Tuesday, 28 April 2020

My Racism, Your Racism?: The new face of racism

I felt the need to whinge after seeing all these audios of Africans in China being racially discriminated during the pandemic.  What I will be saying below are my thoughts based on these videos and speaking to a few people.

From social media platforms and main news outlet, it led me to believe there was a rise in racism across the developed world before Covid -19 reached Europe.  Many were horrified by the insults hurled on Chinese students in the UK. These racial harassment incidents took place even in communities. Chinese restaurants were set on fire with people losing their jobs because of their nationality in some countries. That was and is terrible.  Then the Italians because that became the Covid -19 epicentre before anywhere else in Europe. Gradually, people realised that it was a world pandemic with no boundaries based on skin colour or borders. Once people start seeing this group or that as being the reason for a virus where would the line be drawn? I said to a friend of mine we will come out this pandemic either realising we are all equal or worst-case scenario discriminating other groups further. He said what do you think will happen and my answer was, of course, more inequality. By the way, I do believe we will be fighting more discrimination after this pandemic. I was not celebrating that Chinese student’s people were facing racial harassment because I meet that every day and I know how it feels. I am not watering down the experiences of these people, Italian or Chinese who initially faced this COVID wave of racism. What I am saying racism is racism, whether on a white black or brown person and should be treated as such. Once we start separating it as white, black, brown racism, then we face the danger of creating further divisions. Racism has no face. If we look at it from the pandemic lets, call it for what it has been about rather than give it colour.
 Then, fast forward April 2020, while talking to another Diversity and inclusion practitioner, he told me he had been asked to write about racism on the Chinese communities during the pandemic. I quickly asked him, racial attacks in general or only on the Chinese people? Interestingly, he didn’t know about the plight of Africans in China.  Racism is racism, whether you are African or Chinese, right?

African Students were chucked out of their accommodation, not allowed hospital treatment, and some ended up begging their governments to take them home. These Africans were being targeted based on their skin colour. I know because it was not on BBC news many never saw this side of CovID-19. As far as I remember, it was reported as an allegation and was, of course, being denied. The Chinese government has been supportive of African students through scholarships, and about 80 thousand or thereabouts across the continent are studying in China. It is human nature (as observed from my decades of being on planet earth) that when we don’t understand something or scared, we look for a scape got and sometimes even our friends or neighbours can become such. However, thanks to African channels, Al Jazeera and social media channels like WhatsApp, we were able to connect with family and friends in some provinces in China were these (discriminatory behaviours) were taking place.
Some people may think racism is about a chip on the shoulder by those that are always talking racism, but for me, it is the abuse of power by those privileged to have it. People who still find joy in never accepting accountability and responsibility but doing everything it takes to pass on the blame on the powerless ones.
Just because the racial harassment of Africans did not happen on the European continent, it does not mean it didn’t happen. In the post-pandemic fight of racism, let us remember the Africans in China. Let us not forget the effects of racism on individuals are similar. They do not respect the colour of a person.

Right now, in America and the UK, there are more black and brown people on the frontline who are dying. Yes, the reasons for that are not known yet. However, I pray to God that it won’t be another layer of stigma on people already grouped as a minority.

As always these are my thoughts, observation and a bit of reading.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Of leaders who are not leaders: My thoughts

Have you ever received an email from a senior member in your workplace and realise that despite the attempt to mask it, the senior member was nasty to you? Also, you know that they think by sticking ‘have a good day’ at the bottom of the email, they think you are stupid and will not notice it. These types of leaders exist in our day-to-day lives. It could be at work or anywhere but know for sure that you are in trouble when you have such. They like to remind you that they are your leader and emphasize how important they are to the organization as if you are not. A very simple definition of an organisation says it is about people coming together for one purpose, business or whatever. Having said that, yes, there will be hierarchies for this organization to function well but it does not mean that those below a certain grade in the structure should be treated with disrespect.

