Minority Report: The Only (Black) Girl in a Private Sector World5/08/2013
by Veronica Hilbring (@ Veronicolumn ) I’ve worked in various corporate environments since I finished college in 2007. Each of the exper...
by Veronica Hilbring (@Veronicolumn)
I’ve worked in various corporate environments since I finished college in 2007. Each of the experiences was very different but there was always a constant theme: I should expect to be if not the only but one of the few black women there.
I live in Chicago, better known as the most segregated city in the north. The majority of black folks live on the south and west sides of the city where poverty, food desserts and unemployment has continued for decades. The only sense of diversity I had were the white and Hispanic teachers at school.
Until I reached college, I had always been surrounded by black folks. That soon changed. I headed to college in small town IL, not too far from another small town ANNA, whose acronym Ain’t No Niggas Allowed had been passed down to most of the black student population.
It was also in this small town where I had my first face-to-face encounter with racism. It was actually like face-to-back from a speeding pickup truck where the occupants yelled “Shut Up Niggas” to my two homegirls and I after eating dinner at the local Ponderosa. It’s also in college where I first learned what it felt like to actually be the only black person in a classroom.
Those experiences prepared me for the workplace. Or at least I thought they did.
Now that I’m three years into my current gig, my job does finally feel like a work family. But it didn’t always feel that way. The web series the Unwritten Rules has shown many of the same experiences I’ve personally encountered. When I first started there was only one other black person there and he literally sat on the other side of the office. While everyone was incredibly nice and sincere, I still kept my distance from them. I didn’t feel as if there was anyone there who I could truly be myself with. So for the first few months, I primarily stayed to myself. I went to lunch solo and really didn’t have many deep conversations with other co-workers.
Then on a glorious day in May, three months after I started, I learned that we had a new coworker. When the door opened, a short brown sister with curly hair strolled in. I literally almost ran to hug her. If you’re like me then you know it ain’t nothing like a homegirl. After a few months, she and I were thick as thieves. Turns out we both went to the same college at the same time and knew the same people.
After she got there, I was able to relax and open up more to my other coworkers. It wasn’t that I needed another person of color to flourish at doing my job. But I felt the need to have another sister there who understood everything I felt. Like when coworkers spoke of buying condos and vacationing in the Galapagos Islands, we were both barely living paycheck to paycheck. After she was hired, my company eventually hired two more black people. We were invading the place.
It was truly then that I felt like I was in a real family. It wasn’t like anyone tried to make me feel like I didn’t belong. I just simply felt that way. I know that I’m not the only black woman to work in this environment. But I know that my experiences have made me appreciate those who have faced similar situations even more.
Are you the only black girl in your private sector world?
A Black Woman's Perspective on Being In The Workplace
The Unwritten Rules: What it Means to be a Black Woman in Corporate America
Nappy Professional Negroes Need Not Apply