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?

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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