If you’ve ever worked in a job you hate, you know what a godsend GChat is. It allows you and your coworkers to gripe about your bosses and the other coworkers you don’t like somewhat discreetly (shout out to big brother) and exchange war stories with your friends as each passing day turns into a contest to see who has the worst job.
About a couple months after I quit my 9-5 and started freelancing full-time, I found myself getting annoyed with the GChats my friends were sending me. Every day, all day, they were complaining about wanting to quit their jobs, having too much work, being treated unfairly, and I would think, can it really be that bad? How soon we forget, right? It wasn’t until I realized I didn’t have anything to complain about when it came to work anymore that I began to really appreciate not just what work I was doing but who I was working for.
By the time I’d started really thinking about the reality of quitting my old job, I’d been overcome with anxiety to the point that just seeing a new email from my boss in my inbox set my stomach turning. On the flip side, when I began writing for a number of different black websites and interacting with black female editors and writers on a daily basis, I’d never seen so many exclamation points and smiley faces in emails – or GChat for that matter. Day after day, I was greeted with a “hey sis,” or “hey girl” or a compliment on something I’d written, or a “thanks!” (with exclamation point) for turning out a piece at the last minute. Even the simple gesture of “how are you today” had become foreign to me in my corporate life but was a part of my every day dealings with the black women I was working with and I couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised, though still surprised nonetheless.
I’d been somewhat set up with low expectations of black women in the workplace prior to my current situation. I remember when I told a black coworker at my old job that I’d wanted to work at a particular black publication and I was cautioned that the work environment was not all it was cracked up to be from the outside. I was told stories of black ceilings, or a crabs in a barrel mentality, with black women trying to keep others from succeeding, nasty attitudes that proved the whole angry black woman meme was about three-parts reality and one-part stereotype, and just an all-around uninviting environment that was nowhere near as glossy as one might think. I knew this was just one company but even with all my awareness of how diverse black women are, I also know how we can sometimes be, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some apprehension on my part about what exactly an all-black work environment would be like.
It’s strange to think about being more comfortable in a predominantly white setting than a black one, but the reality is white corporate America is simply what most of us are used to and though we may be around black people all day long outside of our 9-5, we usually don’t have much experience with each other in professional settings on a daily basis. Now, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that this is my reality.
Of course, the nature of my work makes for a fun environment, but there’s also the element of the unspoken ways in which black women are just able to relate to one another. A lot of things don’t have to be said when it comes to our professional interactions, and the things that do, you can bet we’re going to say them because, well, we’re black women. There’s a sense of a safe haven to be who you are and feel free to wear your hair how you want, and dress how you want, and say what you want to say how you want to say it (in a non-rude manner), and eat whatever food you want in the office without being that black girl. Whereas the “how’d you get your hair like that/can I touch it” questions felt like an intrusive annoyance before, they now present themselves as admiration and shared camaraderie.
You no longer feel like a puzzle with people trying to figure you out or wait for you to mess up, or prove their pre-conceived notions right, instead you’re met with smiles and genuine inquiries about your life and your wellbeing, and share inside jokes you don’t have to laugh at in secret all because of the shared reality of being a female with brown skin. I realize all black work environments may not be like this, but I’m certainly glad mine is.
Have you ever worked in a predominantly black work environment? What was your experience?
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