Surviving as a Black professional
By Cecily Joy Willowe
If you are a Black woman in America, regardless of how educated or successful you are, you are bound to deal with many episodes of racism in your professional life. For myself, I often found the subtle racial and gendered microaggressions I faced in the professional world more exhausting than overt racism. With overt racism I can more easily report, fight or disregard it as people being evil. When the N-word was chalked on my school campus I knew that hatred was clearly not my fault. It is the teachers who never listen, the bosses who overlook you and the people who just casually suggest that you are less worthy that give me the most mental distress.
Subtle racism is hard to articulate, report or fight. We as Black women are not always in the position where we can solve the problem or leave our situations. Sometimes, we simply have to stay at our schools or our jobs. The idea of being able to be happy and love what you do implies having the funds and support to make a change. What do you do when professional racism is threatening your sanity but you need to pay the bills or just have to finish that last semester? While, I still fall into despair sometimes, there are a few coping strategies and activities that have been successful in helping me simply survive a bad semester or crappy job.
1. Keeping Healthy
It is quite easy for me to fall into a slump where I hide under the blankets all day and wallow. While it is sometimes beneficial to escape from the world and have a great cry, we still need to take care of our bodies. After hours of self-despair, I eventually let my partner drag me out into the sunlight for a long walk or run. Running is excellent because I always burn off a good amount of my anxious and angry energy. It helps me fight off the insomnia I face during tough times. Along with exercise, I have to remind myself to eat and to eat well. If I am not mindful during these periods I will quickly starve and neglect my body.
When I am stressed out, my mind becomes cluttered. As a result, I lose focus and become absent-minded. Writing is a great tool to get the clutter out and restore clarity. It is relaxing and grounding. Plus, if you decide you need to report a school, co-worker or the company for discriminatory behavior, keeping a journal of dates and events will come in handy for EEOC claims.
The first thing I let slip when I become distressed is my spiritual practice. Yet, when I am able to maintain my practices from meditation to ritual, I am more grounded in my life. I am also more grateful and confident in my life when I know I have the spirit world on my side. Try doing a small ritual or meditation before work or school as means of gaining the mental strength to face the day. Then once back home, do a little ritual to mark that work is over in order to leave that drama at the door. I always have to remind myself that work is not my whole life. Work is not my whole purpose either.
4. Support system.
Find people who bring out the best in you and who don’t turn away when you are at your worst. Find someone who will get you off the couch, take a walk with you and listen to your complaints. Find people who will remind you that you are not the problem. Find people who understand what it is like to deal with prejudice and who will support you though it all.
These are just a few suggestions that have gotten me through hard times. The important thing is to find ways of taking care of your inner landscape. Do not allow the strong Black woman myth kill us from the inside. Since racism lessens Black people’s lifespan, I make it a personal goal, that for every episode of bigotry I face, I do something that is known to add years to my life. What better way to get even with ignorant people than to live a long happy life?