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


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


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?


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?

Want more stories like this? Check out these xoNecole related reads:

Your First Job Won't Be Your Dream Job

5 PhD Students Reveal How They Combat Impostor Syndrome

When Did 9 to 5 Job Shaming Become A Thing?

Featured image by Shutterstock

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

To be or not to be, that’s the big question regarding relationships these days – and whether or not to remain monogamous. Especially as we walk into this new awakening of what it means to be in an ethically or consensual nonmonogamous relationship. By no means are the concepts of nonmonogamy new, so when I say 'new awakening,' I simply mean in a “what comes around, goes around” way, people are realizing that the options are limitless. And, based on our personal needs in relationships they can, in fact, be customized to meet those needs.

Keep reading...Show less

Lizzo has never been the one to shy away from being her authentic self whether anyone likes it or not. But at the end of the day, she is human. The “Juice” singer has faced a lot of pushback for her body positivity social media posts but in the same vein has been celebrated for it. Like her social media posts, her music is also often related to women’s empowerment and honoring the inner bad bitch.

Keep reading...Show less

I think we all know what it feels like to have our favorite sex toy fail us in one way or another, particularly the conundrum of having it die mid-use. But even then, there has never been a part of me that considered using random objects around my house. Instinctively, I was aware that stimulating my coochie with a makeshift dildo would not be the answer to my problem. But, instead, further exacerbate an already frustrating situation…making it…uncomfortable, to say the least.

Keep reading...Show less

Gabourey Sidibe is in the midst of wedding planning after her beau Brandon Frankel popped the question in 2020. The Empire actress made the exciting announcement on Instagram in November 2020 and now she is spilling the deets to Brides magazine about her upcoming wedding. "It cannot be a traditional wedding. Really, it can't be. I don't want anything done the 'traditional' way," she said. "Our relationship is very much on our terms and I want it to be fun, like a true party."

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts