Clarence Bibs Talks About Being Black In The ’60s

Has being black in Seattle become easier since the 1960s? Beacon Hill residents sought to answer this question in the soon to be demolished Beacon Arts Warehouse.

Victoria Gardner hosted a screening of a training video from 1968 created by Christian & Coffin Co. meant to encourage supervisors in Seattle telephone companies to diversify the workforce.

The film features a monochrome Seattle as Josh, played by Clarence Bibs, tries to find and keep a job. As a last resort Josh applies for a position at a local telephone company, one that is predominately white. We followed Josh through his trials and tribulations, guided by his brief inner monologues and the (hopefully unintentional) condescending baritone of the narrator. Josh manages to establish himself at the telephone company he applies for amidst dealing with his coworkers’ and customers’ perceived racial superiority over him.

Clarence Bibs acting as Josh in a 1968 diversity training film.
Clarence Bibs acting as Josh in a 1968 diversity training film.

While the film was Seattle’s best crack at addressing the socio-economic gaps between white and black people in the ‘60s, it did raise a lot of questions. One audience member asked Bibs if the job training of black people shown in the video has gotten any better with time.

“No,” Bibs said. Companies still don’t take the extra time needed to ensure their poorer employees are adequately trained and because of this it is more difficult for black people to own their own shops. “We don’t have any businesses in most any town in the country,” Bibs emphasized.

Bibs went on to say that, like the film, he believes that being poor is a factor in people’s ability to learn the skillset needed for work. And in that vein of thought, the government should put up money to help educate people too poor to educate themselves to improve America’s workforce.

About two years ago Bibs gave the movie to Gardner, at the time simply rolls of film. She got the idea to host the screening after converting the old rolls into a DVD and was fascinated with the similarity between Seattle’s workforce diversity issue 49 years ago and the ongoing problem today.

“How much difference are we really going to be making if things are continuing to stay the same?” Gardner asked.

This upcoming Sunday in the Beacon Arts Warehouse Gardner will be hosting an interactive look into pre-colonial Filipino gender identities. For more information on upcoming cultural discussions or events in the Beacon Hills area, be sure to friend Victoria Maria Gardner on Facebook.

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