The DMV Gets You Every Time

An essay written for a composition course. Can’t remember the prompt or the grade I received. I haven’t read this since submitting so not really sure what I’m saying.

Advanced Composition, February 26, 2006

It was sometime around 1994, I don’t remember exactly, and I was going through my first of many career crises. I had just dropped out of college, for the second time I believe, a career in accounting did not seem like the thing for me. Around this same time the Pennsylvania state government was revamping its Department of Motor Vehicles. The objective was to eliminate the larger central locations with many smaller convenient locations; to eliminate the DMV as the butt of jokes perhaps. This seemed like it would be a nice turn for me, I took the civil service exam and waited. I got called for an interview. Nothing special about that, everyone who scores high gets called regardless of experience or education. Nonetheless I was excited at the prospect for a career and spent considerable time looking at maps and picking out where I’d like to be stationed. Erie, Pa looked nice, on the lake and sparsely populated, and so did a location in the southeastern part of the state, close enough to Washington, D.C. and Atlantic City to make daytrips. It was this sense of excitement and anticipation I took to the interview. The interview center was over and hours drive away so a couple of family members came along to make a trip out of it.

The interview started well, the typical questions were asked; how would you handle this situation, how would you handle that situation, etc. What the right answers are those questions I don’t think anyone knows; it’s how you answer them that matters. We now came to the time of the “Do you want this job?” or “Do you not want this job?” question. But in this interview there was to be no discussion of that type. This was a government job at stake and a more important matter needed to be discussed. This important matter was the color of my skin. Too dark for some (like the women who refused to be set-up on a blind date after hearing my name – Italian guys were too much like black guys for her) but not dark enough for this situation. Affirmative action quotas needed to be met and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had all the white men it needed. The Commonwealth did need to fill its quota of black men and black women, however. I am neither, so thank you and have a nice day.

I can’t say what happened next simply because I don’t remember. Twelve years has passed now and quite frankly this event was too trivial to hang-on to. My verbal response went something like, “Oh, ok” or something like that. But I sat there for a few seconds looking at these two middle aged white men. Assuming my age estimate is correct, and also assuming they were both career state employees, these were probably guys hired at a time when another discriminatory hiring practice was in place: white men only. So they sat there looking at me and me at them. What was the expression there faces held? Mock? Sympathy? Sheepishness ? One of them appeared to be smirking as if to say “Funny ain’t it? I got my job at a time when being a white man was qualification enough. And now, here I am, a white man, enforcing a law enacted by other white men with the purpose of discriminating against other white men!”

I left, made the drive back and went to work. I wasn’t angry at being rejected this way. I was angry, however, at having my whole afternoon wasted this way. They could tell I was a white man by my application so why even call me for an interview. Were they required to interview so many white men just to make it look good? Was that another quota they needed to fill? These are the thoughts I was having that night while working. While working for a man who hired his friend to work the same job as me but at a higher rate because they were friends. Another form of discrimination but at least this one came with a benefit: feeling guilty over what he had done, my boss allowed me to steal from the store without recrimination.

Like I said I haven’t given this episode much thought. Afterwards whenever I used these new DMV centers it never crossed my mind. Now, I laugh about because I can’t remember ever seeing a black person working in them. Most of the employees were older white people. When I think of times I feel I have been slighted or treated unfairly other incidents come to mind. There is the time I was flipping through magazines at a news stand. I had every intention of buying one and I wanted to determine which one was worth buying first. The owner approached me and asked if I had a problem. No of course I didn’t but I got the message. I wasn’t at the library or possibly he thought I was going to steal. I left without buying anything. This, this false accusation, still burns within me. I can see more clearly this man’s face than the face of the men who refused me a career. This hurts more because although I am a white man I am not a thief. The boxes of magazines in storage will attest to that.

Racial issues have been talked about for centuries, and they are still being talked about today. Some people called Thomas Jefferson a racist for suggesting that whites and blacks could never live together and should be separated. Was he wrong? Did it not take almost a century-and-a-half afterwards Jefferson wrote the “Notes on the State of Virginia” before equal rights legislation was enacted?

My own personal experience with Affirmative Action began and ended that day twelve years ago. However my experience with people hasn’t ended, and nor will it end.


Here’s a link to the great Primus song ‘DMV.’

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