Black Life In White Pittsburgh: America Under a Microscope

Arah Iloabugichukwu
7 min readDec 19, 2019
Source: Beto Hacker / Getty

My father worked as a hospital housekeeper for more than 25 years. Every day at 4:15 pm, he’d walk to the bottom of our steep Steel City hill and wait for the city bus to drop him 4 miles down the road. From there, he’d walk a little under a mile to Allegheny General Hospital where he’d mop, sweep, empty trash, and dust until 2:30 am. After his shift ended he’d walk to a local cab station and catch a jitney ride back home, there he’d reheat dinner, eat and shower, and then head down to the basement for his morning prayer.

Day after day, rain or snow, my father, the college graduate, the experienced soil mechanical engineer, threw on his blue on blue uniform, raised his head, and reported to the office of his white male supervisor, a 20-something high school graduate supervisor. It was a far cry from his life back home in Nigeria. Before I was old enough to understand discrimination or racism or segregation, I knew there was something strange about my father’s 20-year job search. I knew that a man with advanced certificates and degrees from universities on three different continents and a curriculum vitae decorated with 15 years of experience had no business buffing brass. But as a Black African man living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a place commonly referred to as “The Mississippi of the North,” the ceiling was much shorter for my father, and it turns out that was by design. On Tuesday, September 17th, 2019, the release of a 95-page report compiled by a team of researchers in conjunction with Pittsburgh Mayor, Bill Peduto, and the Gender Equity Commission confirmed what I’d known my whole life. That my father would’ve been better off taking his family just about anywhere else, literally.


I spent the majority of my childhood wishing my family would move to Maryland. Based on the findings of some in-depth Ask Jeeve’s analysis, Maryland was where all the engineering jobs were. And if we could just get to where the better jobs were, we wouldn’t have to be so poor anymore. What my Ask Jeeves analysis didn’t reveal to me was that Pittsburgh had plenty of engineering jobs, well-paying ones at that, only these jobs were reserved for Pittsburgh’s white residents, preferably the white males, but certainly not the ones who looked like my father.

Arah Iloabugichukwu

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