We are well aware of the history of unemployment in the African American community being in the double digits; even when unemployment rates are in the single digits nationally. We know the hardships that come along with being black, uneducated, and unemployed, but rarely do we discuss or mention the hardships that come along with being black, educated, and employed. It doesn’t get any easier! As a matter of fact it becomes harder, because you have to mask how you truly feel as a black person in America.
We are aware that even when an African American has the same identical credentials on their resumes as their white counterpart, candidates with black sounding names are less likely to be hired or even called in for an interview. We are aware that by white standards (disguised as Corporate Guidelines), women wearing their hair in its natural (healthy) state is seen as unprofessional, political, distracting, and could possibly decrease their chances of being employed. Black men, you’re not immune either! What does our hair have to do with our intelligence or our ability to be productive in a professional place of business?
“You’re talking about being polished and (having) interview skills and yet no one is addressing the fact that natural black hair has been traditionally seen as not polished on its own whether it’s well cared for or not,” Nakisha McNeal, a student at the GSU Robinson College of Business, told SaportaReport. “So basically it’s all about maintaining the Eurocentric standpoint.”
Contrary to popular belief, the anti-blackness doesn’t stop once you receive a degree, gain employment, or move out of the hood. At this point, you have to learn how to shape shift. You have to wear a mask (that’s if your mind isn’t already conditioned to side with white standards). You have to put on a face or persona that makes you approachable and less threatening. Even as I’m writing, it pisses me off saying that we have to! We have to change who we are, what we believe, and how we feel as Blacks in America (in general) to stay employed, to pay for our tuition, to pay our bills, to feed our families, etc. This is survival!
As much as a love being in the mental health field, a field dominated by whites, I know that I don’t always have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because my people are being murdered by rogue cops, mysteriously hanging from trees, being treated fairly by our justice system (if they live to tell the story), trying to convince people that their symbol of heritage is a symbol of oppression, anguish, trauma, and slavery for my people, or afraid to bow their heads in their places of worship due to fear of being killed by someone who hates them, because of the color of their skin.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because my people are seen as animals, criminals, savages, and thugs when they do something wrong or even protesting against a system that continues to oppress them. I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because white kids in trouble are seen as kids, but black kids in trouble are seen as adults.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because my people aren’t allowed to swim in pools that are deemed white spaces. I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because my voting rights are being tampered with.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because even as an adult, my mom is constantly calling me to make sure that I’m safe. She is terrified that although I’m educated and employed, me being black and male could end my life here on this earth.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because I’ve been praying that I won’t have any encounter with a police officer to and from work.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because I fear that I could be put in jail just because I used a false address so that my child could attend a better school in an area that I can’t afford to live in; even though he/she won’t be learning anything about their cultural history.
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because I can’t fully show my emotions and feelings of joy when America, racist ass America, elected its first African American president. I knew my conservative colleague were upset, but in real life I was like…….
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because if I do something wrong, my incompetence is attributed to my race. You see, I’m not just going to school, to work, or seeking progress for me. I’m doing this for myself, my family, and my people. There is no I!
I don’t have the privilege to walk into my place of employment with a real smile on my face, because if I’m too educated, to intelligent, too professionally active, and not afraid to challenge white standards and white perspectives in the workplace…then I’m the uppity or angry black guy.
Being black and employed and being affected by the issues that we are facing as a people who are seen as Black and not American, I think it’s OK for me to have a few days off to decompress.
It’s sad that we have to go into our corners with other black professionals during lunch and have conversations about the issues that we are facing in our homes, communities, and in this country. We dare not get emotional! At the same time we get frustrated hearing white people talk about “Tom and I are going to the mountains this weekend,” “how shit-faced they were last night and barely made it home,” or how “Colton’s grandma gave $1000 to his school’s Harry Potter Club,”…when Black love is unfavorable in the media, we can barely walk the streets sober without being pulled over, and schools where the population is predominately black and brown don’t have funding for science programs.
