[Testimony] Being my black ass self in the workplace.

Image taken from Google

It’s so crazy how the society standard is to be yourself, yet we end up in environments where we are forced to change all for the sake of making a living. It makes no logical sense.

I spent a lot of years figuring out who I am, as an Earth citizen and as a professional. I’ve had a few jobs since I was 13 years old. Never did I have to deal with any type of discrimination because of how I look, what I like to do outside of work, or anything else. Most of my jobs didn’t require much. If anything, we may have had a dress code that wasn’t too strict and of course regular corporate policies.

In times like these where racism is pretty much in our faces, I look at everything differently. I pay attention more to how people talk to me or treat me in the workplace than anywhere else. I started a new retail job back in November just to fund the bigger dreams that I have. Of course, I went with a clothing retailer that was a little upscale, but still lowkey as far as style. So I thought. I remember that interview like it was yesterday. I wore my locs in a bun, had on stud earrings, an oversized autumn colored sweater, leggings, and Chelsea boots. The interview went so well, everyone I interviewed loved that I had dreams and aspirations so I thought it was all good. I got hired as a seasonal employee for the holidays and we were on track. The area I work in is occupied by some pretty wealthy folk so you can imagine how the clientele is. Not too rude, but definitely blind. I say that because most times I speak to these people and they don’t even respond but are quick to ask me for help.

Anyway.

Here I am working at this semi high-end store with locs and my own sense of style. You would think I had the devil chilling on my forehead the way some people look at me in there. Sometimes it’s my coworkers too. I will admit that things started out so smooth, everyone smiled at me and covered me with compliments. At times it made me uncomfortable. I appreciated being complimented, but when it sounds like “Hey, I’m just doing this because I have to,” wrapped in a bow of bullshit it becomes weird. Now, my job has somewhat of a strict dress code, I’m a little thicker than the rest of my coworkers so I am unable to wear most of the clothing. We are still allowed to wear clothing outside of the brand as long as it fits the aesthetic which is boho chic for the most part. I’m cool with that because that’s usually my style anyway, or casual outfitting.

Even though I dress to fit the aesthetic, I always feel out of place at work. Everyone usually looks like the girls in our store magazines. While I look like myself in a slightly elevated outfit. On some days I may get tons of compliments on my outfit and some days I may not get talked to unless someone needs me to do something. I usually don’t hold conversations at work because you never know who you’ll offend nowadays.

Although I am explaining the style part of my job, that is not where the core issue comes from. As I stated earlier on, I have a lot of retail experience, but like any other human being, if I don’t do something for a long time I tend to forget a few things. Usually coming on board of a new company, they just teach you their way of doing things which requires a brief training. I got that training at an accelerated pace because it was the holiday season. Yet, I was catching so much pushback because I would ask questions about things so that I didn’t dissatisfy the customer. At times I felt like I was asking too much. It got to the point where I was working in the same area every time I worked. I thought to myself “How can someone learn something if they never get a chance to try it?” You want me to be the best at the cash wrap, but I’m always in the fitting room like a best-kept secret. We were supposed to retrain for the spring and I never got retrained. Even with these things going on I have been biting my tongue and not even trying to assume that people simply don’t like me.

We all come from different backgrounds and mine has proven to be the harshest. I’m from the projects, I know how it is to have damn near nothing. When my managers would take me to my neighborhood after work I can tell they weren’t expecting to be taking me to the hood.

I have one manager who I feel doesn’t even trust me or just simply thinks I’m not capable of doing some things. I expressed in my interview that I am college educated, a journalist and photographer yet I have things repeated to me like I’m a child. I’m afraid one day I’m just going to explode and I’ll just have one job after that.

Recently I changed my hair color, came to work with it and of course, the customers looked at me crazy when I ask them questions. I constantly get asked if I work in the store even though I clearly have a headset on like every other employee. I begin to ask myself, ” Is being myself problematic in this environment even though it was enforced in my interview?” I thought individuality was cool. I felt like looking like spring so that’s why I dyed my hair pink. I’m only complimented when it’s up in buns and when my hair is different from that, it seems as if I’m always getting pep talks on the sales floor. Whether it’s about selling or anything else I already know. It’s annoying.

