Breaking News
More () »

Black History Month: Local Black professionals find success in white dominated fields | To The Point

In some industries, Black professionals make up as little as 6% compared to nearly 90% of people in their fields who are white.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In industries such as law and contracting, Black or African American people make up as little as 6% compared to nearly 90% of people in their fields who are white, according to 2022 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

41-year-old Jess Washington, who is one of the few electricians in the Sacramento region, got his start as a contractor nearly two decades ago.

"I had to make sure that whatever I did, I'm gonna make enough money to support the family," said Washington. "When you're starting your own business — without funding — that kind of worries you, so being able to pay all the bills was my number one thing."

After years of working in different contracted roles, such as construction and solar, Washington later became a licensed electrician and started his own independent company in 2018, Jess Electric, and said he has found success in his venture so far. 

However, as a Black professional in a blue-collar job, Washington has found himself faced with setbacks due to being one of the few in his industry. 

"Other racial groups, they don't tend to hire African American men," said Washington. "Most people that were working in the trades in my hometown were Hispanic and white, and a few that were the owners of framing companies, plumbing companies, they set themselves that they don't hire African American men."

Of the 918,000 contracted electricians in the U.S., only 7% are Black while 89% are white, according to 2022 BLS data

Washington said racial bias could be a reason Black people may face adversity in white-dominated fields.

"We as Black people have a stigma of being lazy," said Washington "Even though all of the Black men that I actually grew up with, they all have families and they always had jobs ever since we graduated high school."

Similarly, in the field of law, only 6% of lawyers and attorneys are Black while about 88% are white. 

This is a reality 40-year-old Tamica Smith has faced in her years as a Black attorney in Stockton.

Smith's desire to become an attorney began when she was a young girl and she says one of the things that kept her motivated in her journey was her father.

"My dad was very encouraging," said Smith. "He was always like, 'when you're an attorney, when you're an attorney, not if' and so I think that made it a big impact that somebody believed in me."

However, Smith said she too recounts moments in her career feeling discouraged due to negative stigmas and experiencing racial bias.

"It was difficult when I first started out, especially when people didn't know who I was and I would go to court and they would either assume even though I'm wearing a full suit, professionally dressed, was I a defendant? Or was I a secretary?" said Smith. "[As] a Black woman, I felt like I can't get upset because they don't want me to be the 'angry Black woman.' I have to smile, hold my composure and just let it go."

Despite these setbacks, both Washington and Smith have continued to find success in the paths they've chosen.

"As, women and Black women, we have to work harder," said Smith "Just do your best and show them that we can and we're just as good; not because of our race not because of our sex, but because of who we are as individuals.”

Washington also said he hopes to see the next generation of young Black professionals fill the gap in his field.

"There is no American history without Black history," said Washington. "Even though we've been through the gauntlet in this country, from our history, it shows us that we were not and could not be denied of excellence."

Watch more from ABC10: Civil Rights Activist Ben Jealous talks racism and inequality | To The Point

Before You Leave, Check This Out