The 9-5 comes with the typical stressors. From dealing with workplace gossip and passive aggression between coworkers, to more serious issues like harassment. I swear, it’s a daily struggle. But as a black woman in that setting, I feel like I deal with some additional, unique pressures.
The fear of being seen as too aggressive, intense, or opinionated in the workplace has always been in the back of my mind. Somehow, society and culture has brainwashed me to view a big and extroverted personality as a negative stereotype of black women. I knew it was ridiculous, but being new to the workforce, I felt pressured to not be myself.
To agree to complete every task. To take on more responsibilities and workload with no incentives. Until my opinionated, social, and talkative self couldn’t take being hidden away any longer. The difference now is that I embrace these traits as positive.
Also, somehow becoming a human search engine for all things black is a burden. No, I won’t tell you what “the plug” means. No, I won’t show you how to do some trending dance. And no, you can’t touch my afro puff! Stop asking! Episodes of “Insecure” have never felt so real.
I once had a coworker tell me I was “too intense”. With other coworkers, I’m always perceived as serious when I thought it was obvious that I was joking. Outside of the office, I’ve been known to sport “Resting Bitch Face”, unintentionally. Throughout my almost 5 years (feels so much longer) of the office life, I’ve figured out some survival strategies to get me through the day without going off on someone.
Tips on Surviving The Office
Recognize the Ignorance
No matter how obvious it seems, some people just aren’t cultured enough to make the distinctions between what is an appropriate thing to say to a person of color. I field the usual Afro-questions, but the silly questions REALLY start coming when it has been made known that I’m Kenyan. Taking note of their lack of perspective turned my anger to laughter. You just can’t take these people seriously, so just shrug off all the nonsense.
Stand Up For Yourself
Not to repeat myself, but you just can’t take people too seriously. However, I can’t just let any comment slide. Some people are going to try to undermine you because of their assumptions of who you may be, based on the society’s negative perception of how a black woman behaves. I think it is important to not let them get in your head and be confident in your capabilities.
Trust me, it doesn’t benefit you to give in to the pressure. I attempted to lay low at first, but felt like I could hear my own voice screaming inside. Intuitively, I knew it wasn’t within me to just take the heat. I’ve never fallen back before, so why now? So I decided to respond back firmly (maybe a bit too much at times…) and was labeled as argumentative and hostile.
I just couldn’t win. So I stopped trying. Which leads me to…
The most important survival tip I can give, is to truly be your unique self. By trying to dodge stereotypes, your only aim is to please others, when you could spend that time focusing on being your best self! The easiest and most comfortable thing to do is to do what is natural, what feels right, and without negative distractions.
Moral of the story? I’ve learned that it just makes the most sense to live effortlessly by not trying too hard. Save the effort for personal development. Become a better listener. Stop procrastinating. Calm down your road rage (my current issue).
I truly believe that I’m my happiest when I am being authentic. Expressing my thoughts, feelings and emotions without trying to satisfy the expectations of others. If it doesn’t feel right, I take it as a sign to listen to my spirit even closer. Even in the most trying times, remember that the only one you need to please and prove anything to, is yourself.
Have you had any similar experiences at your job? How did you deal with them?