Working While Black: I Overheard My White Coworkers Making Fun Of Another Black Employee’s Name
My first job out of college, I was the only Black girl in the office. I was ready to take on the corporate world and prove myself through my work and my story, but there were some aspects of being the only one that I wasn’t prepared for.
Don’t get me wrong, my coworkers were friendly and we had a great work rapport but, as expected, I often felt very uncomfortable when it came to certain conversations. Like the vacation one that goes, “I can’t wait to tan and get some color,” which I’m automatically excluded from because I’m dark skinned—which is ironic because my skin actually takes to the sun better than theirs. Or when Trump was campaigning and eventually won the election, everyone whispered their satisfaction with the results or chose to avoid politics around me completely. Even with polarizing opinions, I still took nothing personal and did what I was there to do: my job.
Through it all, I performed well and even got promoted twice. But this one particular instance made me realize that I was extremely naïve in thinking I’d been accepted by my colleagues. My company would send workers called “floaters” to fill in for people who were sick or on vacation and one time my location was sent a Nigerian woman who had a traditional name but went by “Sade” for corporate America’s comfort. Before Sade’s arrival, people in the office were literally making fun of her name and I was repulsed. I could hear my manager and assistant manager cackling at the sound of her name. These were people I thought were on my side, who hired me, who I thought might even be different from their privileged, prejudice peers.
Because my name is unique as well, I felt especially betrayed and wondered if similar things happened behind my back. When I overheard these disrespectful jokes I felt compelled to say something, but what? And would speaking up cost me a write up? My job? I immediately texted my mom who has been the only Black woman in her workplace for years. She told me to let it go, do what I was hired to do, and go home. White people will love you for what you can do and what they can take from you, not what and who you are, she reminded me. So, I tried not to be the angry Black girl, despite how disrespected I felt in that moment.
I’m all about energy and I’m way too real to fake nice when I’m mad. To me, making fun of someone’s name is to make fun of who they are and I simply couldn’t stomach it. Truthfully, the joking made me insecure and I felt taunted. Eventually, I let it go and moved on from the company but the lesson that experience taught me has stayed with me. Some people will never understand you or even try to and to be honest, it’s not our job to validate ourselves to them. No I cannot answer for all Black people, no you cannot shorten my name, and no you cannot feel on my wig. I will not let you make me feel ashamed of me.