheerfully, Good morning! He responded halfheartedly, Good morning, Rick. His eyes avoided mine. He was hiding something. Perhaps it was guilt. I made a mental note of it and filed it away in my subconscious.
Interestingly enough, while searching through some papers of previous AD's, I found a list of freelance artists. My name was at the top of the list with the notation that I knew all the programs and that I was good with Adobe Photoshop. At another time, the traffic co-ordinator told me that she had heard that I was the guy that could work miracles on the computer! That made me feel good.
As a freelancer, I was assigned a job to design videotape packaging for a religious self help organization. The Direct Marketing firm was in competition with the organization's regular design studio and it was eager to get additional business. The president handled the job personally. He often did this to the consternation of his Art Directors. It was not uncommon for a graphic artist to get confusing and contradictory instructions from both the AD and the President of the company. The AD felt threatened that I had direct access to the president.
The president was somewhat of a bully. He has a powerful, imposing personality that quite often stomped out conversations in mid-sentence. He rode rough-shod over the entire firm. He was especially gruff with the young female employees. He told me that one condition of employment was that I could not openly disagree with him in public, yet it was okay for him to chew me out anywhere, anytime. If you have a beef with me, he said, bring it here to my office and we'll hash it out behind closed doors.
I did a series of design treatments for the self help project. But the president was not satisfied. He said he wanted the image of a man in a business suit with his arms outstretched. At my studio at home, I searched all of my photo resources, but failed to find the image needed. I solved the problem by placing a photo of myself on the mockup of the proposed videotape cassette cover! There I was in my suit and tie smiling joyously as in triumphant victory!
I knew that I was treading lightly on dangerous ground. When I turned in the job, the Account Exec was surprised. You look like Malcolm X! he said. A week went by without further word about the project.
One morning, I went see the president on another matter. He invited me into his office and told me to close the door. He held his head silently while I stood in front of his desk. After a few minutes, he looked up and said, I am fuckin' pissed off. Sit down!
Continued on Page 2