Nothing stings at your confidence quite like being underestimated, underserved and cast out in work spaces you thought you'd grow in and acknowledged your worth. And there's no formal education or amount of money that makes this hard truth any less real for black women.
I remember the moment I first experienced this during my last year of college at my internship in features news writing with a notable media company. I was elated for the position and worked 9 AM-4 PM without a lunch break and after hours as needed. Despite my excitement on the inside, I quickly learned to contain it on the outside. No one talked to each other – or at least to me.
I said "good morning" to my supervisor and cube neighbor, but no one else even made eye contact with me unless it was necessary.
A month into my internship, an editor finally acknowledged me to write an article. She introduced herself but stared at me, confused by my presence as the only black woman on the floor. She immediately asked if I had any writing experience (duh, that's how I landed this internship), where I was originally from and what school I went to. When I proudly said my HBCU of Morgan State University, she curled her lips as a sign of the official "aha, there's the deficit I was looking for" and said, "Yeah, I was there the other day to talk to a few students, it seems like no one really knows how to read or write, like there's not a lot of education on communications there."
I let her comment roll off my shoulder and went to WORK on my writing assignment to show my value.
And it worked – I landed on the web cover page and received compliments throughout the department. But this didn't last long. One of the interviewees called and complained that I mixed up a location venue she was at. I had the actual interview recording to prove that the location was correct, however the editor said to not worry about it and she'd "clean up" the situation.
I went on to write other stories, but on my last week at the internship, I overheard the editor talking to another staff writer that she couldn't see me working long-term with the company if I was already having issues fact-checking. And just like that, any chance I had of staying in the department was tarnished. I never returned, but the effects this experience had on my self-esteem were lasting. I wondered why I was being punished so harshly for a misunderstanding, and why one single incident trumped all the other work I'd done.
Unfortunately, this was not my last encounter of implicit bias. I continued to have work projects overlooked or called out on for their errors, was left out of social conversations and viewed as "not enough," and I soon learned of its commonality. A 2018 Women in The Workplace report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. found that 40% of black women stated that they've had their judgement questioned in their area of expertise. Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual's understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious matter.
We know we're the office outliers, but despite this, a 2019 Catalyst report found that 88% of black women wanted to remain in the same organization, 87% wanted to be an influential leader and 81% were working towards a high ranking position.
So, what do we do when we still want a piece of the pie?
Know That Nothing Is Wrong With You
Someone else's misperception of you does not define who you are and the value you add. Do not doubt your work and your capabilities.
It can be difficult to believe in yourself when no one else does, but it's at this time you need to douse yourself in love from within. Start your morning with daily affirmations that speak to your soul. Set daily reminders on your phone with uplifting quotes to remind yourself of all that you are.
Still Use Your Voice – With A Nice Nasty!
Reports show that 35% black women feel like their managers create opportunities to showcase their work compared to 43% of white women. Furthermore, 22% of black women reported they often had their work contributions ignored.
Your voice and thoughts are still powerful, so continue to empower yourself to address issues in your office.
And, don't be too humble to be what I call the "nice nasty". Trust, when you "unconsciously" do to people what they're "unconsciously" doing to you, they get the picture. If someone asks if you need help on an assignment that is clearly in your expertise already, ask them if they need help with something they're doing. You'll both be surprised by their reaction.
Get Involved In Employee Resource Groups Or Create One
Diversity isn't just about checking the box, but providing tools and opportunities for inclusion to really include everyone. Employee resource groups (ERG's) are employer-recognized groups of employees who share the concerns of common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation. These groups are intended to enhance the employee experience and when done right, should lead to developmental opportunities for your group.
If diversity and inclusion and ERG's are not being properly recognized at your job, there's bound to be someone you can connect with for social support.
Plan Your Next Move
The realism is your work culture of implicit bias may not change. If you recognize this and find yourself unhappy, unsatisfied and underserved, then it's time to move on. While it may be frustrating to get back up in the saddle, you deserve to be in a space that uplifts, encourages and values what you bring to the table. Your voice matters!
Featured image by Getty Images
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30 Years Later: Here's Why I Think 'Living Single' Had The Healthiest Couples On TV
I don’t know about (some of) y’all but every time that I see a 90s movie or television program turn the Big 30 (or hell, even 20, for that matter), it definitely makes me feel some type of way. Lawd, where does the time go? Truly. And I definitely don’t feel any differently about Living Single — the show that, for starters, we all know Friends should attribute at least 75 percent of its success to since it basically gypped its entire concept from it. (Don’t get me started! Just know that you can read more about that very thing here, here, here, here, and here).
