I will never forget the day when I was five years old and my father sat me down to have "the talk." He told me "when you get older you will have to work 10 times harder because of your brown skin. Don't think for a second that because you are beautiful and intelligent, you will always be treated with respect." At that moment, it was instilled in me that being a black woman is something to be proud of but not everyone is going to like you because of the color of your skin.
The first time I realized this truth was when a manager described my personality as 'reserved' and because of that, I wasn't ready for a promotion. As I sadly thought about the non-black colleagues in my department who were promoted in spite of having similar 'reserved' personalities, my father's words played out in my mind like scene in a movie.
I remember the time a manager told me a few executives were visiting our department for a tour and I was selected (because of my achievements) for the group to visit me at my desk to speak with me. The night before the visit I picked out my nicest blouse and sharp dress pants to impress them. The next day I saw them from across the room meeting with some non-black colleagues. I was excited at the opportunity to meet the executives. But my department managers who were giving the tour literally passed by my desk while avoiding eye contact. My heart fell to the floor and I thought to myself, "what did I do wrong?"
After the executive team left, two of my department managers (the ones who ignored me) now stood by my desk with a menacing smile on their face whispering as if they wanted me to feel like a nobody. A few days later I told another manager who wasn't present that day, about what happened. All she could do was apologize and mentioned that she would get to the bottom of it. She never did get back to me.
I once worked for a company as the only black woman in the office. I was sitting in my cubicle while two of my white female colleagues stood by my desk and one of them said with a hint of disgust, "I heard about that story on the news. White people don't do stuff like that. Only they do." REALLY? You couldn't wait until I left my desk to make an overtly RACIST comment?
Another time one woman I worked with was nice but always made me feel like a commodity. She would say things like, "black women have the best shoulder line. You look so athletic and strong. I just had to tell you that."
I worked at a well-known company and my manager was married to a black man. I thought to myself, this will be good, she will get me. I was WRONG. Although I was new, she would yell at me in front of colleagues when I made mistakes and hover over my desk.
As time passed, it started to feel like she was looking for any mistake to berate me in front of my colleagues. When I would ask her for help or information that was a part of the company policy her response was "you should know this already." One of the worst days played out like this. She was wearing high heels and marched over to my desk on one of the most quiet days in the office with her arms crossed and scolded me for a mistake that was made because a colleague forgot to fill me in on one extra step. The whole department saw what happened and my white colleagues didn't come to my rescue nor did they try to make me feel better about the workplace harassment.
At least I'm not alone. Black women across North America used Twitter to share their stories of workplace racism using the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork:
To all the white executives and managers reading this blog here's WHY you should start showing us more respect. Putting up with some of your colonial mentality tactics is a 1920s strategy to project power in the workplace. If you are threatened by our work ethic, intelligence or natural beauty that is NOT our problem. Deal with your insecurities and thirst to stay in power on your own time. We had ENOUGH of the disrespect! The next time you want to make a black woman or ANY non-Caucasian person feel insignificant, ask yourself, "how would I feel if this happened to someone I care about?"
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