I received my first paid job in politics when I was 22 and by the age of 23, I was managing a field program. As much as I appreciated the Washington genes, whenever I looked in the mirror, I wondered if people would take me seriously – not because I was immature but because even though I was 23 – on most days, I looked about 19 years old.
When I was first promoted to this managerial position, I found myself going out of my way to look older. I tried to avoid ponytails and dressing causal as much as possible. Now that I think about it, none of that stuff actually made a difference.
For example, during my last managerial role, I received a call from an African American man who was in his mid-fifties. He told me that he was a longtime activist who was looking for a job and that someone had referred him to me. We setup a time for him to come into the office to meet with me and I began to plan accordingly.
When the day came for us to meet, I made sure I put on my “big girl outfit” and I waited his arrival. He ended up being late but when I saw him enter the building, I went to great him, “Good morning sir. How are you?”
“Good morning. I’m here to see Jessica Washington,” he responded.
I immediately informed him that I was Jessica Washington, and extended my hand for a femoral greeting. Before shaking my hand, he laughed and asked, “how old are you?” He then proceeded to tell me that I looked like a child.
A week later, I met an older lady who was an activist. I really admired her because she had been politically active for about 20 years. That same day she sent a gentleman to my office, who had her on speaker phone and I heard her say, “she’s a baby and she does not know enough. We really have to school her.”
These are just two examples of the many times I was laughed at, or assumed to know very little about what I was tasked with, because of my age. As if someone as “young” as me could not be interested in bettering the community or ensuring that the right person gets elected.
I have noticed, especially within the Democratic Party, that there is a huge disconnect between those who have worked in politics for years, and those of us who are considered to be “just joining the fight”. It is my hope that one day there will be some real thought put into what could be done to ensure that both generations can work together to move a strong democracy agenda forward. And let’s be honest, if I was an older woman, it would be rude for someone to ask me, how old are you?