"SimplyMei, Would you please rise and TAKE A STAND?"
"I, SimplyMei, do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth about the unspoken work rules so help me every black woman working in Corporate America."
SimplyMei Graduates College and Enters the Workforce
Before graduating college, I remember older black folks feeding me special advices such as, “fake it til’ you make it when you get your first job” or “it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know…and who likes you so play the game.” They gave me these advices as if being educated wasn’t enough for the workforce because I was black. It would upset me and I’d think how could a person be so narrow minded?
Somewhere in my college career I started to believe that if I worked hard that when I graduated, I would be on a level playing field as all others regardless of race and gender. I thought that double majoring and obtaining my bachelors’ degrees would put me on a pedestal in the workforce. I also assumed that I would be judged by employers based upon merit and my intellectual capabilities alone.
Despite being a victim of racism in some of my past encounters, I felt that I would finally be able to be myself (in all of my cultural glory) after college graduation because I would have no more “proving” to do -- after all, wouldn’t graduating college prove that I am educated enough?
.. And so, I entered the corporate world with an extremely infantile mind. It wasn’t long before I found out that I was constantly being observed and assessed. Observations about my physical appearance, the way I spoke, and even my views on certain current events could shape one’s opinion of me - - consequently having the power to shape my position within the company. Those job politics that people had warned me about had come back to haunt me.
The girl that graduated college believing that rewards like raises and positions were based solely upon factors of substance such as merit, work ethic, and attendance was confused.
Confusion turned into insecurity. Insecurity turned into sadness. Sadness turned into frustration. Frustration turned into anger. Pretty soon I reached a breaking point on the job.
I remember it like yesterday -- The day I walked into a corporate office job and said to hell with the unsaid but very pervasive work rules.
The Battle with My Hair
I was tired of having to tell my hair dresser to keep it professional when styling my hair which often meant no braids, no color, and no cultural up-dos that would draw this awkward attention from my corporate co-workers. Professional hair for a black woman such as me meant limiting my hair styles to tight buns, pulled back pony tails, short bobs, or anything flat ironed bone straight.
Let’s face it. The acceptance of cultural African American hair has historically been a big ordeal in many settings:
“Dreadlocks (unkempt, twisted, matted individual parts of hair) are prohibited in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty” (AR 670-1)” - U.S. Military
“Afros are a no-no … it’s shocking to believe that anyone would think that a political hairstyle like dreadlocks are appropriate for the workplace” - Glamour Magazine editor
Even Hampton University placed a ban on cornrows and dread locks.
“Meisha, I love that bun. It’s so chic,” I can hear individuals saying as I secretly winced at how much I hated not being able to release my natural coils.
I no longer felt the need to abide my certain beauty standards to look work place presentable. So on that day, I dared to be myself.
The Battle with My Curves
I was done spending an hour in the morning going through the same old tired routine --
1) Look for an outfit that doesn’t hug my natural born curves too much
2) Examine myself in the mirror thoroughly
3) Question if my figure makes the outfit appear as too provocative for a work setting
4) Feel a surge of insecurity sweep over me
5) Go back and find another outfit
6) Repeat steps 1 - 5 about five more times before making a choice
“I love that dress. Is that from express?” I can hear someone asking in regards to a dress that I actually thought was most unflattering for my shape. Why did I purchase it? -- Because it looked the part.
Yep, I was done with purposely wearing largely unflattering outfits too. My curves are not a crime. I could dress professionally without having to be so self conscious.
The Battle with My Speech
I was exhausted with feeling like I didn’t belong with some of my black co-workers or white co-workers.
You see, I had put on such an act with my hair and appearance amongst other things that I constantly came across as not being black enough for some of my black co-workers. I couldn’t blame them for thinking that I was culturally unaware of my own ethnicity. They knew me as the person I put on to be at work and not the real me. They didn't know that I listened to my rap music, preferred my natural hair over weave, and spoke in my “Ebonics” fluidly outside of work. Why? I had always felt pressured to hide certain aspects about myself while in the workplace.
“Meisha, you talk so articulate. What school did you go to?” I can hear someone asking as if it was unfathomable for a black woman like me to know how to speak eloquently without being taught to do so in college courses.
However, there had been times I felt too foreign for some of my white co-workers. I remember eating lunch one day with a white co-worker that I admire. The conversation was going so great and I felt so comfortable that my “Ebonics” began to naturally slip out -- to which was met with an awkward silence and a forced smile. The body language alone was enough to remind me that I was still too black for some.
The Day I Decided Enough Was Enough
I was O V E R IT D O T C O M.
On the day I was fed up, I walked right into work with box braids that ran down the length of my back. Boy did I turn heads. Someone even went so far as to touch them and ask me, “what do you call those? ..”
I paired jeans with a nice top and flats that day and felt so much liberation. People questioned if I was feeling ill because they had never seen me in jeans or without heels. With a smile on my face I replied, “I’m marvelous. I never felt better.”
I spoke how I wanted to speak. Of course, I remained professional but I no longer feared being too foreign or not black enough. I thought, Why should I have to think or second guess everything I do or say?
On the following day, I kept the liberation going. I decided to wear that pencil skirt I had been so afraid of wearing. I had seen others wear the same kind of skirt around the office. It was a long black skirt that wasn’t provocative at all. However, I had been so self-conscious about my curves protruding through that I had refrained.
I wish I could say that I was met with acceptance but there were more than a few co-workers that stared at me oddly that day. The most shocking comment was, “