It’s the last day of #BlackHistoryMonth and we can’t let this day slip by without speaking on the #BlackAtWork exhibit we were so excited about (note the past tense), and reveling in the all the black history that was made at the #Oscars.
We are all about painting the picture for folks who just can’t see past their own privilege, so you can only imagine our delight when we learned that a local advertising firm, Havas Chicago, created a #BlackAtWork exhibit in honor of Black History Month. We thought we were finally going to experience something that depicted our unique experiences and struggles in corporate America, and since we love everything diversity and inclusion, you already know we dreamed of everything this #BlackAtWork exhibit could be.
But it wasn’t.
Don’t get us wrong, we respect Havas’ attempt to do something in honor of Black History Month, and we think it’s *so* dope that they tried to tackle one of the things that keeps us up at night – being #BlackAtWork, #BrownAtWork, #GayAtWork and everything in between. So kudos, Havas Chicago. For real.
But in all honesty, the exhibit did nothing to honor or represent what it means to be #BlackAtWork. It basically took society’s major stereotypes about black people and told white people not to say or do them at work.
Don’t say thug. Don’t say ghetto.
Don’t assume your black co-workers play basketball or received a minority scholarship.
Don’t ask your black co-workers to teach you how to dougie or call them articulate.
Don’t ask to touch their hair (NAILED IT with this one, Havas).
And while we agree that no one should be asking their black co-workers these things or touching their hair, the whole exhibit was a very basic depiction of being #BlackAtWork from your white co-workers’ perspective. It was all about educating THEM on their own racist stereotypes (although the exhibit characterized them as microaggressions) and not at all about highlighting US and our struggles. Yes, we have to fight stereotypes about black people at work, but the experience of being #BlackAtWork is so much more than that.
#BlackAtWork is often about being smarter, better educated, hard-working and *still* being passed over for a promotion.
It’s about always having the right answer that no one will accept until Bob or Becky also co-sign.
It’s about being lonely and the inherent struggles that come with being the only or one of a few blacks on your team.
It’s about living a very white-centered life at work and doing everything in your power to ensure your nights and weekends are filled with the rich black culture you love.
It’s about sometimes wanting to quit but knowing you can’t because you owe it to those coming behind you to stay in the struggle and fight.
Havas, boo – you missed all of this. And so much more. You see, our history of being #BlackAtWork begins with those who came before us who worked hard in vile, oppressive environments so we wouldn’t have to. Our history of being #BlackAtWork will forever be intertwined with our struggle to be seen as fully human. And you missed the human side of things. Better luck next time.
We typically love to end Black History Month with an ode to everything that was great about it – and there were lots of great things. Beyonce’s twin baby announcement, Adele’s advancement as an ally for Beyonce, President Obama’s vacation pics, lots of women of color partner promotions in law firms across the country, and Viola Davis becoming the first black actor to win an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony. These are some of the things that kept us going and made us proud this month.
But given the current societal climate, we also felt it necessary highlight how seemingly great efforts by mainstream America can actually hurt the fight for diversity and inclusion if they are rooted in whiteness and white supremacy. When we minimize the issues people of color face in corporate America, or fail to accurately depict them, such that mainstream America feels comfortable with the watered down version of our struggles and obstacles, we risk championing a continuation of the systematic racism that built this country. That’s something we can’t afford.
So on this last day of Black History Month 2017, think about where you stand in the fight for equality and justice. Have you been hurting or helping the fight? Or watching in silence? The time to re-evaluate is definitely now.
“If not us then who? If not now, then when?” – John Lewis