What is leadership anyway? I will go for a simple definition. I am not writing an academic paper here.

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal (Kevin Kruse). I find this definition simple and it encompasses what I want to say. It is not about saying to people ‘look I am intelligent, cleverer than you, the big man or woman of the company and there is you this little nothing member of the organisation’). Trust me some leaders exude these traits. In my 13 years of living in the UK, I have come face to face with leaders like these. It is as if they cannot help it. You rather want to say ‘we know you are, who are, do not rub it in my face’. However, why should it be like that? There is no need. How can one expect to influence the people they are belittling or mocking? It doesn’t work.

I remember a friend many years ago whose Senior Lead used to waltz in her subordinates’ office and moans about how she doesn’t understand why people get to the next day with no money. As far as she was concerned such people could only be stupid. My friend was like ‘wow’. There was a woman with money who didn’t know what it meant to be on a lower wage and struggling to make ends meet. She would do this every week on her way from lunch shopping. What sort of motivation would you get from that type of person?
I think if you are a leader, it doesn’t qualify you to use that privilege to bully and belittle subordinates.

Great leaders find the balance between business foresight, performance, and character. They have vision, courage, integrity, humility and focus along with the ability to plan strategically and catalyse cooperation amongst their team. They do not walk around puffing their chests to show that they run the show.
Please be Kind.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Which one of the protected characteristics is the most important: really? My reflections

I always like to write about issues most troubling me but I don’t always get the chance.  Trust me, managing work and other responsibilities can most definitely take one’s time.  On top of that, there is tiredness especially a week after the Christmas break. I just felt coming back to my special place where I can write about stuff that might be difficult to get the right audience in real life. Disclaimer: These are my views, experiences and observations and if they do not fit neatly in yours, then you can always read quietly, be polite in disagreeing with me or just do not bother reading.

So, here are the  areas of equality and diversity issues that I have been struggling with and meant to write about all along, black people who think because they happen to have made it to the top positions in organizations – all of a sudden, they are superior to the rest of the black people in the world. I am talking about black people in particular because I happen to be black and I am writing about this because I have come across these people and also heard from the people, I speak to about how annoying these people are. They are annoying mostly because they make others feel as if their lack of progression is a sign they are not as hardworking as them, they fit and you who doesn’t progress, you do not fit or are not trustworthy enough to get where they are. Anyway, maybe you are reading this and you are one of those people and you are thinking maybe I am jealousy – the answer is no, I am not.

Let me explain. In most cases, these people, before their promotion, they complain and moan about everything; the lack of opportunities to progress in the organisation, they mourn about the inequalities, they moan about everything and they still mourn until just before they get a promotion.  All of a sudden, they tell you, they do not see, have never experienced all the things they once mourned about, and all those complaining would just need to work hard and will just be fine. In fact, they make you feel like you are one of those black people always playing the race card. They make you feel like you are lazy. They do not even want to talk to you. When they see you walking towards them, they change the direction of where they are going. In meetings, they always have to disagree with you even when it’s obvious you are making a good point. It is as if you make them uncomfortable. At any events to do with equality, diversity and inclusion, they take the back seat or they do not show up.

I honestly do not understand. All I can think of is maybe they want to please so much that they do not remember how life was before becoming this new person. Anyway, food for thought! I rest my case.
I am not saying equality and diversity is a responsibility of one group of people, I am not saying it’s a black, white, brown and yellow issue but my beef is with those who change the narrative depending on where they are.
While I am at it let me talk about another issue:  people who are so passionate about their little box of inequality, they are the only ones suffering inequality because they are female, LGBT+, etc but they don’t believe there are problems as regards other protected characteristics like race for example.  They argue that because they have black or BME friends they think there is no racism in the UK. What I can only say is, its not a matter of comparing apples and mangoes when it comes to equality issues, and we can’t put on a scale all the types of inequalities and try and measure the most serious one. That would not work. Inequality in any form or shape is bad and let us not try to score points by suggesting that being black is better than being disabled or being gay is worse than ….. Discrimination sucks whichever type. There is no way we can know what it means to be a black person, a gay man, a disabled person etc unless we are that, so what gives us the right to compare them all and decide that being this is better than being that?

