A Black Woman’s Journey in Corporate America

This post was originally published on The Black Detour on March 4, 2018.

I think about code-switching a lot.

What started as a phrase to describe how a person alternates between two or more languages in a single conversation has been adopted as a term that represents how minorities change their body language, vernacular, existence…when switching from less formal to more formal settings.

Enter Corporate America.

The constant shifting of one’s personality for acceptance is generally exhausting to those of us who try their hardest to live life authentically. Consider all the times you’ve changed the tone and pitch of your voice on a phone interview or forced your ‘fro into a bun hoping for fewer stares and no questions. I guarantee you that often times you’ve done these things unknowingly. It almost feels like second nature to you.

Corporate America was not created as a space for black people to be comfortable.

I know you would think that for as long as we’ve been infiltrating these spaces, that they would begin to adjust, accommodate, and accept us but that’s just not the case. ‘Blackness’ precedes us all and Papa Pope said it best: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” The odds are not in our favor – even less as a black woman.

In society, women are treated with less respect, considered to be less intelligent, more emotional and overall not as good as men. Now, paint this woman the shade of brown sugar and watch the descriptions swing to ‘loud,’ ‘ghetto,’ and ultimately, undeserving. It’s a double-edged sword and if you even think of swinging first, you’re the antagonist.

I’m sure if we all came together in a room and gave accounts of the times we experienced micro-aggression’s, subtle jarring comments or blatant racism in the workplace, we would be floored by the realization that most times, code-switching doesn’t make a bit of a difference.

Due to this understanding on our part and the great Auntie Maxine Waters leading the way, we’ve begun reclaiming our time. Our space. Our purpose in Corporate America. There is an ongoing silencing and under-representation of women and people of color everywhere. Despite us being the saviors, the fixers, the defenders of almost everything, whether we stand in the forefront or are the Hidden Figures, society continues to waste not only our time but also our voices and know-how.

But when things go wrong, someone somewhere is calling out: “Where’s the black lady?!”

Rather than continuing on the same path of bending a knee to a non-representative system that disrespects, fails to protect and persists on neglecting black women and their contributions to social movements, pop culture memes, and big brands, take back code-switching.

Change your stature, be loud, make your hair bigger and taller, and etch out a true space in Corporate America.

Be the Light.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions but at the beginning of the year, this mantra dawned on me. And then it continued to manifest itself in different ways, so I started a thread on Twitter to keep up with everything.

But then I spent the next several months feeling anything but light, and it seemed that ‘let there be light’ was maybe more of a begging prayer than a truth. And that prayer began to sit on my whole body like a heavy weight. It made it hard for me to breathe. It made it hard for me to sleep, despite being exhausted. It made it hard for me to remember to eat. To work. To hang out with friends. To want to live.

How could I be the light when I felt so…dark?

So, I spent the first half of the year curled up in bed, not wanting to talk to anyone. Not wanting my dark to touch anyone, drown anyone the way it was drowning me. If you remember in the previous post, I mentioned ‘having out of the ordinary experiences with the feeling of being alone’; and so that’s where it began. I pushed people away. I cut people off. I replied to texts when I could, if at all. I cried…a lot. I wanted the feeling of being alone that I felt on the inside to match the outside because I thought that would help me make sense of what I was feeling. Something I had felt before.

Darkness is the absence of light. The same way black isn’t actually a color, it’s just it’s absence. It isn’t actually a thing on its own. It’s the result of the complete absorption of any visible light. All consuming. (Consider the light at the end of the tunnel never reaches the inside of the tunnel. No matter how bright the light or how short the tunnel.) So, how do you outrun something that doesn’t even exist without the thing you’re chasing?

I haven’t been able to fully figure that out yet. It’s been years of the same cycle but still being caught off guard by the spiral every time. But I still saw manifestations of this mantra everywhere, kept adding to the thread when I could. It feel like they were making an effort to be seen by me. And for a while, this little catalog of tweets was all I could handle.

So, I went slow and tried to show myself a kindness I didn’t feel I deserved: I gave myself a damn break. I worked on what I could, when I could, and told myself if I was still here tomorrow, I could do more tomorrow. And tomorrow’s continued to come and I continued to chase after the light, and myself, and this future that I wanted but couldn’t see.

And so, for now, I’m still going. I’m still adding to the thread. I’m creating again: working, writing, designing, running a business. Posting myself on Instagram. Loving hard on my people, hoping they love hard back on me. Being lit.