Do Not Work Here If You’re Black…

...or of any minority status really...

April 16, 2018

​Let’s talk about my last employment experience, and this will explain why natural born entrepreneurs auto-reject 9-5s.

If only the ghost of my fellow sister before me had whispered in my ear, girl, don’t do it, during my last job interview, that’s all I would have needed to make my exit. But no, I stayed, why? I was looking for a job and the CEO hired me on the spot.

Disclaimer: In my experience, I should never accept a job that hires me immediately. First red flag. It’s always something slimy you find out about the company just when you get comfortable. Still, I accepted.

I worked at a compact, private law firm in Gaithersburg, Maryland. And when I say compact, I mean every time someone took a sh*t in the bathroom it permeated the entire office; the smell had nowhere to go. Lingering. Trapped. The company serves papers through its clients: law offices, the courts, and civilians, both locally and nationwide. And if you ask her, she’ll spew out: “We are a top 100 process server company in the country” in a heartbeat.

Her: Heavy set, mid 60’s, Jewish, loud, She’s been in business for 20+ years. She walks in the office and her presence is thick. Not good, not bad, just thick. Noticeable enough to look around and ask, what changed? Boisterous, lively, with a strong (that later became overbearing) energy. She’s a baby boomer; the era of true boss/subordinate culture, oblivious but blatant prejudice (we won’t call her a racist just yet), and did I say loud?

My question is, how?

During my interview, that was more of an actual job offer after a 5 minute discussion of my job duties and was joined with the white-haired lady from HR, she set the scene.

“I don’t micromanage…” *cough* Lie.

“Everyone loves working here, people never leave…” *cough* Lie. In fact, I found that most of the employees who were no longer employed for her were black women. Shocker.

“We’re a family here…” You’re a family and I’m the black sheep, literally.

I later learned the lady in HR? She’s actually the bookkeeper….who just happens to do HR duties as well. Second red flag. So I interacted with her more often in the finance arena until she would hold meetings with me that I thought would be better initiated by the actual boss. The crossover of titles in a small business only suggests lack of organization, a “cut corners” type atmosphere, and a blur of boundaries. No, I do not want the bookkeeper soliciting my feedback about feelings toward the company, my job and/or duties, etc. It was a very top-down, pipeline organizational structure but more of a gossip, through-the-grapevine delivery.

Everyone knows corporate America is what it is. Blah. But I never thought working for a small business would be even more torturous. Follow me.

I started in the front of the office in the Finance department. I was later moved to the hallway.

I was hired as a Collections Specialist. I became a Collections Specialist, trash lady, secretary, marketing agent, filer, scanner, and mailwoman. That’s the biggest difference I noticed between working in corporate America versus for a small business.

There’s a trade off between working for a small business rather than corporate. With corporate, there are mandatory rules and protocol implemented, there is usually a well-established organizational structure that exists and is rigorously followed, and there is a culture that is developed based on the goals and values of the company.

Though it can be mundane, there is a level of security and order that employees can rely on or make reference to.

Working for her? It was like stepping into the suffrage movement. You know, the white feminist women voting march where black women weren’t allowed to participate? It was an office of mainly older white women who babble about their hatred for the world today. And I was like a fish out of water, gasping for air, terribly avoiding conversations, choking for an escape. I knew I didn’t fit. 

She would engage in controversial discussions most workplaces would run from and reprimand immediately. Sexual assault, Trump, racism…

She would make derogatory statements about other ethnic groups (process servers who happened to be her employees) that she deemed lighthearted.

Her overpowering way of thinking filled up that little office so quickly, she demanded consensus on her stances, or just repeated them until everyone agreed. She encouraged groupthink – a disease known to poison any successful business. 

Me, a young Black woman in her mid-20’s, semi-woke with slight feminist values and the impatience of a bull due to the technological and psychological advancements of our time refuses to engage in ancient, vintage, uncomfortable racist tugs of war for the sake of money, security, or opportunity.

In short, I don’t have time.

And it’s not worth it. The mental games alone of having to walk on egg shells, plaster a permanent smile, and bite my tongue until it bleeds are taxing and have been retired. I will not do it. The elementary conversations with white people about their offensive yet “innocent” tactics towards people of color are so 2008. *eye roll* We’re way past that.