All I am saying is let’s treat people with dignity and respect not by their bodily or socially constructed characteristics!

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Of gender and race

Hello, I am back. Its been a while since I have blogged.

I am going to talk about race and gender. I won't go about it in an academic way but just in general. In fact, I will use my experiences, so before you get ready to attack me,  let me remind you these are my experiences.

I talk a lot to people about equality issues, but sometimes what I hear makes me wonder whether some people realise what being different means. I have come across strong women who can do anything to find gender inequality. They jump on anything that has a whiff of sexism or come close to it, but when it comes to race,  they seem to lose interest.

So, I was having a drink with a group of friends talking about some of the things we have experience as women. Similarly, our experiences had ranged from being whistled at by a group of men to sexism at work. Our stories which I will not discuss here were harrowing. What I haven't said yet is I was with my white friends. So, I felt it was equally important to let these lovely ladies of the additional burden I face as a black woman. However, it was clear they were not interested in putting themselves in my shoes. They initially listened but the more harrowing my experience of carrying that extra burden, the more they seemed not to understand. It was more like 'Oh  I am sure people do not go out of their way to be racist'  and 'Oh they didn't mean it like that!'

Honestly, if a touch on your bum is sexual harassment, why on earth would you think being called an angry black woman , lazy and got an attitude as a black woman because I have voiced my opinion is OK? Isn't it a form of being made to police my self thereby losing my voice? And, honestly, it resonates with a lot of things for me as a black woman - colonialism etc.

Remember I am not trying to water down people's experiences but we have to remember other than both mangoes and apples being fruits - the comparison doesn't go far. We shouldn't be allowing ourselves to think one inequality is better because if we are for social just our focus should be how to end it not comparing who is hurting most.

We need to think intersectionality!

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Why is Race a difficult topic for some people?

Well, I have just been debating whether I should write about this or not.  Writing about race or even talking about can leave one with more enemies than friends.  A bit of an exaggeration but I guess you know what I mean! As you can see, I thought I ought to. It is important that we talk about it. Avoiding talking about something does not make it go away.   People are so sensitive now that even when you are not talking about race if they suspect you are, they become so defensive or angry and if you are unlucky, will not be receiving a Christmas card from them.  What is it about the subject that makes people’s antennae go up?