After the murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, I received a message from my cousin/frat brother who seemed a bit emotional about what had transpired, but he also wanted to find a solution. While in the midst of holding back my own tears due to me being sick and tired of black people not being deemed worthy of living and dimwitted white conservatives trying to trivialize and dilute our issues (all while at work), I thought to myself, do white people have these conversations or if they speak out will they run the risk of losing their jobs?
On Thursday, September 4th, Dr. Misee Harris (the Black Bachelorette) was called into an unannounced meeting at the dental practice where she has worked as a Pediatric Dentist and was recently offered a partnership in the practice. Dr. Harris, the sole African American dentist in the practice, has worked tirelessly with underprivileged young patients on Medicaid to ensure their smiles remain healthy, and the quality of Dr. Harris’s work has never been called into question. Once in the meeting, Dr. Harris was ambushed and presented with screenshots from her private Facebook page. Being that Misee had blocked work colleagues from accessing her account, it was explained to Misee that a doctor who is a partner at the office, and who led the meeting, had been having a friend spy on Misee’s Facebook page. Screenshots were taken of Misee’s Facebook posts and were sent to the doctor who led the meeting. Misee was then told that some of her Facebook posts about recent racial issues in America were “unprofessional.” The biggest bone of contention to the partners was a cartoon (see graphic below) related to the recent police murders of several innocent African-Americans across the nation. The partner held up the picture and asked Misee “Do you think we (meaning Misee’s White colleagues) are all like this?
The picture is actually a viral meme of a Black boy with a bulls eye target on his chest under the caption: “OPEN SEASON ON BLACK FOLKS.” The picture then goes on to list various ways in which Black folks had been killed based solely on suspicions including “wearing a hoodie” and “asking for directions.” According to the post, Harris attempted to explain to her all White employers the nature of the commentary however they were disinterested. Instead, they allegedly told her to either stop her “style of social media communication” or join the ranks of the unemployed. Like a true black woman….she said “deuces!”
After work I met up with my cousin for drinks to discuss a plan of action. I remember thinking to myself, if black issue are so uncomfortable and inconvenient to white people and the white establishment (America), then why do they make a big fuss when black people start to organize, mobilize, and unify? Why are we labeled divisive or my favorite, using “reverse racism?”
When we establish young black professional groups, black business coalitions, or black empowerment programs to keep our resources, intellectual geniuses, and ideas within our communities we are labeled racists………but we’re not invited to be in your groups, neither does our establishment change or alter the livelihood of your group or your community. We’re doing what we know how to do best in a nation that doesn’t value black lives….SURVIVE!
Let’s just be honest, whether we are enslaved or emancipated, the white establishment wants total control without the burden of having to actually compete for power.
It is common for many educated and employed African Americans (those who aren’t business owners) to have that double life that consist of the face that we put on in the workplace and the deep breath we take when we get home so that we can wear our true faces. We can go out to eat, laugh, and talk with our friends about the good and the bad in our own language (Ebonics) without being misunderstood or rendered ignorant.
We can move our bodies around each other without worrying about others suggesting that dances created in our culture are over-sexualized, ghetto, and pointless…..but cool when white people. We can worship around each other without others suggesting that our vibrant way of praising is fake, sacrilegious, or primitive. We can have networking events, wine tastings, and dress up in fine garments to discuss issues and solutions that are a lot of times uncomfortable yet relevant to our community without making others uncomfortable for a moment.
We do this to survive racism and the system of white supremacy. Is it stressful and exhausting? Hell Yeah! We know that we have to exist in two different worlds being both African and American. The African perspective dictates that we must take on the collective approach, as in upward mobility as a group. The American perspective (by way of Europe) dictates that we must take on the individualistic approach, as in every man for himself. You see, the two of what we are will never see eye to eye. That is why we wear the mask!
W.E.B.Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history o9f this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face”
Dr. J Sapio