It’s baffling and sometimes horrifying to learn that many people in our society believe we’re living in a post-racial America. While there have been moments of progression here and there, it’s painfully obvious that we’re not entirely where we need to be. We’re not even close. Just look at some of the recent news headlines. It’s rough out here.
For many individuals within the Black community, this has always been clear, especially for Black professionals in the workplace. Don’t worry – this isn’t a woe is me, life is so hard and difficult because I’m Black piece. No matter what race you are, I believe it’s critical to try to understand what it’s like to take a walk in someone else’s shoes and to listen and learn more about what it’s like for others trying to survive and thrive in this tumultuous climate we’re all living in.
Being a Black professional, no matter what profession you’re in, isn’t easy. No matter where you went to school, how many degrees or certifications you have, or how qualified you are, there will be times when you’re faced with challenges that will shake you to your core. Though you are enough as you are and have everything you need to be successful, there will still be moments when your self-esteem takes a hit, and you will wonder if you’re deserving of the opportunities you have or even belong in the rooms you’re in. And no matter how tough it gets, know that if you’re in those rooms, you’re there for a reason. Never forget that.
As a young Black professional, I’ve had experiences that broke me down so badly that I ended up seeking professional counseling because, at one point, my mental health was being affected. I’ve experienced the harmful effects of hiring bias and discrimination, numerous amounts of hate, harassment, and racism, and blatant disrespect and backlash whenever I’ve addressed these kinds of behaviors at work. In the past, I’ve even been threatened with job termination when I’ve stood up for myself. As a Black woman and a Black professional, I have learned how the system of repercussions works and how quickly things can escalate for those within my race whenever one of us stands up for ourselves, as opposed to non-Black coworkers, whenever mistakes or misunderstandings have taken place. I’m also no stranger to odd questions that have come from non-Black coworkers, such as, “You talk very well and seem smart. Are your parents well-educated too?” If you’re not Black, please note that asking Black people foolish questions like the one mentioned above can come off as super-offensive. That type of question implies and communicates messages that are not okay. If you’re ever unsure about whether or not what you’re about to ask may be laced with even the slightest amount of offense, don’t ask. Think before you speak.
Other Black professionals I’ve spoken with and have worked with have endured ignorant statements and non-stop microaggressions to the point where we’ve leaned on one another privately when we had no one else to turn to who could understand our experiences. We’ve heard and seen some of our non-Black peers, coworkers, and bosses thoughtlessly speak and send emails and post online commentary about things like police brutality, the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other marginalized groups. We’ve had to go to work with forced smiles and maintain our composure when some of these things have happened, lest we risk losing our livelihoods and everything we’ve worked hard to build if we even dared to speak up when an offense has taken place. Some of us choose our battles. Others have pretended to be okay when they haven’t really been okay. And guess what? We still show up, even if and when we don’t feel like it. Because we’re resilient. We’re strong. And we’re as ready as we can be to take on whatever it is the day may bring for us. It’s a harsh reality knowing what we are up against regularly and still having the courage to keep showing up regardless.