Recently in a conversation with my white friend, he happens to refer me as African. I was saying how cold I felt and he said ‘You Africans are always the same when it comes to the weather, either it is too hot or too cold for you. I have a problem with this guy at work, always putting the radiator high’. This was not said in an affectionate way let me add before some of you jump on to say I should understand the humour of the country! I tried to ignore the heating issue because I am one of those people who would rather hibernate in winter if it were possible, just to avoid the cold. However, the generalization though. My response to him was that I preferred Zimbabwean than this generalisation. I also pointed out that ‘we are not all the same’. No country or even household has similar people even in the UK, never mind the African continent. Unfortunately, in his mind, I was accusing him of something. He went on this defensive mode, which was in itself interesting but sad at the same time. At first, I thought he was joking because of how serious he became. I thought to myself what are you saying indirectly. I decided to explain myself in what I thought would bring his anger down. Remember I was not and am not talking about black versus white here. I explained that just as everybody else I am entitled to how I wanted to be identified as.  Moreover, I hear most people loudly saying they are ‘Irish, Welsh, and Scottish etc. Even some British people prefer to identify as English. So why would Zimbabwean be so wrong?  In addition, not many British people go around calling them European on a day-to-day basis. Some even go further by referring to themselves as Cornish, Yorkshire etc. Why then was it an issue simply to want my identity to be of my choice?
What then did it for me was what came out next?  ‘Do you realise there might be less racism in the world than you think?’ OMG! I could not believe what I was hearing. I thought at what point the dreaded big ‘R’was mentioned. This was getting ridiculous. A conversation about identity preference being highjacked by the fear of being seen as racist- what has the world gone to? What can we say - let me say I, without being accused of using the race card? It is hard when one is made to feel he/she is out to get people. Sometimes it makes it so uncomfortable that even when you hear real racist comments you are not keen to say anything about it - perpetuating it in the process. Race or racism I find is one of those things people would do their best to deny even when it is glaringly obvious. I have heard so many times the statement ‘I didn’t mean it like that’. Well, how else did you mean it, mister, when you describe me as a ‘coloured’ or as an ‘international ethnic’?
Back on identity, I really wanted my friend to know that it is not about playing the victim game here but understanding that I am also entitled to my identity without the race being an issue. Of course, I am British too but I am constantly reminded of my identity when I am asked, ‘Where are you really from, or is this really your hair – meaning I am associated with a certain country and a certain look. So then, why when I want to identify with a specific country am I accused of saying people are racist? Double Standards!  It is pretty much a matter of who is offended- but part of me thinks if you think like that, are not you hiding something as well. In my language, we have a saying ‘Kuvhunduka chati kwata hunge uine katurike’. In English when I translate it somewhat mean if you are edgy about something, it could be a sign that you are hiding your true colours! Zimbabweans are you out there- is that right? I realised that my language -Shona is not on google translate- I wonder if the African language is, for the sake of whoever speaks it because I don’t!

I know what you are thinking. There is nothing wrong with being called an African- but asserting I am accusing people of racism just because I say I identify as Zimbabwean first before anything else is pathetic. We do not far by controlling others. We need to respect each other’s views and wishes without being offended or offending. The rant I witnessed from my friend on this issue left me really wondering- who knows what is best for me?  What is it that makes people so defensive when there is a hint even indirectly of this type of -ism? Racism has long changed its manifestation in society; hardly do we hear the N-word shouted in the street.  Nevertheless, to assert that we live in a post-racial Britain is misleading- living in Cloud cuckoo land.  We all know, including those who moan about political correctness gone wrong in Britain that we still have a long way to go when it comes to race and other -isms. Why do people get mad at you when you refuse to be boxed? Have you ever noticed that? You cannot be what they are not- you cannot be different without being called a name.  If you speak for yourself- ‘she is aggressive’ or she is a feminist blah blah…
It is as if you do not fit neatly in some people’s packaging; from how you look to how you think, etc – you are different and therefore have to have a name. Where will difference go or live, what will difference say without being labelled?

These are my experiences so no point calling me anti-this or the other because that won't change anything

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Decolonising the Mind: When we tear each other apart

