Throughout my career, I have been the only black person/poc and/or person of color on my team at 4 out of 7 of my jobs (including internships).
The 3 jobs where I wasn’t the only black person were the ones in which the people that hired me were also black.
What I have found working in predominantly-white spaces is that in addition to my actual job, I have to take on the role of what I call the ‘culture librarian’.
The ‘culture librarian’ is an individual who provides knowledge on and insight into their own culture, and others.
I use the term ‘librarian’, specifically, because while we are very knowledgeable about the ‘books’ in our ‘library’, we didn’t necessarily write them.
Me being black doesn’t make me a black culture expert.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to explain to my white counterparts why we can’t just use trendy ‘slangs’ or memes that they’ve seen on the internet in our comms.
(No, Sarah. we do not need to include ‘yasss, queen’ in the copy to make the brand seem cool)
Some of the worst experiences were when I was consulted for my ‘diverse point of view’, only for leaders to do whatever they wanted to do anyway.
y’all know how every year a brand starts trending for saying something insensitive and you wonder ‘how’?
That’s how—it’s a privilege.
And that’s what sucks about being the unofficial diversity officer of your team.
You don’t necessarily want to have to do it but you feel like you have to so that the brand or client you work for doesn’t f**k up.
(You also don’t get paid extra for this work, when you should)
Which leads me to another topic that black and brown people know all too well—
Having to work twice as hard as our white counterparts.
As a black woman, it has often felt like I have to work four times as hard and in the times that I did, it was never worth it.
I recall a time when a former CMO of mine harassed me for weeks about reaching a social media goal that he set.
Long story short, I surpassed that goal.
Later, in a meeting, in front of our entire office, he gave credit to a white woman on my team for the work that I did.
That experience (and others) showed me that people choose not to see black and brown people, no matter their contribution.
His reminds me of another issue that I have experienced on several occasions—people assuming that I am white before they meet me.
The best example I can think of is a time when I was looking for agencies to support my social work.
One of the brands I used to work for had a consumer base that was predominantly white. Therefore, much of the ugc I reposted on our social media channels was of white people.
One of the common pictures our customers would post would be them holding the product in their hand.
I remember getting on the call with one of the agencies I was interested in and the Account Manager alluded to the fact that he liked how I was being resourceful as a hand model.
y’all. He thought the white hands in the photos were mine.
The ugc, that I reposted from our customers… he thought that I made the personal choice to be the brand’s hand model in an effort to be scrappy.
Like, Sir. Why would you assume that I am a white woman?
Some people do make the honest mistake of thinking I’m white because of my ‘work voice’.
Most black and brown kids have experienced the chat with our parents, in which we learn to tone down the accent or speak in a way that is not jarring to white people.
Re: Code Switching
The result of code-switching in the workplace is fascinating because you’ll hear micro-aggressions about how ‘articulate’ you sound, while simultaneously being asked, in a subtle way, to ‘black it up’ so that the brand can sound cool and ‘hip’ in its messaging.
Microaggressions and racism in the workplace exist because companies allow it.
In my experience, diversity & inclusion has never been a priority.
It’s always an afterthought that rises out of internal and external pressure that’s applied to individuals at the executive level.
And it always shows, for example, in the times when you’re asked to be on a call with a client just to show them that the team is diverse (even when it’s not).
(ma’am, this scope of work has nothing to do with my skillset. why am i here?)
Imagine billing hours for blackness.
Additionally, it’s being there to witness how black women, specifically, are often spoken over, disregarded, and ignored when it comes to making major decisions that could impact other employees and customers—
Especially employees and customers that are also black.
Despite being ignored for literally everything else, we’re always approached when it’s time for the company to make the grand ‘diversity statement’… because no one else can.
Finally, it’s the physical discomfort you experience when your white counterparts look for every way to relate to you—
By discussing your hair, saying racist jokes, assuming you like hip-hop, or doing other weird s**t that excludes just getting to know you, on a human level.
I have finally landed in a place in my career where i can be more selective about the employers that I choose.
I made a vow that I will no longer work at places in which i am a minority and/or the leadership team is predominantly white.
I completely recognize that this is a privilege but i deserve better.
We all do.
One thing that I forgot to mention is that oftentimes, black people feel alone in the situations i mentioned.
In my experience, people who consider themselves allies—white people (especially white women) and non-black, people of color—never show up or speak when it matters.
This is why there are so many black professionals that suffer in silence.
We have been shown consistently that our ‘allies’ don’t care, which not only makes us anxious it makes us question our sanity.
This is even more prevalent when we’re perceived as ‘difficult’ to work with.
Follow @jaydeipowell on Twitter.