On being one of many #BlackWomenatWork:
I remember when someone at a previous job gifted me with $5 in play money to “thank me” for a job well done. I remember being told to “smile more” as if I had been hired to provide some sort of reassurance, comfort or entertainment. I remember being constantly made to move, “musical chairs-style” in an office with plenty to spare. I remember being yelled at, cursed at and talked to worse than one would a dog. I remember watching others get away with coming in late and leaving early, when I could take 2 vacation days in a quarter and then be asked to account for “excessive use of time off.”
I remember being point blank asked how I could possibly afford my designer handbags, shoes or my car. I remember being saddled with other people’s work while they were free to vacation, or simply take up space. I remember other people doing much less and being celebrated, while I could work from here to Kingdom Come and it still wasn’t good enough for a raise, recognition or some other reward. I remember mine being the only black face some people saw except for the cleaning, catering or maintenance people. I remember being asked about crime levels in certain areas of town as if I were the expert on such matters (um, I’m from a RURAL area).
I remember a million micro aggressions including being laughed at repeatedly in a classroom setting as I presented serious research. (That was a straw.) So was having to explain to someone older than I am–yet subordinate to me–why using profanity to talk to me was unacceptable. Let’s not even go into the rude comments on my hair or the many attempts people have made to put their hands in it.
“Twice as good” is a concept that was drummed into me from the womb.
I needed those jobs, so like most black women I kept my head up, I swallowed a lot of tears and righteous anger, I ignored a lot of disrespect and I kept pushing. I KEEP PUSHING. Black women typically don’t have much of a choice to do otherwise. I left each of those experiences on my own terms (“always stay gracious; best revenge is your paper”–be it degrees
or cash). I wasn’t ever a perfect employee (who is?), but I worked hard. I work hard, still.
To be clear: there are countless women
who came before me and had it much, much harder. I thank them for enduring and making my way a bit smoother, for the blueprint they left. This isn’t a rant, screed or complaint. It’s merely a series of observations collected over time and added to a narrative. Only by being open about our experiences can we change the pervasive part of our culture that supports Zora Neale Hurston’s words published in 1937: “The [black] woman is the mule of the world.”
After all, as she also pointed out, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
The rules, expectations and assumptions levied at people who look like me are vastly different and applied on a constantly shifting plane. They are set up so you always fail someone, somewhere or fall short in some way for which you can never quiiiiiiite never atone. They are designed to make you feel less-than and to justify paying you less or failing to promote you. They are bent on teaching — and/or keeping — you in your “place.”
But I’m grateful for what those experiences reinforced in me:
(Note: I don’t own the graphic posted above. I just received it in a text and thought it was cool! The featured image of me was shot by Derrick L. Curry of Camera Play Photography