I wrote this months ago, but I was reminded last night that microaggressions don’t take a day off. I hope it still resonates with you all.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Brittany Packnett creating #BlackWomenAtWork in response to the treatment of Maxine Waters and April D. Ryan. These women are powerful forces in their fields and, in most arenas, command a great deal of respect. At the time, both women were reprimanded and treated as laughing stocks in public by prominent figures in politics and the media. A year later, both have shared that their experiences have not changed. I don’t know of black woman that hasn’t had a similar experience. There is a general understanding in our sisterhood that the immediate perception of us in the workplace is that we lack the ability to compete.
Here’s where this widely accepted reality becomes increasingly difficult for me:
I was raised to be proud of being intelligent and capable!
Seriously, the older I get the more I realize just how radical my upbringing was for a black girl in the deep south. There weren’t too many limits placed on what we could find interesting in my household. We were celebrated for being smart AND showcasing our intelligence. Our parents encouraged us to go to the best college that would let us in and excel once we arrived there. We were told that our opinions were important and sharing them was vital as long as it was done with care and respect. Although there were plenty of instances in which outsiders communicated the opposite to us, that foundation made us four women that walk into rooms believing in their right to be there.
In addition to that, I spent the first five years of my career in a cocoon of black, female leadership and mentorship. I started work travel and presenting as an expert at 23. I’ve seen what women of color can do when left to be their best selves. We don’t have any limits.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in most spaces. There is, in general, a prevalent distrust in the ability of black women. Trust me, in 13 years of work, I’ve seen and/or experienced it all.
The list of microaggressions is plentiful:
- Unnecessary clarifications only for you during meetings
- Inappropriate comments about your hair and/or figure
- Second guessing of your decisions or information you share
- Close examinations of your face or body language during meetings
- Blatantly sexist and/or racist statements made in your presence
- Suggestions of how you earned your position whether it’s through inappropriate work relationships or friendships - you can’t simply just be the best person for the job
- Being brushed off when you bring concerns to management
- Always too something…loud, quiet, passionate, comfortable, reserved. Everything results in a comment.
- An assumption that our bodies are open and available for unwanted touch
The dilemma we face is that we often have performance issues because of our efforts to avoid edifying these various stereotypes. It puts us at a disadvantage if we’re afraid to ask questions for fear of giving anyone fuel for their arguments about our inadequacy. We hustle to be seen as worthy, often breaking our backs by taking on extra work. We second guess every fashion choice for fear of appearing unprofessional. We stuff these small, daily humiliations down our throats and swallow them with a smile to keep from appearing difficult.
These daily battles take their toll. We grow tired. We often want to throw in the towel.
We can’t. I can’t.
Our presence matters in spaces where we are normally left out of the conversation, even if attempts are made to still leave us out of it when we’re there. I know. I’m with you. There are days when I don’t know if I can stomach another incident with a smile and nod. I don’t have the answers. I just know that more and more each day I seek the refuge of women that understand me. I also know that each day my skin gets thicker. In many ways, I sharpen my ability to work outside of those assumptions. It’s the only way to get to the goal and to open doors for other women. For that to happen, more of us have to keep pushing forward through difficulties in our current opportunities. We will get there. Certainly.