Aryana Bates met Audrey Skeete while doing research at Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church in Newark, New Jersey. Aryana interviewed Audrey and her partner as a part of her dissertation, "Religious Despite Religion, Lesbian Identity." Their friendship grew out of that initial meeting. Their ongoing discussions for Velvetpark are an exploration into race relations, gender politics, and other social issues.
Aryana: I'm unemployed. A white lesbian Ph.D. in religious studies looking for almost any kind of work. Six months out of the program and still no bite. A few week ago, my friend Audrey invited me to join her at a job fair put together by a Baptist church in Newark—the black community doing something for itself.
I feel a little guilty going in the first place...taking up space in an environment clearly intended for an underemployed community—or at least for residents of Newark. But I want to accept Audrey's offer to a lead. I don't wish to seem ungrateful. Besides that, I need every opportunity I can get.
I meet Audrey at her house in Maplewood and we carpool downtown. On the way she introduces me to an India Arie song. She likes the sentiment, the insistence on mutable identity. "I'm not your average girl on the video.... Sometimes I shave my legs, sometimes I don't...." I play her a cut from Nirvana's "Bleach" album and demonstrate trash dancing in her passenger seat. I tell her how that music soothes and releases, helps me to embrace a big "fuck you" to all things agonizing.
By the time we reach the church the place is swamped. A massive line snakes through the twisting corridors and out the big front door. Damn. There's a lot of people looking for work. My heart drops. I have little confidence in job fairs, since it seems to me that opportunities usually come through internal connections. Aside from Audrey, I know no one here. And now here I am, standing in line with hundreds of people waiting to walk by what turns out to be a relatively scant number of company tables (there had been more earlier in the day), to submit resumes for what, to me, are disappointing jobs: insurance agency, police force, phone company, pharmaceutical corporation.
On top of that, I am one of perhaps only three non-African American people in the crowd. Now I really feel like an interloper on scarce resources. And now I'm sure this