On December 31, 2019, I posted a video to my Instagram story about how 2020 was going to be the year of momentum for me. At the time, I was speaking about my job, a few of my projects, my book, my health goals, and my new relationship! Everything felt positive and looked as if it was headed in the right direction for me.
This was all until 2020 came crashing through the wall like the Kool-Aid man, totally oblivious to my plans.
Now, I must admit, I haven’t really “lost” my own momentum, as the job is still going well (I earned a raise), my health is great (remember folks, your health is your wealth), my relationship with my boyfriend is still tight (it’s a semi-long distance relationship, but we’re making it work) and my book is currently with my editor. However, this year as a whole has sucked, and sucked hard, especially as a black person in this country.
To be fair, being black in America is always like being on a never-ending roller coaster with more valleys than peaks but this year hit differently, almost like a powder keg finally igniting and setting a fire. I mean from the death of Kobe Bryant, COVID-19 pandemic (which has impacted black/brown people disproportionately), massive job losses, the Trump presidency, Amy Cooper, Breonna Taylor, and of course, George Floyd, the latter of which has triggered protests worldwide.
And this is only what’s happened by June; God knows what the next six months will look like with the impending election.
I speak as a black woman who has dealt with racism within and outside work, one who is closely aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, who nearly had a fit watching the super-Karen that is Amy Cooper lying against a black man for no reason, and who cried as George Floyd struggled to take his last breaths. To be constantly subjected to such hate and to come to work with that hate on my shoulders, each and every day, is brutal.
If you follow my blog, you know I don’t shy away from talking about race. In fact, my blog is aptly named, Blackness and the Workplace, but there is a unique struggle all black professionals face, trying to work while maintaining our mental/emotional/physical and even spiritual health among our white co-workers, many of whom are clueless or simply don’t care about the issues plaguing our families and communities.
I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve had to summon the power of my ancestors to calm myself down when listening to my white co-workers say some version of the following:
“The neighborhood is a crappy neighborhood (aka it’s located in a poor or perceived poor-black neighborhood) and I am scared I might get robbed or shot going out to my car!” (This has never happened in all my working years.)
“We value diversity here. Our company just hired another black person (If you can count how many POC hires you made…you have a problem.)
“I don’t see race. I just see people.” (*Rolls eyes in racist microagressions at work*)
“I’ve never had a problem with any of my black co-workers.” (Doesn’t mean they haven’t had a problem with YOU!)
“Why are people rioting and looting?” (So why focus on this instead of what led to this….okay…
This, of course, doesn’t even begin to confront the myriad of racist microaggressions that have been directed at me from tone policing, comments about my hair, to being accused of being angry when speaking up for myself; I mean, the list goes on and on. It takes the focus of a Jedi, the mental discipline of a Spock, and the pretend unbothered attitude of an Omarion (if you know, you know) to try and divorce your blackness and carry on during meetings and smiling while engaging in potlucks.
Someone said it better than me, "I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation." You can read the article here and yes, black professionals are being suffocated by the boa constrictor that is white feelings to the point of passing out.
For me, it has all become too much and after the terrible experiences at my last two jobs, I’ve decided enough is enough. So, I’ve decided to stop:
Making excuses for my co-workers’ ignorance (mostly willful ignorance)
Refusing to avoid the topics of race and racism in the workplace
Pretending to be okay at work when I am clearly not
Not speaking up when my voice is needed
Not holding management accountable for the hostile workplaces they help create
As far as I am concerned, from now on, I’m putting everyone on blast, including managers and companies. While some people and companies do care, I’m also seeing heavy doses of performative allyship, mostly for clout and cheap social justice points. This is concerning because the discrimination and inequality impacting black people didn’t begin with George Floyd or Breonna Taylor; these problems have been around for a VERY long time. So why are people just NOW jumping on the bandwagon?
All of this new energy is suspect to me, to see companies who with few or no POC or women in leadership roles or where I can count of my hand the number of black people working there (despite being located in diverse big cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago), suddenly cheer Black Lives Matter like their own lives (or most likely livelihoods and profits depend on it).
To me, all this corporate support and sudden bandwagon energy are faker than a two-dollar Rolex bought off Amazon. Let’s see who keeps this same fervent energy even six months down the line and who doesn’t. Protesting and posting pictures on social media is fun, but doing the actual work to create meaningful and sustainable change, and change yourself, not so much fun!
In the meantime, I am watching, taking notes, and centering myself first and foremost. Get used to it.