[LISTEN: Street Talk with Kiki: Episode 4 – “Lookin’ Real Healthy” where Kiki divulges on her past employer. Check the 15:12 mark]

Analyzing my hair, asking if it’s real or not with every minuscule change, lifting up my wig….?! (B*tch!?)

Asking me to do out of character, downright illegal tasks.

Her: “Let me see your cursive…”

B*tch, no!

Me: “Oh my cursive is terrible.” *blank stare*

These types of microaggressions I thought I had overcome and since passed ages ago. Incidents like these happened in the early 2000’s when you were the only black girl in your class. When terms like “privilege,” “colorism,” “respectability politics,” didn’t exist. We have far abandoned, overcome, and excelled beyond these basic, debunked ways of thinking. Thus, I require white Americans to retain certain prerequisites before discussing anything race-related. If the battle seems too hard a fight, I’m retreating because at this point if you use ignorance as your defense then it is a choice on your behalf.

She had a severe superiority complex mixed with a splash of narcissism. Always needing to be praised, enjoyed being called “boss” by her employees, and feeling threatened by another smart individual in the room. She is stuck in a time warp of the 70’s and 80’s where boss’ sense of self are over inflated. While there, I was told by one of my coworkers that an African- American woman was terminated before me for giving constructive criticism. I think it had more so to do with the inability to accept new information from a source she deemed unworthy or unqualified. But that’s neither here nor there. All in all, she could use the advice.

I felt like Issa, on an episode of Insecure. Is this…The Office?

As a result, I resorted to my default work attitude: clock in, do your work, and clock out. I spoke when spoken to and performed the usual niceties and small talk;  just enough to get by, because clearly, I wasn’t going to last here. But even with the adjustment, I ensured to not let my performance waver to avoid any further backlash to the Black race.

So I made her a lot of money (in between taking phone calls and/or breaking down boxes) and she ranted and raved about me to her business coach, colleagues, and boyfriend. She might as well have pat me on my head and walked me around the block. Or maybe that’s just the chip on my shoulder. Who knows?

See, it’s been awhile since I had to experience this. So my guard was down; this politically correct era had me almost believe everyone knew better–especially in the workplace. The weight that black people have of performing ten times better just to be viewed as average so that doors can remain open and opportunities still provided for our children and grandchildren had been temporarily lifted. No longer did I feel I was a representative of an entire race and that my actions were being held to the light among other blacks. Respectability politics were abandoned because the gatekeepers’ criteria had been reformed. We all could win. I felt like I was back in my Daddy’s shoes, reminiscing on stories he told working as the sole black reporter at the News Post for twenty years.

This course of action must have gotten to the boss. But ass-kisser I am not. That’s probably where my entrepreneurial streak shows.

Months had passed, and she finally confronted the situation head on. As threatening, foul-mouthed, uptown Philly, and bold as she claims to be, when it’s actually needed, she chooses the passive-aggressive route. For months her and I had been doing fake smiles, shrilly voices, and conversed on an as-needed basis. She called me into the office and said she noticed a drastic personality change. *crickets*

Now, most workplaces are unaware or disconnected from its real and raw culture that is shaped from the floor, aka the lower level, hourly employees. Usually, it slightly differs from the intended mission. The expected cubicle gossip, the boss you don’t like, the policies you may or may not agree with, the list goes on. But you know what’s drastic Kelly*? How you think you run your business versus how it’s actually ran. Working here was like buying a ballgown from China. See below:

Exhibit A:                                                         Exhibit B:

Sad. I let her say her piece, and I was outta there.

 To my fam that’s in the workplace going through it: Your parents had to do it. You don’t.

There’s an underground paradigm, an unwritten law that outlines how we as Blacks should act in professional settings for guaranteed success. We have found this blueprint to be outdated, penetrable, and pointless.  Staying at a job that devalues you and discourages your spirit is a silent killer. And it’s not worth it.

The worst part? She’s oblivious to it all. Her company culture, the tone she sets, her actions and its effect on others — all of it. Thinking she’s apart of the solution when she’s still apart of the problem. Wake up girl. It’s 2018. Even if you are indeed stuck in 1965, your business can’t be in order to survive. Get with the times and good luck. Phew!

 *names have been changed to protect identities

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