How I Feel to Be the Only POC Employee in an all White Workplace
Hello to all my fellow readers and bloggers alike. This day, I’ve decided to write something that has truly been on my mind for quite some time. This week, like many others, has been the test of time on dealing with being the only Black employee in an all White workplace.
Let’s start off by making it very clear, I appreciate each person that I come across in their own uniqueness. Until I start to feel uneasy from your aura.
I was recently hired to work in a place that is in the suburbs of the city I grew up in. I took the job because it has everything I need to survive with at the moment. To be honest, I actually enjoy the work I do there. However, there have been times when I’ve witnessed the huge cultural gap between some coworkers and myself.
When I look in the office, I see the space between us. Equity, inclusion, and cultural competency should have been placed in that space. Yet, ignorance and lack of understanding have made it’s way between our worlds.
How can I work with people everyday, and I am the only one that needs to elaborate on my life because it’s “so unique“?.
When I first started at the job, there were two women I hit it off with immediately. One woman is easy going, but says whatever is on her mind without thinking first. The other is sweet on the outside, but very calculating on the inside. I noticed this the first week working here.
Now that I am five months into the job, I have made good acquaintances with all of my eight coworkers because they have let down their stereotypes (at least I think) and have learned to accept me.
But it isn’t the real me that they know.
They know the “work Tanaya”. This Tanaya does what she’s supposed to do, doesn’t milk the clock, 100% honest in her work, takes criticism like a grain of salt, smiles and laughs all of the time, works through sickness, and is never in a bad mood Tanaya.
The real “at-home Tanaya” is loud, boisterous, authentic, a smart-ass by nature, dancing fool, quick to put you in check, strong energy holding, emotional, happy, down to earth, observing, loving woman.
All of these things sound good to me, so why did I chose to put on two faces? I consciously act this way so that white folks won’t perceive me as a threat to their environment.
Here is where the cultural gap starts to get even bigger. I am reaching over to be “in” with my small group of coworkers so that they don’t see me as a threat, and they are waving for me to come over (sounds like a Viola Davis speech right?) but I can’t reach them. If I step forward, I walk right onto segregation, they step back. I walk back and I step on equity, they begin to frown. I step to the right and I walk on inclusion, and they keep smiling but turn their backs. I step to the left and I walk on white privilege, now they look confused, angry, disturbed, and ultimately, threatened.
The bridge is getting even bigger.
I was told, off-record, at a bar by a coworker that they don’t see color. This was after a conversation I had about writing a book for little black girls. She said that she doesn’t understand why I can’t just have a book for all little girls. “If everyone was color blind, the world would be a better place.”
No it would not. I proceeded to let her know that her way of thinking sounded sweet, but it was ignorant nonetheless. She proceeded to look confused. So, the next day, I gave her paperwork and articles about how colorblindness is actually racism.
The gap is now a gaping hole.
A coworker of mine had pretty short hair. She clipped it a little and decided to color it this unnoticeable purple-ish brown. Every woman in the office noticed her new do (except me, I didn’t notice until I stared at her for a while).
I just cut my hair yesterday, all of it, off of my head, and not one person noticed. I pointed it out to one coworker, she said that she doesn’t even remember what it looked like before. Then proceeded to tell me, “I don’t really know how you guys can deal with your hair, I can barely do mine.” (this is the color blind person by the way).
Dang, that’s a far fall down that space.
Seeing as though I am the only Black person in my workplace, I try to make the best of it. I get along with everyone because I chose to.
In the next week, after much prayer (and food poisoning) I’ve decided to be my authentic self. 100% who I truly am.
One of my resolutions was to be more of myself around everyone (whether they accept me or not). Which is totally hard when I have to work around them every day.
I don’t care if my confidence intimidates people. I don’t care if people feel threatened by me standing my ground. I don’t care because there is no shame in who I am.
That being said, I have heard many stories of other African-American/Black-American’s conforming to what their white coworkers (or bosses) want them to be. Do you do the same? How does it make you feel?
To me… it’s a form of modern day mental slavery.