I hate hearing the phrase “I think you should smile more,” or “If you just open up more, people would treat you differently!”
Why is it that when black women get into the workplace it seems like we, to many people, come off as aggressive, mean, or rude? To many people in corporate America, there is a strange energy that gets passed around when a black woman is in the workplace. Conversations about pop culture seem to be censored, wearing your natural hair becomes an instant petting zoo, and speaking about racial stereotypes become uncomfortable conversations that you would wish would never come up.
But as black women we are often stereotyped as the angry black woman. We come off as “too strong” and that “we need to be more personable”. But when we come off as nice or soft spoken, our blackness is pushed away with the statement “you’re not black enough, I’m more black than you”. Yet no one will understand what black women face day to day. How hard we worked to get a college degree, keep a job, and pay everything with or without parental help. The constant fighting of racial tension in the classroom among professors, staff, and even at work. Colorism among the black community, the Instagram models that make you question your own body goals, along with trying to find that special someone. Lack of sleep, being broke, and scraping up change to pay the last bill of the month would make anyone have an attitude!
Yet in the workplace we have to fight so much yet receive so little when it comes to support. Working in corporate American makes you eradicate your own black identity. Wearing an afro in the workplace gets you called Angela Davis, but pulling your hair back in a bun is “a super cute hairstyle”. I never understood until working in corporate America that black people have to live two totally different worlds. I tell my high school students who I work with that, “I am Ms. Williams at work, but I am a totally different person after work.” As a black woman we have two strikes against us, we are black and women. With a president who has expressed his views on women’s rights, it’s sad that rights for us dont matter. It seems like the idea of “we all we got” is starting to sound true.
Being a black woman in the workplace can be a struggle but a beautiful struggle. You learn other skills that you might not have acquired otherwise. You learn that the world still doesn’t understand your being as a black person, and yet loves everything about your culture. They want you to fit negative stereotypes and yet turn around and tell you to tone it down. In the workplace, they want you to be sweet, charming, and quiet but make sure that your voice is heard and stand up for what you believe in.
It’s like the blind leading the blind. No one is happy and everyone is searching to find themselves and where they fit in the workplace. Sometimes you find a job that fits with your values that you can be yourself. On the other hand you may not, so then you have to figure out how to preserve your blackness and still please your workplace environment.
In all reality, you figure it out. But in the end, it’s like a square trying to fit in a round hole. You can keep trying to make it fit in, but it just won’t work.
By: Latoya Stegall
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