Anyway, there is so much to adore about the sitcom, even as it (rightfully so) plays in heavy rerun rotation to this day. There are the solid friendships between four Black women who remind me, interestingly enough, of the four hilarious seniors fromThe Golden Girls: Khadijah could easily be Dorothy; Synclaire would be Rose; Max would be Sophia, and Regine would be Blanche (wild, right?). There’s the beautiful friendship between their male sidekick neighbors, Kyle and Overton (Black male bonds are also a very precious and necessary thing). There are the relevant storylines, quick wit, and the kind of entertainment that most television shows today can’t even begin to touch (le sigh). Yeah, Living Single deserves all of the flowers to the point where I’m still pissed that it was canceled in the middle of its fifth season (although, thankfully, many questions were actually answered in the last episode).
Yet, even with all of this said, if I had to name my absolute favorite thing about the show, hands down, it’s the fact that when I stop and think of all of the shows that I’ve watched over the years (and it’s been a lot of them), Living Single is one where I think that every main love connection was pretty damn healthy. Not only that, but there is one couple, in particular, who I think a lot of folks could stand to learn how to love well and right from (heads up, it’s probably not the one you think).
So, in honor of the show being 30, humor me as I take just a few minutes to formally and officially shout out a few reasons why, when it comes to displaying Black love and hell, love in general, Living Single set the bar, raised it and then added tax — thirty years ago and present day.
Khadijah and ScooterGiphy
I like getting t-shirts made with pics of some of my favorite Black love couples. For instance, I recently got one done with Jesse and Angie on it (the real ones know who they are); folks always compliment me when I wear it.
There’s one couple, in particular, though, who’s been triggering the mess outta me for the past several months. It’s because, although I crown them as the healthiest fictional couple in television history (Black or otherwise), it’s hard as hell to find any good shots of them. Yep, that would be Khadijah (Queen Latifah) and Scooter (Cress Williams).
They were childhood friends who stayed friends. They always wanted what was best for each other. They didn’t let really good sex (remember their first time when Khadijah said, “We started kissing, and my clothes fell off!”) infect their friendship. Even when they got engaged, they broke it off because they knew that, even though the love was there, they were doing it (at the time) for the wrong reasons. They supported each other’s careers. Scooter was not threatened by Khadijah’s ambition (or other boyfriends; remember when she was about to move in with ole’ boy and Scooter was basically like, “I mean, I did pop in unannounced. My bad.”) Yet, he was also confident enough to tell her about herself sometimes (because if there’s one thing she hated, it was receiving correction and giving apologies).
On the flip side, when Scooter had to travel away for long periods of time, she didn’t put unrealistic restrictions on him. They both just kind of let each other be and allowed their love for one another to exist — even if it had to change different forms in different seasons of their lives. Their love was so full, real, and special that I truly believe that if Fox hadn’t “foxed” the show (SMDH), they would’ve gotten married — and had a really solid and drama-less union. Because the relationship was about freedom, respect, and friendship. And that is healthy as hell, y’all.
Yeah, HANDS DOWN, they are the cream of the crop when it comes to relationships to me. Who gives AF about Rachel and Ross (from Friends)? Khadijah and Scooter have always run crop circles around them in my eyes, chile.
Synclaire and OvertonGiphy
I already know that most of y’all probably think that I should’ve led with Synclaire (Kim Coles) and Overton (John Henton) since they were definitely the most popular couple on the show (again, I had to go with my personal favorite, though) — and with just cause.
All of the “day ones” remember that the first episode of Living Single featured Overton seeing Synclaire for the first time and instantly being drawn to her and her quirkiness (like that big ass troll doll that she rolled up to the brownstone with). He pined away silently for what seemed like forever as he was low-key courting her in the process (like when he faked being an accounting expert just to spend time with her). When they finally did get together, Synclaire and Overton took their time before having sex and yet were super affectionate and doting on one another in the meantime; this serves as a great reminder that intimacy doesn’t have to require copulation. They openly communicated their needs and expectations. They shared a liking for some of the strangest stuff around.
Overton had a way of being protective yet supportive of Synclaire (like when she was naked in that play), while Synclaire had his back when it came to things like resolving matters with his ex (remember when he kissed his ex and realized he was really over her? Classic). Something else that was cool about Synclaire and Overton is you saw dating go to courting, courting go to engagement, and engagement go to a traditional church wedding. They were sweet. They were old-fashioned (without being super critical of the other couples). They were adorable. They had a not-perfect-yet-very-uncomplicated kind of love. And isn’t it grand to be reminded that Black love can be just that way?
