Sinclair: Share about a time you felt unwelcome when working while Black. What happened? What did you take away from the experience/incident/situation?
Anonymous: In my first higher ed position, I was working at a large community college in Rhode Island for a grant-funded opportunity program. In my interview, my soon-to-be “Boss” expressed that, in talking with her next door neighbor, she realized that she knew my father and his work in the Foodservice & Hospitality industry.
A year later, I am walking into a staff meeting with 4 of my colleagues. My boss, who as a 50 year old Jewish woman living in the suburbs saw herself as an expert in dealing with people of color since her son had black friends from the “projects”, says to me “you seem like you come from a single-parent home, were you raised by your mother?”.
I was floored because she knew my father and her longtime partner worked with my father for years. I left this interaction feeling violated, unwelcome, unprotected on my own team and subject to attack by the very person tasked with leading me to the next level of performance. She and I have since both left the institution and mended fences but she never apologized for the comment but it has bothered me from time to time ever since it happened.
Sinclair: What advice would you give to another Black professional who is feeling tired, defeated and/or hopeless?
Anonymous: FIND COMMUNITY!! Find those people of color at your institution who may be able to support and advise you in times of despair anger or distress. subscribe to facebook groups for black Student Affairs professionals, find places for Black folk to engage in counterspaces and networking.
Sinclair: In regard to your colleagues that don’t identify as Black: what is one way they continue to send the message of “You don’t belong here” to you – intentionally or unintentionally?
Anonymous: As a Black practitioner in higher ed, being mistaken for students in opportunity programming is the most common offense. Though unintentional, it sends the very real message that because we look, walk, dress, talk differently from our fellow employed staff at our PWI, we cannot possibly be qualified to REALLY work there.
Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn about what it means to be Black?
Anonymous: That my “talk” is not appropriate in white spaces. For years I have dealt with this Black Inferiority complex in working in predominantly white spaces in higher ed. Because not many look like me or talk like me, I’ve entered spaces feeling that I needed to alter my behavior and talk to fit the expectations of the majority. I am working to unlearn this and embed my own culture in my discussions with others because I belong just as much as they do.