Even history books can confirm how long black people have been in competition with one another. Divided by skin complexion as house and field Negroes, we were forced to create segregation within our own race. Trickling down from generation to generation, black people seem to still embody this desire to compete and tear one another down. Recently on my travels abroad, I was shocked by my black brothers and sisters' attitude towards me. It sort of reminded me of the book I read when I was at the University of Zimbabwe some twenty years ago called 'Decolonising the Mind' by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o. I never thought twenty years on I would be making reference to the book. Indeed, some of our black need their mind decolonized. I was traveling with a white friend of mine who wanted to see my country. From the UK we were treated equally as far as I could tell but the moment we got to Johannesburg things changed. While we both had British passports, I was always treated with suspicion- to the point of being told by a black sister at the O.R Tambo International airport that my passport photo was too black and was asked to step aside for further investigation. Hello, this was a passport photo accepted by the British Home Office. Meanwhile, my friend the mulungu/muzungu was being treated like royalty.As if that was not enough, upon arriving at the Victoria Falls International Airport, another shock. The immigration black brother wanted me to say I was working for the lady I was with. It would not simply make sense to this immigration officer that I could also go on holiday. It took me another 10 minutes to explain that I had a career back in the UK and just happened to be bringing a friend who enjoyed travelling and wanted to see Victoria Falls. At this point, I thought maybe I was over thinking. My ten-day stay was interesting. Whenever we visited a restaurant, I always got served last and it would take between 10 to 15 minutes in some places before my food was brought to our table. At one point I asked the manager if my dollars were so different from my friend who seemed to always get first class service wherever we went. When paying for whatever we had purchased, my dollars were scrutinized as if I might have fake ones. I saw taxi drivers bowing down to my friend, something we do not even do in my culture. It was all rather bizarre to watch. On my return from having been seeing the falls from the Zambian side, the immigration officer who was taking seconds to check people's passports and visa, took about fifteen minutes with my passport doing absolutely nothing with it: I suppose to make me sweat, honestly but why? I never thought black people after years of freedom still see themselves as inferior. To make it worse, some are even willing to drag down other black people with them. During this trip, I saw a people who are still unsure of who they are and I suppose tied up with the colonial mentality of feeling inferior to others. My passport photo was too black. I wonder what colour it should have been considering I am black? I couldn't possibly be on holiday unless as a carer for a white lady? I couldn't possibly afford to pay for my meals hence slow service for me 
Indeed we need to 'emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds'... Bob Marley

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Office microaggressions and being the only black woman in the office

Today I’m wearing a colourful headscarf over my dreadlocks and big hoop earrings in my ears. That may not sound to you like a professional set-up, but it’s how I dress sometimes.

I’ve never had a boss who (as far as I know) deliberately set out to make me uncomfortable as a black person in the workplace, but I’ve had plenty who didn’t approve of my dressing and the way I speak.
And I get it: Employers want the workplace to be a setting in which people can—well—work.
I know I’m supposed to be representing my workplace in a professional way but not at the expense of who I am.
The problem is that many employers end up perpetuating racism just by following the norms that most people consider harmless, or even helpful, for creating a professional work environment.

One can unintentionally make one feel unwelcome just by upholding what’s widely considered to be “normal” workplace culture.
For instance, common standards of professional dress create dress codes that aren’t easy for many people of colour – and pretty much anyone who isn’t a wealthy, able-bodied white man – to follow.

The requirement to adhere to such a dress code would make one not just uncomfortable but also set one up for failure. There’s an expectation to look like someone other than myself in order to do a job I’m perfectly capable of succeeding at while I look like myself.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal. There are larger issues when it comes to race and work – like blatant discrimination in hiring, racist harassment, or institutional racism.

But even so-called “trivial” things like dress code requirements and everyday micro-aggression add up to create big problems for access, safety, and equity for people of colour in the workplace.

And it’s not just clothes that create obstacles for people of colour.

When you think about it, all of our common ideas about professionalism in the UK are based on an idea of upper-middle-class whiteness.
So let’s think about it and then do something about it – because following the status quo on professionalism is a sure way to cause unintentional harm.

Here are some of the ways common workplace culture has created struggles for me in the workplace, and how we can work to change them.

1. People Look Down on Me Because I Don’t Straighten My Hair

Like other aspects of the dress code, you may not think that hair is the most pressing issue when it comes to race and the workplace. But for me, it’s huge. I once went to have biometrics done with a funky afro hair. On seeing me the lady at the counter shocked me by talking to me as if I was deaf and unable to comprehend what she was saying. I was given the classic, ‘Can- you- stand –over –there- and wait?’’ This was spoken slowly as if to a two-year-old. Why, because I looked very African possible since I was doing my biometric having arrived and therefore unable to speak English. I bet you if my hair was straightened, a bit of make-up she might have spoken to me in a normal voice.
Like many other Black women, my hair plays a significant role in expressing my pride and my identity.
In order to fit many people’s standards of professionalism, I have to take time, put in money, and endure pain to permanently alter the texture of my hair through chemical straightening. Black people with natural hair can be judged as everything from gang-affiliated to “distracting.”