Every time I see a manager walk by me now my anxiety warns me to look away or walk in the opposite direction to avoid conversation or contact. I always feel like I’m doing something wrong even when I’m doing it right. Even when I make a mistake it just feels 10 times more crucial than it actually is. One time I left my lock on my locker open by mistake because I used the restroom and had to grab something out of my purse. I didn’t realize it was still unlocked. Like an hour after that, I’m getting pulled to the side. About 10 minutes after that I was in tears. Not because of the consequence, but because of the way it was done. That moment was super humiliating and do you know how it feels to constantly get picked on at work and not say anything for the sake of your dreams? This was the whole reason I picked up a part-time, to fund my dreams.

More recently I was spoken to about dress code. I wore some nameless decks (shoes) to work because they were comfortable on my feet. In the dress code it does state that we can’t wear athletic shoes, but when does anyone where decks to do anything athletic? My coworker wore decks to work and no one said a word to her. The other day I was sent home because I simply looked too casual. I violated the dress code, but I was able to work for an hour with no one saying anything to me. I came in, greeted everyone, walked around the store a few times and it wasn’t until I went to get a drink of water that I was confronted by 2 of the managers on duty. Everything about the way they went about talking to me was wrong.

First of all, there was someone in the back other than us three. They were talking to me loud enough that I am pretty sure she heard what was going on. I wondered why it took to managers on duty to send me home with a dress code violation. The way one of my managers on duty was talking to me was so condescending and emotionless like she literally smiled before our talk was over. I found nothing funny about wasting my labor for an hour just to send me home.

My friends have been telling me to write to corporate and to quit. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you don’t have people who would help you in your time of need or support your decisions and especially when you have technically been independent from your parent monetarily since you were a teen. I’ve worked hard for years to not have to ask others for anything when I need it. This is the conflict many other black women and black people period experience while being an employee anywhere. We usually can’t just quit. I’ve written to corporate about another job and even tried to sue and nothing was done. My manager still had a job once I quit and I was hustling to find another job. It’s gotten to the point where I ask myself, where can a black person work and be comfortable? Many will beat that entrepreneurship idea into your head, but even then, we will get the shorter end of the stick. It’s exhausting and annoying having to take on a whole other persona to be accepted at work.

I’m a black woman who likes to make money, has goals to execute, and I would like to be able to do that with my pink hair, with my Baltimore accent, and with my dignity.

2 thoughts on “[Testimony] Being my black ass self in the workplace.

  1. There is a whole lot in this article.

    First, was your insecurities.

    Second, me remembering retail and how managers are bored/miserable people who have nothing better to do than scrutinize every move of the person that isn’t in their pocket. I definitely been there; however, as a black man I’m more intimidating than a black woman. I’ve violated dress codes where the uniform was a red polo shirt (a CD store in Towson called The Wall…I’m old). Whatever the case, I’ve always been the odd one out in menial jobs. In corporate America, my odd man out has actually worked in my favor. I don’t like to be in anyone’s pocket so I shy away from personal relationships with not only management, but my co-workers. I’m real cool and approachable, but I keep people at arms length. Some people think I’m weird but they def value my input and always think of me first for any special projects, which translates to more money in the long run.

    While I envy the entrepreneurial generation that you are in and have goals to break away from corporate America and basically do what my company does, I’m comfortable where I am.

    Sometimes, you just gotta take the retail bullshit on the chin. Just make sure they pay you what they owe you at the end of the day. Just remember, those managers usually have shitty lives and are at the bottom of their social ladder and take it out on you bc you have no allies there. Fuck them. You got billboards, they have late nights counting safes of money that isn’t there and stress making u imaginable goals because retail is dying out.

    Again, sorry I wrote so much.

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