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Misadventures of a Black woman in Corporate America

‘Black Girl in the Corporate World’ is part of a series we’re hosting throughout the entire month of March. We’ll discuss what tolls being a Black woman in a white-patriarchal society could have on your mental health. All thoughts and testimonies are welcome using the hashtag #BlackGirlCorporateWorld.

You’re Black, you’re a woman and you work with white people. And the ways in which race and gender are so openly discussed in Corporate America nowadays, it’s becoming harder and harder to get these three things jiving. We all know of the Black girl who had to work ‘twice as hard’ to get that job at the firm where, as a consequence of racial/social inequities, has very few coworkers who look like her. She could be you. She has no real Black (or white for that matter) allies to help relieve the pressure of being the ‘only’ anything in a majority white-professional space. She finds herself in corporate settings forced to make decisions which speak on behalf of her entire race and gender at the same time. And sis, quite frankly, is exhausted.

Or, maybe you’re more familiar with her girlfriend who avoids these conversations at all costs. She doesn’t speak on behalf of all Black women, because honestly, we’re not all the same and “Becky needs to know that!” And plus, she’d rather not indulge her white coworkers with anything race/gender-related out of pure self-preservation because let’s be real, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’

Nevertheless, there’s a time where we all must face white curiosity — someone earnestly chomping at the bit to ask you about the latest headlines, politics and yep, your hair.

If you’ve worked in Corporate America, you’ve faced the paradox of being Black and being asked to discuss and put aspects of your Blackness on display for white people to ‘understand’ or feel better about, without feeling paranoid that you exposed too much, or without feeling like you had to sanitize your words in order to make make others feel more comfortable. So how did you do it? Bringing our full selves as professional Black women in the workplace can feel risky but it’s the direction we’re headed in a world becoming more and more racialized. How do you navigate? Here are a few notes (not tips because being a Black woman in Corporate America is still in beta) on how to handle work when white folks are getting on your nerves.

  1. Set boundaries: it’s okay to vocalize when you’ve had enough.
  2. Seek out coworkers who ‘get it:’ They’re out there. Find one or two who you feel will listen and hear where you’re coming from. Seek out coworkers who you feel already have foundational knowledge of the racial injustices of the world. Those conversations might not be perfect but they’re a start.
  3. Take breaks: It’s been a week and you feel like racism is all you have talked about. Take a breather. Just because you’re being silent doesn’t mean you can’t circle back and address these issues later.
  4. Talk to your girls: Behind every successful black woman, is a group chat support system filled with girls she can vent to and friends who will big her up.
  5. Talk to your mentor: Chances are, she had to deal with this too.

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