But, shockingly, there is no correlation between straightening my hair and doing better work. When I put it that way, it’s obvious, right?

I’m a hard worker, and saying that I have to change my hair to do my job is misguided at best – and actually, it feels pretty downright insulting.

So by choosing to wear my natural hair, I’m taking a risk.

No matter how much self-love I build up, I still have to face external barriers that say that my natural beauty is not appealing

2. People Think My Natural Voice Sounds Unprofessional

There’s no one way of talking like a white person or a Black person, but usually in the UK, the idea of “speaking professionally” brings to mind a specific form of English.

That form does not include the way I naturally speak, and it sure doesn’t include Africans, African Caribbeans.

The fact that I feel the need to change the way I speak is strange because, throughout my life, I’ve heard “compliments” about my so-called “proper” way of speaking – comments like “You’re so articulate!”

I’ve learned that this is not a compliment. It’s basically another way of saying “Wow, you don’t fit the stereotypes that come to my mind when I picture a Black person!”

This is a problem, and not only because people expect me to be something I’m not. It’s also a problem because of the negative misconceptions people associate with African/ African Caribbean accents. In a professional setting, Black users of thick African accent are judged as unintelligent, uneducated, gang-affiliated, and more. Fun enough, not Europeans. Theirs are seen as sweet and cool accents.
These racist and classist ideas about how we should speak in a professional setting actually affect most Black people, regardless of how we naturally speak, because we’re all judged based on the same stereotypes.
I went to a Christmas party once and a workmate having been drinking all evening had the guts to ask me to ‘speak like an English person’. That was not funny and to make it worse people laughed. It was as if he was saying I didn't belong there
All of us should be evaluated on how well we do our jobs, not on how well our voices can hide the fact that we’re Black.

3. People Doubt My Capabilities Because of My Name

Studies show that potential employers associate “black-sounding names with violence and incompetence, making them much less likely to call back Muchecheti after an interview than Wesly or Smith.
Job-hunting can be discouraging enough as it is – and it’s even more demoralizing when you realize potential employers might be throwing away your CV upon reading your name, without even considering your qualifications.
My name reveals my Blackness, and I really shouldn’t have to think of it that way – like it exposes something negative about me. Turning down my application because the hirer knows I’m Black is racist discrimination, period.

But oftentimes it’s more subtle than potential employers thinking, “She’s Black, so I won’t hire her.”
Even people who don’t think they’re racist can hold subconscious biases like believing Black people aren’t hard-working. And even beyond hiring, these biases can come through in ways like laughing at our names or insisting on calling us by nicknames you find more appealing or easier to pronounce. I once worked in an office where I constantly heard other teammates either laugh at people’s names or complain that more visa people were applying (even when some of these people were British people).  And even if they were visa people, aren’t we living in the world of global competition where the best get the job?
Some Black people end up changing their names or going by initials to improve their chances of success in the job market.  How bad is that? It’s just one of the many ways Black folks feel pressure to change or hide who we are to avoid being misjudged.

4. People Judge Me as Excessively Angry If I Get Mad or Set Boundaries

Emotion is a natural part of life – everyone gets mad sometimes, including at work.
There’s an understandable expectation to keep emotions in check, to a certain degree, in a professional setting. I wouldn’t be a very good employee if I lost my cool with every condescending customer or irritating co-worker.
But you wouldn’t be a very supportive employer if you held my emotions to a stricter standard because I’m Black.
Unfortunately, this tends to happen.
As the study on “black-sounding” names revealed, many people associate Blackness with being violent and dangerous. Further research on implicit biases shows that people who don’t even realize they hold racist views can feel this way.

I used to think my ability to be patient in all kinds of situations would help me avoid being misjudged as excessively angry.

