Has anyone ever accused you of “forgetting where you came from” or “acting white”? It has happened to me and I want to share my thinking about this with you.
When you are easily identified as a member of a group (such as African American), others in that group assess you based on THEIR expectations and experiences with the group. Based on their experiences, they have a notion of how everyone in the group should speak, where they should go, and generally how they should live. This is not unique to Black folk.
When you deviate from how people think you should behave, be prepared for criticism. SOME people will be really hard on you, especially as you connect with dominant groups like white folk in the workplace. Even so, I believe MOST people support you and truly want you to be successful. MANY people are just a little afraid. Why are they afraid? They are afraid to lose you to the other side – that side where you no longer remember.
For me, there were co-workers, friends, and even family, who feared I would not remember to call or visit as I went up the corporate ladder and traveled the world; afraid I would not remember how to eat fried fish in a juke joint because I now ate in fine restaurants; afraid I would not remember to make time for them because I now had “associates”. They were afraid I would no longer remember I am one of them.
Faced with the negative manifestations of this kind of fear, there are those who simply separate themselves from “their group”. They prefer to move on with totally different lives and lifestyles, having little or no connection with their past.
I CHOOSE TO ADD RATHER THAN SUBTRACT. What do I mean?
As a retired senior corporate executive, I can truly say much of my success was fueled by not only doing a great job, but by being open and willing to meet new people and experience different things – almost like learning to speak another language. As a very proud dark skin African American female with short, naturally nappy hair, I specifically learned to move with ease in environments dominated by the ruling class of the workplace – white men. Some might even say I learned to “act white”.
I love fried fish sandwiches, the Blues, and juke joints. I also enjoy French cuisine, going to symphony concerts, and visiting art galleries. We are more than a single experience, with a single set of people, in a defined geographic space. We are complex beings who should give others and ourselves a break as more and more of us ADD TO THE BODY OF EXPERIENCES NECESSARY FOR REAL SUCCESS IN THE WORKPLACE.
- STAY CONNECTED with those who love and support your goals.
- LEARN new things, go different places, and meet new people.
- BE proud of who you are; and ADD to the wonderful experiences and people who make you uniquely you.
Please leave your questions and comments below.