To Be or Not to Be

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

“If we are going to be part of the solution, we have to engage the problems.” ~ Majora Carter 

Again, thank you all who have continuously read, especially with everything going on. I truly value everyone that takes the time out to read my entries! Every reader is greatly appreciated, and there is more to come! 

As we are in this trying time and pandemic, job security is at an all-time high. The entire world has essentially stopped due to the fast-spreading COVID-19 virus. We have been on this quarantine/social distancing order for about 4 almost 5 months. And lord knows our bank accounts can attest to it! Offices, universities, workplaces, and overall institutions have had their fair share of working remotely to accommodate this unexpected crisis. Yet, there are other businesses that are booming like no other. The devil works fast, but Amazon Prime works faster! There is a clear imbalance within our current economy (as if there wasn’t one already) and it increases day by day. As of May 2020, 36.5 million American citizens filed unemployment claims that forced a shutdown within the economy. The World Economic Forum predicted that the United States may see an unemployment rate of 20% and that can essentially be the Great Depression Part 2. 

Yet, job security is nothing new to the general Black community worldwide. Thanks to institutional and organizational racism, race plays a part in every tangible and intangible aspect of life. If you were to Google search a professional male and/or female, you will see an immediate and blatant contrast of the people represented on the screen. You WILL find more photos of white men and women that represent what it means to be professional. Within the first 12 photos I googled, 8/12 of these women appeared to be white or white-passing. And within the first 12 photos for males, 9/12 of the men appeared to be white or white-passing. 

But, this is bigger than my little at-home 5 minute Google test. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, the employment-population ratio for the Black population was 58.3% (the lowest) compared to 60.7% for white, 61.6% for Asian, and 63.2% for Hispanic communities. Additionally, in that same year, Black men had the lowest and longstanding pattern of the having lowest employment-population ratio with 63.7%. Yes, I know y’all, it is a painful norm for us to see the very community we belong to always coming in the last place according to statistics. 

This places an extreme amount of pressure on those that are employed and Black. Code-switching is a skill that most Black people acquire to decrease the likelihood of being generalized by the stereotypes of our race. Essentially, we put on our “white people” voice, wear our best blouse/suit, avoid using colloquial language, and more to prevent being known as the “Black employee”. You know, the ghetto one. The one with “fashionable” curly hair one day that conjured magic to create long, straight hair the next. The one with all the new funky dances moves. The one with the hottest new music from that one rapper, what’s his name… Little Wayne?

Code-switching is a tactic used by Black people and overall people of color for behavioral compensation*. Being that the society has placed such negative connotations on our community, we are forced to distance ourselves from our identity for sake of being “professional”. Imagine the amount of energy used to try to remove the very things that make you who you are. I cannot even count how many times I have to ask myself, is this hourly pay rate really worth this? To make others not stereotype and overgeneralize me at the expense of my identity? 

The workforce provides the Black community with more than just some paycheck. That space for us is kind of like the devil’s playground. The idle hands of society allowed racism to invade our tangible outlet to acquire financial gain. The workforce places the Black community within a space to experience stereotype threats on a daily basis. Stereotype threat is a potential event or situation that may present a societal “threat in the air” when a negative stereotype is presented. This can cause an innate fear or anxiety within Black and people of color because any small inkling of a stereotype is enough fuel for the Karen’s and Kevin’s of the world. Some evidence has shown that the emotional and cognitive effects of stereotype threats include reduced working memory capacity. Instead of focusing on the workload at hand, people are now fearful of confirming the stereotypes and statistics curated by society. Confirming these negative societal expectations can also cause decreased self-esteem that is correlated with work performance. Yet, this is not just a race thing. Any and all social identities can be a victim of stereotype threats within the workplace such as socioeconomic status and gender.

But, we can’t win for losing. If we act like our stereotypes, we get categorized. Yet, if we code-switch to a tee, we can also become tokens. Tokenism is the practice of hyper-focusing or symbolizing one individual that is visibly in the minority among a larger majority. This person usually is so “unique”, so “different”, and so “exceptional” compared to their social group that they HAVE to be broadcasted. That one Black individual that is SO PROFESSIONAL that they are plastered on the work brochure to demonstrate a “diverse work environment". As if we did not have enough pressure on our backs in and out of our job, but now we are the spokesperson for our entire community at work? This is like working two different jobs at the same time with half of the pay. Actually, bump that. This is working two different jobs at the same time with none of the pay.

Our identities should not have to be sacrificed for the sake of a check. We are worth far more than any paycheck ever cashed. 


*Behavioral compensation: hanging one’s behavior in ways that disconfirm a stereotype, or overcome an added burden of prejudice

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