We never talk about the inherent tension that exists for minorities working in Corporate America. For some, balancing that tension is fairly easy. You hide enough of yourself and culture so you’re not as threatening, not like the stereotypes you know you’re being measured against. It’s not something we actively do, instead we make sub-conscious decisions about how much of ourselves and our culture to bring to work. We play the part, and this works until something happens to jolt us back reality. Like the days and weeks after Trayvon Martin was killed. While you and your community are grieving the loss of another black boy and a senseless killing that is laced with racism and racial profiling, your office is filled with joy and laughter and your co-workers are completely oblivious to the pain a whole community is experiencing. Through it all, you keep enough of yourself and your feelings hidden that people don’t constantly question you about your differences and they are still comfortable with what you bring to the table. Well, as comfortable as society and Corporate America will allow.
However, this past weekend, we saw two of the leaders in their industry be unapologetically who they are – black. Beyoncé – the queen of slayage – released her new single “Formation” – with no warning – breaking the internet, then performing the song at the Super Bowl less than 24 hours after it was released. And Cam Newton, who has come into his own, recorded historical NFL stats this year and led a millennial and Carolina Panther movement (North Carolina come on and raise up), handled the media pressures leading up to the golden super bowl speaking his truth and reminding people not only of his ethnicity, but his calling to be in this very position. What makes us so proud of this moment isn’t just the fact that Beyoncé and Cam Newton are African-Americans and leading their industries, but that both Cam and Beyoncé are unapologetic about who they are and in doing so, they are enhancing diversity and inclusion.
Cam may have lost the Super Bowl, but during his historic season he taught us all about how to be true to yourself and where you come from. He’s never backed down from his authentic self, reminding reporters he’s not just a black quarterback, but an “African-American quarterback” that they “cannot find anything to compare [him] to.” (See Cam’s refusal to satisfy critics). He’s danced in the end-zone, worn colorful, flamboyant attire while press was watching and just explained that he doesn’t want to lose himself in all that is being an NFL quarterback. Cam showed us that living your truth isn’t negotiable or up for discussion.
AND…did you catch the formation video? It’s everything so many of us love about being black, and it’s on display for the whole world to see. Bey calls her daddy a negro, pays homage to Katrina and the black panthers, confronts the racial unrest and tension between the black community and law enforcement and uses signage to tell police officers to stop killing us. The best part is the whole world is getting a full view into the core of their favorite pop artist, and whether they realized it or not, Beyoncé’s core is black. Even better, the Huffington Post, music journals and the NYTimes are writing about it. CNN is writing about it. NPR is writing about it. They’re all taking her message to the masses. She used her platform to lend a voice to so many of the issues that are important to black America and mainstream America is noticing.
Mainstream America doesn’t recognize or understand the compromises you make when you’re black and in the spotlight. We imagine it’s difficult for them to understand what it’s like to be ridiculed for your differences or the courage it takes to risk your celebrity and possibly compromise your career by displaying your Texas bamma roots, discussing your baby’s afro and the way our community frequents Red Lobster for cheddar bay biscuits as celebratory meals. Bey is enhancing diversity because she’s reminding millions of people that she’s more than just a pop icon and she’ll never turn her back on her community or her roots.
We recognize not all of us will have the opportunity to be the world’s most iconic, self-made singer or an NFL quarterback and MVP, but there is still value to be found in you living your true self at work whether that’s owning your hair, your culture, your future, and your sorrows. If we want true diversity, we have to be brave enough to embrace all that we are. So go ahead and drop a little hot sauce in your purse today. Swag. Hold your head up when you swipe your key card to get through security. Because you slay. And despite who comes for you at your 9:00 am team meeting, morning rotation or conference call with your off-shore clients or amongst work colleagues – you’re a star. Always stay humble, the best revenge is your paper.