There are some things that college just doesn’t prepare you for. It can provide you with knowledge of your field of study. It can give you career training. It can prep you for what and what not to say during an interview, but the one thing, however, that college fails to prepare many of us for is what we will encounter once we’re actually hired. The American Dream leads us to believe that hard work and dedication are all that you need to succeed in this country; however, they fail to disclose the little disclaimer that says, “Please Note: This dream is often only applicable to qualifying races.” College taught me many things, but one thing that they did not tell me prior to shaking my hand and giving me a diploma was that in many cases, as a black woman in corporate America, you have to work ten times as hard just to be considered as good as your counterparts.
I remember my first paid internship in the public relations industry like it was yesterday. I popped up on the scene with my eyes beaming, deep brown skin glowing, and my heart full of expectations. I had already made up my mind that I would work harder than I’d ever worked in my life. I was prepared to conquer the world! I learned swiftly that an intern’s position was the lowest of the lowest on the totem pole, but I was prepared to stick my chest out, lift my chin up, push my shoulders back and handle my business like a woman because I knew that I would reap a greater reward in the end. So no, I didn’t expect anyone to give my anything. I was prepared to earn it fair and square. But the public relations department that I interned for was so small that it didn’t long to realize that I was being treated differently. The differential treatment started out with small things. You know, those things that are so “small” you ask yourself, “Did that just happen or am I bugging out?” For instance, things like my entire department tip-toeing out while I went to the bathroom to attend a company sponsored event that I wasn’t even made aware of until after the fact. Yeah. “Small.”
“You’re just an intern, they aren’t required to tell you anything,” is what I told myself as I carried out the rest of the workday alone, trying not to get in my feelings about the shadiness that had just taken place. But once another intern was hired, I could no longer blame the subtle shade on my title. This intern happened to be white, and once she was instantly invited to attend some of our more “upscale” events, while I wasn’t, I realized that my suspicions might be correct. My dark-er skin, wide-r hips, thick-er thighs, and full-er lips made me less qualified to attend these events because I would improperly represent the face of the brand, I suppose.
There was one instance where I had to go and make a purchase for some supplies using the department’s American Express Card. The way in which I was treated when I was given that card would’ve led a person to believe that I had a criminal background and was just given the code to Donald Trump’s bank account. “Don’t get happy and run off with that AMEX card in your purse,” the department coordinator called after me as I exited the office. My nostrils flared as I thought to myself “Girl bye, I’ve never had to steal anything in my life.”
Little comments such as that one went on as long as I was in this department. There was one occasion when the entire department went out to lunch and for some reason one of the other employees felt the need to tell me about her big, black, voluptuous nanny named Shelia whom she had as a child. I remember sitting there resisting the urge to twist up my face at her wondering, “Why in the hell is she telling me this? Does she want me to watch her kids or something?” Of course, there was no moral to her story–she just felt the need to share. I felt the urge to flip the table over and assume the stereotype of the angry black woman, but I didn’t. Instead I sat there silently.