Do We Belong Here?
I started working in corporate America fresh out of college at the age of 22 years old. I began my career in one of the most important departments at my company. At first, I just felt lucky that I had found a job in my field. I knew that it was rare to work in your field right out of college, but I didn’t know how rare it was to be black and do it at a company like mine. I have worked in my role for over two years, earned two industry designations, promoted, and served on a committee. I am proud to continue to set an example for other black people who still think what I’ve done is impossible. I want to share my experience of being black in corporate America by asking a question, “Do we belong here?”
"How Did You Get This Job?"
On my very first day at the office, I was indeed asked the question straight to my face... “How did you get this job?” It was almost as rude as being asked if this is my real hair. The person who asked me that quickly tried to fix it by saying she did not mean it that way, but I knew she did. She fixed it by saying that it was hard to get the job, so she wanted to know how I got my foot in the door. It is always assumed that black people have to do something to get our foot in the door. The “It’s not what you know, but who you know” strategy is cool for them but questionable for us. Why did she even feel the need to ask? If I was white, I think it would have been already known that I obviously knew someone, and that’s how I got there, but not a soul would bother to ask or even care because that’s how we(they) all got there.
Praises For Just Doing The Job
When you’re black, you can’t slack off. You’ll be the first to go if they are looking for someone to get rid of. It’s in our genes to work hard, especially when we are working for them, or anybody for that matter. Our work ethic has been proven efficient more than ever in today’s times, and that efficiency dates all the way back to slavery days. It’s just how most of us were built. It’s literally in our blood.
I knew that I needed to do my very best to prove myself valuable to my colleagues, my supervisors, and the company. I absorbed everything that I was taught, and I made sure to always do my job well. I learned early on that not everyone was expected to do the job well, maybe not even me. It didn’t seem like everyone was happy to see someone like me be welcomed - young and black. Even the older black people were intimidated because I was so young. When I started passing all of my exams, and performing the job well, I was being praised an awful lot, by the whites of course.
I felt like they were treating me like some kind of freak of nature. I think they had their doubts, but I impressed them way more than they thought I could. They were happy about it, because if I didn’t, it would have been their fault for bringing me in there in the first place. Might I add, I interviewed for my position twice. I didn’t get the job the first time. The first manager who could have hired me, thought a white guy who already had experience working in the company was a better choice. So once another white manager took his chance on me, and I did well, I made him look good.
The Perks of Attending a '"PWI"
I attended a predominantly white college to obtain my undergraduate education. My entire family attended HBCUs at some point, but I wanted a different experience. I personally just wanted to know what it would be like to adapt and interact amongst many different people from many different backgrounds. Entering into corporate America, since there are so many more whites that attended schools like that as well, they seem to like that. From my experience, I think the only reason my supervisors were willing to take a chance on me was because we attended the same college. That is the only thing we have in common, but apparently, it says a lot about me that I attended a white college and graduated.
From conversations I’ve had with my fellow black graduates, they seem to feel the same way. The college we attended gets our feet into doors we wouldn’t have otherwise. If that ain’t the black experience!
"Have We Met?" / "I Like Your Hair Like That"
I had to save the best topic for last. Aside from what I have to deal with from being young, black, and good at my job, I also look black, particularly my hair looks black. I have big natural hair, and I like to play around with the versatility of my hair. Throughout the year, you may find me rocking my big fluffy curls, mini twists, a puff, braids, a wig, and sometimes maybe even a silk press. Every time I change my hair, someone at the office has something to say. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve only been there a short time, or I really do look like a different person when I change my hairstyle. I’ve gotten all of the comments.
I once had to explain to a couple of my white colleagues that when my hair is really long down my back, it’s not all mine. I’ve had to reintroduce myself to people I’ve met at least twice already. My boss told me that I change my hair a lot, and it reminds her of a girl that used to work there because she also changed her hair often and she sometimes didn’t recognize her(she’s young and black.) It all was annoying at first, and I just wanted to wear my hair the same all the time, so people would just leave me alone. Then, I realized that had nothing to do with the job I was doing, and I could wear my hair how I wanted. That is the one way I express myself, and no career was about to take that away from me.
Do We Belong Here?
I said all of that to ask the question, “Do we belong here?” When I say here, I mean corporate America. Are we really meant to thrive in these types of environments? It can be hard for us, and adapting is a process, but when more and more of us assume roles in corporate America, we are changing what it looks like, what it feels like, we are changing the game without even knowing it. No matter how much we’ve been oppressed because of our color, the real tea is that we are and always have been the example. They want to be like us. That’s why they admire us so loudly. At first, I took it as rude and coming from some people, it probably is them being rude, but I learned how to be flattered because they are truly amazed by what we are capable of. They are watching and learning.
More black people are assuming management roles in corporate America because they’ve seen what we can do. Not only does it make a company look good to have diverse management, but it makes the company better because I assure you the black managers are not the slackers; they are the innovators and the game changers taking companies built by white people to new levels. I’ll ask the question again, “Do we belong here?” Yes, we belong here, and we are here to stay.