But now I know that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m actually angry – I can be stereotyped as an Angry Black Woman just for sharing my opinion, asserting my boundaries, or speaking in anything other than a sugar-sweet tone of voice.
That makes things really inconvenient, to say the least, in a work setting.

For white men, confidence and assertiveness are treated as positive qualities and leadership skills. But when I was a supervising manager at a retail store, I had to balance taking leadership – like telling a habitually late employee to be on time – with gentleness, so as not to be judged as aggressive when I was just trying to do my job.

I need to be able to be assertive at work not only to get my job done but also to take care of myself while I do it.

Since emotion is part of a natural human experience, it’s unhealthy for me to suppress all emotion at work. And since setting boundaries is absolutely necessary for self-care, it’s oppressive to expect me to put up with being mistreated because people judge my assertiveness as excessive anger.

5. I Have to Stay Quiet about the Pain of Racism

As a woman of colour, racism is part of my everyday life.

We’re often expected to carry the burden of racism silently because when we talk about it, we’re seen as rocking the boat. And that even includes when racism shows up at work.

Many Black people are familiar with this cycle: We witness or experience racism, point it out or stand up for ourselves, and then a white person cries, or feels guilty, or says they’re being attacked. Often you hear ‘Oh she has a chip on the shoulder or she likes playing the race card’. Suddenly, we’re seen as the aggressors creating a hostile environment, rather than being supported through the hurtful process of experiencing racism and gathering the courage to call for it to stop.

Racism is a part of my life, and especially if it’s part of my workplace, I need to be able to express my frustration with it without being seen as “attacking” white people.

6. I’m tokenized as the ‘Only One in the Room’

Many of the examples I’ve discussed so far have come up for me in white-dominated workspaces. Having more Black leaders and co-workers of colour isn’t a guarantee of better working conditions, because we can be guilty of these behaviours, too.

But there’s something special – and by “special,” I mean “oppressive” – about being the only Black person at work.

Even employers making an effort to diversify make mistakes when it comes to tokenizing, hiring one person of a certain race and expecting them to represent everyone from their community.

It’s a lot of pressure.

It comes with knowing that your every move, every misstep, every blunder will be used to judge everyone like you. When I’m in this situation, I feel like any small failure will confirm someone’s racist ideas about Black people being incompetent or lazy.
I know this fear doesn’t just come from my imagination, because of how often employers come right out and ask Black employees to speak for all Black people.

For an idea of how well that works out for me, refer back to what happens when I’m judged as excessively angry. As the only Black person, I feel the pressure to make sure others see me as a “good” Black person – as in, one who won’t call out racism or get angry or “make” white people feel bad about themselves by naming oppression.
In the end, even if I’m being tokenized as the only Black person, I’m still expected to conform to whiteness in a way that’s simply impossible for me. But it can feel like the financial support I need to survive is at risk if I don’t suppress my pain and try.

These are some of the struggles of not just being Black in professional settings, but especially of being unapologetically Black. I’m essentially more likely to be accepted at work if I’m ashamed of who I am.
I can laugh at racist jokes instead of admitting that they hurt me, to try to avoid being labelled as an Angry Black woman. I can straighten my hair to avoid the negative stereotypes about what it means to be a Black person with natural hair. I can change my name so my ethnicity isn’t clear on business cards or on a CV.
But I don’t have to do any of these things in order to get my work done, and I shouldn’t have to do them to convince anyone else that I’m an effective worker.
I should be able to be myself – and to be proud of who I am – while I’m at work.
The expectation of conformity with upper-middle-class whiteness means fewer job opportunities. It can also mean having to work at a job that requires me to put time, money, and effort into changing myself to fit in.

So the pressure to conform put me at a disadvantage and adds the stress of knowing that if I slip back into my natural self, my financial stability could be at risk.

But being unapologetically Black doesn’t mean I’m incapable of doing my job. It means I feel free to be me, and that’s a feeling everyone deserves to experience at work.