We go to school, get degrees and start lasting careers so that we never have to bask in the glory of our humble (or not so humble) beginnings. My first job was Pizza Hut and I promise even at sixteen I had the same no nonsense attitude and mouth that I have now (though now I’ve earned it!) That attitude has helped me push forward in my education and my career accomplishing quite a bit in a short amount of time. I always felt that I needed to maintain the focus I gained so that I didn’t have to ever again fold boxes, take orders, prep pizzas or get stuck in the back washing dishes.
I come from very humble beginnings and will be the first to say that I have not forgotten where I have come from despite how far I’ve come. I could probably fit the house I grew up in with my dad into my current bedroom twice…………and that is not an exaggeration. I’m no stranger to need or living without. It is something that I worked very hard to move past so that my child never had to experience it just like most of us who come from that background have done. I worked hard to be where I am. Blood, Sweat, Tears in Heels for this life. For this reason alone I would never allow myself to be minimized or spoken to in a manner that takes away from all that I've done to better myself as a person. The work place can create many situations where presumptuous coworkers feel justified in crossing that line. Then you Teach Lessons to the Foolish.
I recently made a decision to get a part time job for the simple reason that I’m not patient! It's a low key “blue collar” job that I opted for because I figured I could do other important things there like planning my baby’s birthday weekend, homework and of course blogging…….don’t judge me. Well the not so young men who work there have forgotten a few times that this is a part time job for me and it has led to quite a few run ins with them because of the way they have handled conversation with me. After the first or maybe even the second run in, you’d think they would have gotten that I’m not necessarily the one but some people evidently need a few reminders. I don’t like to repeat myself about this being a temporary job for me and that it is without question secondary to the great job I have during the day time but the condescending tones they take with me make it clear that repetition is best. Most of them don’t have other jobs so this is it and repeating myself makes me feel as if I’m looking down on them which is untrue.
So let me fast forward to the conversation had with a coworker that made me feel compelled to capture the point I will make later…………we are sitting at work talking about politics. Now we all know that under no circumstances do you discuss politics or religion at work due to how high emotions and tensions can rise. It’s very rare we all can agree due to our lifestyles and backgrounds which is fine. Anyway, we are only able to watch the news so that’s the ONLY reason it became a topic. We start discussing my personal opinion of the Republican candidates, how none of them truly possess the qualities of a President and that there should be a standard. If you run the free world you should meet certain criteria. Plain and simple. The coworker begins to get huffy with me because he’s obviously a Donald Trump supporter and says that he is a business man so he can run the country. That’s when I ask him if that means that since I’m an engineer with more education than Mr. Trump, does that mean I should be able to run for President? At that point he asks me if I have ever managed anything. As I laughed a little on the inside I let him know I’ve managed several teams in my career and kindly watched his face drop.
We began then to start talking about how I didn’t think Mr. Trump would be a good representation of our country in overseas settings. He begins to over talk me. Now I’ll tell you all what I don’t do………..let someone who isn’t really listening over talk me. It means you are only listening to respond and you aren’t paying a bit of attention to what I’m actually saying. So he asks me if I’ve ever been overseas and I kindly tell him several times. But that wasn’t good enough for him because once he realized I was well traveled, he asked if I ever lived overseas. At this point I knew it was time to shut the conversation down because not only was he making all of my travel and experience irrelevant to the point, he was downplaying what I have done and accomplished because he was making assumptions about me based on this “blue collar” job.
Now there are a lot of people who may not agree but this experience is teaching me something valuable about the situation I’m in as a young educated black woman. On three separate occasions I have had run-ins with older white men who have decided I needed to be grateful about the money I am making on the part time job and I have been there all of a week! On each occasion I have had to pull the shirt tails of my inner black girl because she was about to give them what they assume they will get………ATTITUDE. But I’m conditioned for this and have refined this well-known “black girl attitude” because even in the environment where we all have several degrees and years of experience, they still look down on me and consider me as someone that can’t necessarily compete. It’s the workplace culture for people like me and it is almost sad to think that no matter the environment we will always have to prove ourselves regardless to what is on our resume and what we have accomplished.
From my day job to my night job, perspective about people of color hardly varies at all and I don’t know if I find it troubling or not surprising. I walked the road of higher education because I chose to, wanted a great career, and hoped to be able to fairly compete amongst my colleagues for the roles that I am qualified for. I do not look down on people who did not chose that path because it’s not for everyone, but I didn’t think I’d have to prove myself in an environment where many people didn’t choose that life. Not because I’m better but because other than years of experience, nothing is truly separating any one person from the other besides how much time they’ve given the company they are employed with.
As unfortunate as it is, we must always fight for our seat at the table. We must always be one step ahead, always dotting our Is and crossing our Ts, never behaving in the same manner as our non-melanin infused coworkers…………...no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you may be with that fact. Having to fight with people as if it’s a requirement to reaffirm your credentials and reinforce your intelligence can be draining on every level. There is no telling when this will no longer be an issue so in the meantime, keep your head up, prove yourself to yourself, be confident in your ability and let no one’s doubt in who you are put you on a course outside of your own expectation. Never let them see you sweat because when you do, it feeds into their obvious misconception of who you are. Always disprove their beliefs by taking the higher road.