Working, whether in an office, a school, or a restaurant can often be a challenge when you are the racial minority amongst your co-workers. As a Black woman, trying to not to be too much of something yet be enough of what is necessary, all while performing on a consistent basis amongst your peers can be draining and offensive.
Black women make up just seven percent of the workplace. If you’re a young Black woman who has yet to enter the workplace, there are a handful of workplace scenarios you may experience from those of other races.
- When you change your hairstyle, be prepared for your co-workers to be floored.
“Your hair grew overnight!” “That’s a funky little hairstyle you’ve got there.” “Can I touch it?” “Sorry, I didn’t even recognize you!” How you choose to let your co-workers interact with your hair is your choice. However, it may get tiring having to explain to your cubemate how your hair went from a curly fro to box braids overnight. As annoying as it may be, I find simply educating those who aren’t aware of the versatility of Black hair is easier than publicly displaying how fed up you are. Most of the time, the comments are just harmless observations.
- Possible misuse of African American colloquialisms.
There’s a chance you may hear phrases such as “ghetto”, “ratchet”, “snatched”, “laid”, and “on fleek” used out of context. This could either irritate you, offend you or have no effect on you at all.
- You serve as a reference for Black culture.
Right out of undergrad, I landed an internship with a technology organization. I was one of two black girls who worked there, the other black girl being an intern as well. One night, at a work event, the company went to a karaoke bar. The other Black girl and I showed up late. Our coworkers crowded us at the door and hysterically cried: “You guys just missed it! Someone just sang Alicia Keys! You guys would’ve loved it!” Do I enjoy Alicia Keys? Yes. Did they know that? No. Small assumptions, such as that one, are fairly common, especially if you’re the only Black girl in your space.
- Figuring out who made what at the office potluck is a game of mystery.
If you find your other Black co-workers whispering amongst themselves, asking each other “who made the potato salad?” there’s a valid reason for the inquiries. The best thing to do is just ask. Someone will be more than happy to tell you exactly why.
- You will be dubbed the “angry Black woman” by default.
Perhaps the most irritating form of workplace microaggression is the angry, aggressive Black woman label. Black women are already assumed to be upset all the time so one of the worst places to experience this unwanted label is in the workplace. It may be assumed that you are angry when giving an opinion on a team project or simply disagreeing with a co-worker. It gets tricky when other races hide behind your “aggression” and use it as a tool to maneuver their way through how to treat you. Do not censor yourself, but also be cautious about your approach in certain conversations so no one can say they are fearful of you.
- Code-switching may become a way of life.
African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Ebonics runs heavy within the Black community. The art of code-switching allows us to change our word usage, tone of voice, pronunciation, etc. when speaking with our colleagues. AAVE is not to be confused with slang, where words incorporate the phrases from point #2. Code-switching among colleagues is a popular method Black people use to avoid language insecurity in the workplace.
- Racial issues of the world seem to go unnoticed.
Another unarmed Black person has been racially profiled, shot, and killed by the police. It’s all your group chat is talking about in the morning and yet your white co-workers seem un-phased. This is possibly one of the most baffling things you can experience. This is where you may find that you truly live in completely different worlds.
As a Black woman, the workplace can be a lonely and isolating place. If there is more than one of you, you can create a small, exclusive club of comfort and safety amongst yourselves. If you are the only Black woman, both intentional/unintentional racism and prejudice can be traumatizing. How you choose to navigate spaces in the office, once you identify them, is imperative to your work culture experience
By: Chantelle Polite
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