“There’s one more thing you should know should you choose to take this job…”
There’s a long pause. It’s uncomfortable.
“Yeah, what is it?” I ask.
On the end of the other line is a friend helping me with my application for an editorial assistant position for Mizzou Creative.
The job is perfect. An opportunity to write, help manage one of the most iconic social media account in higher ed and a raise. Applying was a no brainer.
My mentor takes a deep breath and sighs heavily into the phone.
“C’mon, what is it?”
“Well, if you got the job, you’d be the only person of color in the office. Potentially in the entire division.”
Internally, I freaked. Somehow, I mustered out, “That’s fine.”
It wasn’t fine.
When I became privy to this information I should’ve opted-out immediately. A PWI in a fiercely red state, that was only a few months removed from protests that shook the entire state of Missouri had no people of color in its marketing and communications department?
There’s your problem.
But I believed in my alma mater, I wanted to be captain save a campus and frankly, I was going on five months unemployed and feeling desperate. So, I took the job.
At times, the 17 months I spent in the office felt like my own personal hell. I wouldn’t recommend any person of color put themselves through that type of stress. However, should you find yourself in this situation, I have a few suggestions:
1. Protect your energy.
This is a good rule of thumb in general. Yes, you need that paycheck and no, you can’t just put out crap and assume the paychecks will keep coming. Therefore, you have to, at all cost, protect your energy.
If there’s a person that rubs you the wrong way, keep it strictly professional. If Dave in accounting insists on hanging up a Make America Great Again sign in his cubicle, hang up a Black Lives Matter one in yours. Don’t waste time arguing with folks who won’t and don’t recognize your humanity. My time in the Mizzou Creative office taught me not everyone deserves a response.
2. Find your tribe.
Whether it’s a work wife (or husband), your besties in the city, or a weekly whine sesh with your clique from across the globe, having a tribe and creating a safe space is necessary. These people are key in keeping you sane, lifting you up and holding you accountable. Make sure you don’t spend all your time together complaining about work though. Give yourself (and others) time to brag about the good things happening. Cherish those moments.
3. Don’t be afraid to remind people who tf you are.
When I got my first job out of college at an ad agency, I was berated with questions about my qualifications. It was clear they hadn’t seen a black woman on the team in quite some time. When peers on your team and from other departments size you up and seem really “concerned” about where you came from, sometimes it’s best to give them what they want (and other times you should let your work speak for itself).
My boss at Mizzou understood this. My first couple of weeks at Mizzou she came with receipts to show people exactly why I was hired. People will always try to say you were a diversity/affirmative action hire. Shit, maybe you were; but that doesn’t mean you aren’t great at your job.
4. Pursue passion projects.
I’ve worked for brands like Hershey, Bud Light and Dell. Still, my job title has never defined me. Even when you’re at the top of your game, it could all be gone tomorrow. Don’t let your work define you. Produce dope stuff outside the office too. Whether it’s art, video or a frozen lemonade cart, don’t forget to put in work for yourself. You never know, your passion project could be your next full-time gig.
5. Pick your battles.
Sometimes, a person needs to be checked. Sometimes. In my experience, there has been a lack of understanding in how racism can manifest in many ways. Specifically, systemic ways in higher ed (like walking through 175-year-old columns that were more than likely built by slaves, or being highly encouraged to participate in Homecoming activities that blacks weren’t welcomed at less than 50 years ago). While it is never a marginalized person’s responsibility to spell out their oppression so someone in the majority can feel better, sometimes, explaining things from your distinct point of view becomes a great teachable moment.
Never let someone try and force you to do the work for them though. You don’t have to speak up every time something problematic is said.
6. Document everything.
Praise, feedback, disparaging comments, document it all. Screenshots, written personal accounts and saved emails can be a powerful thing. Especially if you feel you are being discriminated against or treated unfairly.
Documenting everything is also good when working on large scale projects, or recurring assignments. Our memory can get fuzzy, direct copies, recordings, etc. of what is said leave little room for debate.
If you’re a lone wolf at your place of employment, keep your head up, don’t let haters dull your shine and know I’m rooting for you. Share some of your best tips for staying sane in the comments below!
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