Why Pretty White Women Get Paid More Than Surly Black Men

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day. Or maybe it’s today. Or maybe it’s tomorrow. Who really cares.

In a recent post, Black Guys, Fat Guys, and Discrimination, I mentioned that I used to work at a law firm in San Francisco as a paralegal. About six months after I was hired, the firm hired a White woman who was pretty, blonde, and had a southern drawl. Her name was Tara.

One day I was bored with work. I started looking through some of the documents that were stored on the firm’s hard drive. All these documents were available for employees, so I didn’t feel too bad in reviewing them.

There was one document that should not have been there: The offer letter given to Tara. It listed her starting salary as $55,000. Good for her. Please Stop Helping Us... Jason L. Riley Best Price: $5.37 Buy New $19.01 (as of 12:15 EDT - Details)

I was making $45,000. Bad for me.

Did Tara make more money than I made because she was White? Did Tara make more money than I made because she was a woman? Did Tara make more money than I made because she was pretty?

There are two truths: First: Maybe she made more money because she was a pretty, White woman. But, it was not my money; it was the firm’s money. They could do with their money whatever they wanted to do with their money. No one forced me to work there. If I did not like what they were doing, I could have left. I could have asked for a raise. I could have tried to improve my job Defending the Undefend... Walter Block Best Price: $4.62 Buy New $12.95 (as of 01:30 EDT - Details) performance.

The second truth is this: Tara got offered more money because she had more guts than I did. She asked for more, and she got more.

Of course, the second truth trumps the first. If Tara had asked for $45,000, does any soft-head think that the Hiring Manager would have said: “You know, since you are a pretty, White woman, let’s pay you more money. Let’s give you an additional $10,000”

That would be absurd and laughable.

Negotiating with Giants Peter D. Johnston Best Price: $1.25 Buy New $8.13 (as of 09:35 EDT - Details) Again, the reason that I got paid less is because I asked for less. As Jesus once said: “Ask and you shall receive.” I asked for $45k and I got $45k. Tara asked for $55k and that is what she got.

I got a chance to learn a valuable lesson about negotiation, and knowing how to negotiate is an absolutely fundamental skill to advancing in life.

There was another lesson that I learned: There will be plenty of things that may seem unfair in life. When they happen, don’t immediately cry, “Foul!” Instead, it is better to look inward and ask yourself some questions: What can I learn from the situation? How can I get better? How can I be different? What can I do differently to improve my outcomes?

Someone once said that life is a journey not a destination. That’s true. When you encounter turbulence, put on your big boy pants — learn from difficulty, then grow, and prosper.

I would rather do that than don a wig and look like Rupaul.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.