Traversing from Detroit to Seattle.
With every accomplishment I listed breathlessly into the phone, I paused to listen for her reaction. Each time I was met with the worst possible sound: silence. Not a “Wow,” not an “interesting,” not even a measly, barely interested, “huh.” After a few more unenthused responses, I checked the volume on the phone; maybe it was just set too low, and she had actually been riveted and cheering and whispering six-figure sums into my ear the entire time. The interview ended as quickly as it began. The interviewer managed a distracted, “Thank you. We’ll let you know,” before hanging up and fading out of my life for the foreseeable future. I placed the phone down, sighed deeply, rubbed my eyes, and logged back on the job boards to continue my hunt.
It’s a humbling thing, hunting for a job. You put yourself out in the ether, a speck among others. You know - or at least believe - you are a unique, intelligent being. But for all your specialness, your economic and professional futures are condensed to a single piece of paper and the whims of a random person you may never actually encounter. Your new job may rely on the mood of someone who just heard a Kid Cudi album. One of the experimental, exceptionally bad ones. The entire thing. You don’t stand a chance. Such is life. And the interview process is something all of us endure. It’s universal.
What’s less universal, however, is interviewing for work while black. It’s a singular experience to develop rapport with your interviewer on the phone, only to watch the look on that person’s face change in an instant when they meet you in person, the real-life equivalent of being swiped-left. You then spend the rest of the perfunctory interview calculating how much gas you wasted getting there, and whether you should have just Uber’d. I have been fortunate in my interviews not to encounter situations such as these very often. Many offices are aggressively seeking diversity, but the statistics of the architectural profession - with black architects comprising around 2% of the field’s population - do not contribute well to scenarios of you walking into an office and seeing others like yourself.
And so, you often have the familiar experience of being The Only One, the voice of an entire race, continent, and history. This is a familiar, well-worn mantle you take reluctantly, making efforts to represent blackness to the best of your ability. You stay a little later than most at the office. You never complain. You work three times as hard as anyone else. And you do all of these things because for all your cynicism and sarcasm, and for all the all-too-familiar political and social frustrations of 2016, deep down you are just as optimistic for the future of minorities in architecture as you have always been. You come home from a long day of work and reflect, and write, and post online anything you can to expand your team’s humble desire to design in color. And you sleep deeply and soundly, and dream that architecture’s default face will one day be multiple-choice and multi-colored.
Rubin is currently employed in Seattle as a junior architectural designer.