Synclaire and Overton are the kind of relationship that a lot of us probably imagine our great-grandparents had back in the day. And if anyone on this list is probably still together with some grandkids who also have troll dolls and tool belts for toys, it would be them. No question.
Maxine and KyleGiphy
These two right here, boy. Definitely, the couple who was the most fun and entertaining to watch consisted of Maxine (Erika Alexander) and Kyle (TC Carson). And can we take a moment to shout out the trendsetting hairstyles Maxine had and how intentional Kyle was about tailoring his outfits? Salute. Anyway, if any two people are an example that constant banter can indeed be foreplay, they would be it.
The clap backs were top-tier (and daily), and yet, there was a brilliance in their timing and delivery that makes them ending up together (eventually) make a ton of sense. Come to think of it, that’s what I liked the most about them — the way they let life mature some things in them both. When they had sex for the first time, they went on a date and realized (I think it was more Max’s fear than anything at the time) that good chemistry and great sex do not automatically make a solid relationship (which is mature as hell).
When they tried having just a sexual relationship (because the sex was so good), they were careful not to let it ruin their, I’m not sure if it was exactly a friendship (LOL), yet they were definitely solid advocates of one another. Even when tinges of jealousy would rear their ugly head (like when Kyle brought a woman, played by Kenya Moore, on a date), they were self-aware enough to reel it in, and when it came time for Kyle to leave for London (check out the backstory on why TC Carson actually left the show early here), even though he wanted Max to come with him, they didn’t “fairy tale” their journey. Kyle went on with his life, and Max went on with hers. Hey, it happens. Even with great sex and chemistry…to some, it happens.
Yet the best part about these two is how the universe has a way of making sure people who are meant to be have ample opportunities to accept that fact. And while it is a little wild to spin the story to where Max goes to a sperm bank and the sperm she gets is Kyle’s — I do adore that she ended up pregnant at a time when both of them appeared to be ready for a baby and a relationship together. Finally, there was full-circle peace — still loads of banter-foreplay but also a ton of peace. Well played.
Regine and Darryl
Okay. If y’all are true fans of the show, then you know that a fun fact is Regine (played by Kim Fields, who also left the show early; read why here) and Kyle dated briefly — which makes them another healthy couple when you stop to think about it because going from dating to a very sweet brother and sister dynamic? That doesn’t happen every day. And while some of you might be surprised that I didn’t go with fine ass Keith (Khalil Kain), Dexter (Don Franklin), who she ended up getting engaged to, or even the Jamaican writer Russell (Shaun Baker), who always got her to shimmy and who she said was a great kisser…I think there is another romantic connection she had who topped them all: Darryl, who was played by the late and great Heavy D — the ONLY celebrity who, to this day, I can personally say that I haven’t heard one negative thing about whether it was during his life or it was after his death.
Clearly, their relationship wasn’t super long-lasting because I couldn’t even find a GIF for it like I did for the others. Doesn’t matter, though. Darryl was a blue-collar brotha with a heart of gold, a strong sense of spirituality, a profound way of looking at life, and a comfortableness in his skin that actually got Regine out of a lot of her superficialness and materialism — and that deserves a lot of props all on its own. And because he taught Regine to look past the surface, even when they did break up, they continued having a deep respect for one another. So much, in fact, that when Regine found out that Darryl’s bride-to-be, Tina (Vivica A. Fox) was screwing around, she made sure to tell him because that’s how much she still cared for him. Beautiful.
Regine and Darryl are reminders that sometimes people come along to “refine our rough edges” so that we’ll be ready for who our “forever” is actually supposed to be. And yes, that deserves its own round of applause.
Can you tell that I watched Living Single more than a lil’ bit? Indeed and with no regrets, especially these days. Because sometimes, as I’m flipping through channels and I can hear my own self say, “TV really does hate my people” (which is another message for another time), it’s nice to see throwbacks that are full of integrity, humor and yes, healthy Black love. And as you can see, one that was in excellence is Living Single, for sure.
So, from the very bottom of my heart and with oodles of appreciation — Happy 30th, Khadijah and Scooter, Synclaire and Overton, Max and Kyle, Regine and Darryl. You will always be necessary…because healthy Black love always is.
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Featured image by Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images