On Black Folks and Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work

“Before I leave the house in the morning, I let the dog out, empty the trash, and then neatly fold the other 60 percent of myself into a drawer. Sometimes I pack a to-go bag, and bring it for drinks with a friend after work. But in the office? Nah.

People love being culturally aware until it costs something. What a privilege to ignore someone’s reality and feel justified in it. Most days, it’s a constant battle….

At what level can I remain consistently woke, but also open doors where I am? That’s just on Mondays. My whole self is a threat, regardless of whether I’m in an elevator or on the street.”

–Jonathan Jackson at Blavity: “Why I don’t Bring My Whole Self to Work.”

As a person who knows full well how it feels to be a problem; who works to control his rage at the injustices of white supremacy, and the ignorance or criminal indifference of white people so that it does not consume me, while also using education as a means to help Black students find ways to channel their own rage so that it does not consume them, Jackson’s words resonate deeply with me.

We Wear The Mask

“You all know that Black Americans for centuries  were obliged to laugh when they weren’t tickled, and scratch when they didn’t itch.”

“I honor all our ancestors who tried to stay alive and be somebody so that we could be here…and try to accept that we’ve been loved; each of us, maybe by somebody three generations ago who never even thought what name you would carry…that they paid for you already.”

–Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou wrote a compelling piece combining her words with the work of Paul Laurence Dumbar‘s poem “We Wear The Mask” that makes historical connections to the use of the mask as survival. One of he most painful things about this piece to me is that, although she said that people paid for us already, many Black people today still need to wear a mask in order to navigate, survive, and ensure the progress of the next generation in this system of White Supremacy while at the same time, working to dismantle it.

Excuses, Excuses

Jonathan Jackson’s article also touches on the rhetoric of institutionalized excuses that are used to explain away the reasons for lack of representation of Black people in the workplace such as:

  • There just aren’t any applicants out there.
  • False concerns about “lowering the bar” of quality by considering inclusive hiring practices.
  • Wordy statements that communicate that no Black folks applied without acknowledging that the outreach was not intentional.

Each of these examples and others like them fail to acknowledge the climate of workplaces and other organizations remain hostile to Black people in ways that not only impact our path to organizations, but also our experience of the environment once inside.

I am reminded of Donnetrice Allison’s talk on how institutions can have diversity, and be practicing exclusion at the same time through their institutional practices. I think of times when institutional issues are brought up and am reminded of Sara Ahmed’s affirmation that naming a problem that already exists is not creating a problem. I am also reminded of Shaun Harper’s thoughts on how institutions pay to ignore racism, and the reasons they need to face race and not ignore it.

Although I work daily, and consider myself a part of a larger continuum of people who have worked to make it so Black people can participate fully and authentically in work spaces, and other aspects of society, I recognize there is still so much more work to do until the day that all Black people can exist in workplaces and other public spaces without modifying our movements for survival.

That work isn’t solely ours to do, as White people are intimately implicated in the system of White Supremacy, and intimately responsible for dismantling it.

Ubuntu,

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

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