“Bring your authentic self to work!” Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode so well for professionals of color.
Specifically, I’m going to speak about Black women. One, I’m a Black woman. Two, it’s Black History Month.
Let’s learn together.
Microaggressions at Work
Merriam-Webster defines “microaggression” as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).
My authentic self sometimes shows up to work as waist-length box braids, sometimes it is a silk press, other times I may decide to wear my hair in its natural state, which includes, but is not limited to: a twist out, a braid out, a blow out, or an afro (all of these styles are Google-able). I express myself and my creativity through my hairstyles.
So, when I come into work one week with braids down to my waist and the next week with a beautiful afro, it is inappropriate to ask “is that your real hair?” (I was asked this by a colleague).
If you don’t see the harm in that, imagine me asking a mature-aged colleague “are those your real teeth?”
Feels gross, right?
Let’s Discuss Assumptions
Microaggressions can make it difficult for me, and those like me, to feel comfortable bringing our authentic selves to work.
Some microaggressions faced by Black women are in the form of assuming that all Black women come from the same background or have the same life experiences.
There are Black women who grew up upper class. Some Black women come from a two-parent household with both parents holding college degrees. Others were less-privileged and all too familiar with the struggle life.
Other common microaggressions include:
being told we are “too aggressive;”
being told we are “intimidating” (in reality, you are simply
being considered or referred to as the “diversity hire” when our resume greatly outshines some of our colleagues and superiors;
assumptions that we are not the senior individual in the room (for example, I had a client direct her attention to my white law school intern while I was conducting intake); or
being told we are “well-spoken” or “articulate” – as though we wouldn’t be, when so many of us reading this article hold two degrees, at a minimum, one of which being a JD.
Called Out? Do This
So, what can you do if a Black woman calls you out about your microaggression?
For one, do not get defensive and make yourself the victim. That is lazy. Some suggestions are as follows:
Think Before Speaking, Please
The legal field, amongst many other professional careers, was not designed with Black women in mind. Because this is the case, we face some of these – and many other – microaggressions on a regular basis.
In the year of 2022, let’s do better. Let’s think before speaking. And, in the event that we fall short with that, genuinely apologize and learn from your mistake. That way we can
all truly bring our most authentic selves to work.
For further reading, check out:
The Microaggressions Towards Black Women You Might Be Complicit In At Work, Forbes.com, June 19, 2020.
Editor: We also suggest reading Johnson’s January 2019 Tip of the Month, “How Diversity & Inclusion Benefits Us All.”
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar
sections or the
Public Interest Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.