Why It Sucks Being the ONLY Black Person At Work
I've been fortunate enough to have jobs with coworkers who come from all over. This can be rare, especially in the media industry. The last company I was with gave me the opportunity to work with a beautiful ass rainbow of people. I loved it!
So I was surprised when I accepted a new position last summer, that I was the only Black person in the office. What surprised me even more was the feeling of isolation and lack of comfort I still feel. I am half white, but people are going to notice my big hair, big lips and other features that favor my Black side before diving into my family tree.
Guys I need to get something off of my chest...
What I'm about to talk about is from personal experience and doesn't mean it holds true to every Black person in the workforce.
So here's why it sucks being the ONLY Black person at my job:
1. I Automatically Become The Spokesperson For All Things Black
The first project I was assigned to research for had to do with Black Lives Matter. Absolutely ZERO problems here! I'm so glad my company supports BLM. However, it seemed that every project I was assigned to was well...Black as hell. Now I'm not mad at them for coming to me. I appreciate that they want to hear my feedback on these projects. What I don't want is for them to think that my word is law. I fear they take whatever I say and apply it to Black people as a whole. My experience, likes, dislikes and ideas as a Black woman doesn't mirror the rest of the Black community.
2. It's Assumed That All Black Stereotypes Fit Into My Life Some How
"No my hair did not grow 18 inches over night. It's a weave and no you can't touch it." "Actually I can swim." "No, I don't know what it's like living in an 'urban' neighborhood." "Yes, I've seen all of the Friday movies. No don't ask me to quote them." "Rap/Hip Hop are not my favorite genres of music."
They're called stereotypes for a reason ya'll! They're shitty generalizations that do more harm than good!
By the way, my boss gave me a book on Africa for Christmas. I promise you I called it before I even peeled back the wrappings. I just knew the gift was related to Black people. Don't get me wrong the book was good and the images were beautiful. I just wonder if anyone else in the office got a book about Black people.
3. Someone Gets Too Comfortable and Decides To Say Nigga
Man I wish I was kidding about this one.
I was working on a meme project with my white coworker when we came across one of the "hits blunt" memes. She decided to read it out loud and says "nigga" then just laughed about it afterward. She didn't hesitate, lower her voice to a whisper or nervously glance at me. She said the N-word like it was part of her daily vocabulary.
"But Maya, she was just reading a meme. She didn't call you the N-word."
No, but as a liberal "I'm with her" white woman I would assume you know how loaded that word is. I was sitting right next to her reading the same meme. She did not need to read it out loud. It's just like if the N-word was in a song. We ALL know it's there but it doesn't mean you get to say it. Also, as a white person, why would you want to say the N-word when it causes so much tension?
Apart from being too shocked to say anything, I was still new to the company and didn't want to say anything that might lead to me being labeled as the "angry Black woman." That is a legit fear I have as a Black woman in the workplace. We are automatically labeled "aggressive" or "bitchy" if we voice our opinion.
4. Being Approached As Though I AM The Angry Black Woman
On several occasions one coworker has told me to "calm down" or has given me the "chill out" gesture after I have responded to certain things. Because I feel uncomfortable at work, I'm super nice and professional with everyone. I'm never not calm when dealing with my coworkers, so I really don't understand how telling me to "be calm" is his go to. *eye roll*
My first week on the job consisted of random icebreakers. Talking about my favorite TV shows, where I went to college, my role as a radio personality and other ice-breakerish things. My coworkers weren't familiar with the shows I watch (besides my boss, no one in my office has seen Roots, the original or the remake) or references I made. It felt super weird. I never felt so detached from people I worked with. Not only does the location of my desk make me physically isolated from everyone else in the office, but I'm socially and culturally segregated.
6. Bah Bah Black Sheep
Everyday I'm met by faces that do not look like mine and by people who do not necessarily think like me. I can't relate to anyone in my office, and even with my shyness, I've tried. I can't make certain jokes or references because it's super obvious they won't get it.
For Halloween I was Sam from Dear White People. Perfect costume right? I carried around a megaphone that with "Dear White People" written on it. Clearly made everyone very uncomfortable. During the office Halloween photo my boss said "and here's Maya making us all feel uncomfortable."
I mean no, I'm not here for your comfort but it's just a halloween costume of a TV/movie character. *shrugs*
I'm sure my boss means well, she really is down for the cause. But her approach with some things just makes me cringe.
Why can't I leave? Because I have bills to pay. Trust me I've been trying to get out of here. It's not worth suffering through an office filled to the brim with a lack of cultural diversity. Okay, we have one gay guy from Puerto Rico but I obviously can't relate to him. Our conversations are just awkward.
I'm also the darkest person in the office which says A LOT!
In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or prospective employees in the workplace. However, even though it is illegal to openly discriminate it is not necessarily illegal for a workplace to have a lack of diversity.
My message to those who run a business or who are in charge of hiring is this, please recognize how important it is to have cultural diversity in your workplace. Having different kinds of people whether it's gender diversity, cultural/ethnic diversity or diverse capabilities, can not only greatly benefit a company's reputation and productivity, but it can create a safe space for those who are marginalized.