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If These Walls Could Talk: Being A Black Face In A White Workplace

Talk about office culture shock.

Workin' Girl

I've always been a strong black woman who held my chin high and wore my crown proudly.


At least, until I was put into one of the most uncomfortable situations of my entire career: Being the only black woman. That's not to say I stopped being the queen that I am, but I definitely learned what it meant to experience legit culture shock.

I got my start as a radio personality in 2007. I began working for an "urban" media outlet that was far more diverse than any other setting I'd been in to date. There were as many shades of brown as there were white. It was actually pretty dope now that I think about it. Everyone seemed to "get it." It's funny what we take for granted. As I approached my eighth year of working with what grew to be my second family, I was offered another opportunity to grow in my field. After quick deliberation, I welcomed this next role with open arms.

I walked into this new environment ready to take on everything like the boss that I was. But, what I walked into was not at all what I thought it'd be. It was as if I was listening to the soulful sounds of a classic vinyl and someone took the needle off the record player midnote. After meeting everyone in the building, I was hit with a harsh reality. The diversity I loved about my previous position was nowhere to be found here. I had to accept being a black face in a white workplace. I continue to smile through my confusion, take deep breaths, and brace myself for anything. To say this has been a true learning experience, would be an understatement, but I've definitely picked up a few interesting gems along the way:

1. Seasoning Is A Thing Of The Past

Although, some of my Caucasians sisters and brothers can actually cook, the use of seasoning just isn't in the mix. This is one of the first things I discovered while attending my first company pitch-in. Although I no longer eat beef burgers, perhaps this decision came after eating an amazing looking burger that had absolutely no flavor. It was as if the ground beef was formed into a patty and tossed onto the grill.

No Lawry's? No onion? No Worcestershire sauce? This was no burger of mine.

2. Natural Curly Hair, Please Don't Touch

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I'm a woman who likes to change my hairstyle as often as I change clothes. Many of my hairstyles are protective hairstyles; therefore, I wear extensions often. I say "extensions" as that's the term many of my co-workers use rather than my use of terms like "inches" or "weave." In other cases, I'm rocking straight tresses or my hair in its natural state. It's during the times when my hair is either weaved up or coiled that I'm approached the most.

I almost feel like I need to wear a sign saying "Do Not Touch" because so many of them just can't help themselves as they beam with excitement over my new 'dos. For those who don't touch, they simply ask questions as to how it's weaved in, if it hurts, what products make it curl, and everything in between. Still not an appropriate use of company time if you ask me.

3. Actually, I Don't Get It

I've certainly been able to relate to some folks more than others, and I'm sure the same proves true for them too. The hard part? I don't always catch the punchlines. I can't express how many times I've been in a room of chattering people and being the only one in silence. I don't always catch the jokes. Instead of being the awkward one, I try to laugh along anyway, but in my mind, I'm utterly confused.

Fake? I'd say it's more like survival of the fittest. Although we laugh together many times, at other points, the humor truly does differ between us.

4. Perspective Can Be Humbling

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Just as our skin tone is different, in several situations, our points of views are too. This seems to hold especially true surrounding racial and political attitudes. As a radio professional, I tend to stay on top of current events and topical matters just as much as pop culture. Staying on top of these things also means bringing my thoughts to the forefront.

I've had to learn that my thoughts are truly not always theirs, simply because we can't always relate to each other. We have different backgrounds, various matters affect us differently, and it certainly shows in conversation. I'm a pretty vocal person, but I have had to learn there's a time and place for everything, even emotionally charged conversation.

5. Stay Woke?

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I'm sure you've seen the movie Get Out by now. If you haven't it, consider this a spoiler alert. In the film, although quite creepy at best, we are deemed valuable and desirable. Please let that marinate as you recall the storyline. We are admired for our physical attributes and abilities, our skin, our hair, in addition to a plethora of other characteristics that we may or may not take for granted. In a somewhat similar way, I'd like to think that I'm truly desired and admired. I'm praised for my skill-set and way with words.

I've been blessed with the opportunity to grow in my field faster and in a shorter period of time than my eight-year tenure at my previous company. Call me crazy, but it's amazing how much they seem to believe in me. Oddly enough, it's that sense of appreciation that makes it all worth it.

6. Different Strokes For Different Folks

If only those walls could talk, I can just imagine the conversation. It would probably be filled with admissions of guilt, piqued with interest. Guilt for the subconscious judgement some may have felt, but interest in seeing just how much I continue to excel and defy the odds. It's amazing how our abilities are put to the test when we're truly forced to show and prove. I've excelled despite my differences. Facing said differences has made me stronger. I'm stronger than I ever would've imagined as I stepped foot into such a dissimilar workplace from what I was accustomed to. I have to go a little harder to shine a little brighter, and I'm fine with that.

It's been three years and I can say I'm excelling and smiling through it all.

In retrospect, I'd like to think I brought a new perspective to an otherwise homogenized place.

I've learned how to be open to change. It's funny, but I think we continue to learn a lot from each other. It's amazing what a little open dialogue can do. After all, we're radio folks. We're supposed to be able to effectively communicate, right?

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