Finding Space

“Sometimes just being yourself is the radical act. When you occupy space in systems, that weren’t built for you, your authenticity is your activism.” -Elaine Welteroth

Finding Space

“I can’t make this stuff up.”  Since my entry into the “grown-up” world, the working professional world, this has become a common statement amongst colleagues, friends, family members and even mentors.

There is a vast amount of context this statement can apply to based upon where you are working and the field you are within.  This blog post is specifically for the Black professionals who operates in spaces where most of the people do not look like them, cannot identify with their culture or experiences, and who may simply try their best to not include them.

Specifically, as a Black woman and a professional I am all too familiar with what it feels like to be the minority at work.  The pit in your stomach you get when you show up to work on Monday, after carefully taking down your extensions (no matter what form they were in) and hear the comments from all of your non-Black co-workers:

“Your hair is short now!”

“Oh! You look different…”

These are just a few examples of some of the more annoying, and leaning towards offensive, comments that I have personally experienced.  Yet, these experiences often go beyond commenting on hair styles and go into the murky waters of opinions and questions (that are often masked statements of judgement) on topics such as: race, politics, religion, and culture.

Why would this topic be a part of a mental health blog do you ask?    With the average person in the U.S. now spending one-third of their lifetime at work, it’s safe to say that our work environment can have a deep impact on our overall lives.  As our work, communities and even places of leisure often shape into areas of oppression it’s important that we have sound and available resources.

Here are some things to consider:

First things first, is what you are experiencing illegal?  There are federal, state and local laws and regulations that protect employees and business owners from a multitude of things like: discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and whistle blowing.

Know your rights!  This includes the federal, state, local and your company’s specific policies.  Specifically, know your options in how to address your concerns: to whom, when and where.  Many companies have an escalation or grievance process that is intended to eliminate conflict and protect parties.

Create a safe space within your space, to the best of your ability.  This can include pictures or photos, scents, and comfortable seating (or standing) at your work area.  Creating and maintaining your own peace.

Mentors are essential!  There is nothing like getting a chance to vent to someone who just gets it!  We have to be very careful not to dump our emotional load on our loved ones but direct it to a space where we can receive appropriate and effective support.  A mentor’s support and influence can range from providing insight on professional development and suggestions for work-life balance.

Remember that it is not your job to educate those around you on your unique culturally practices and experiences.  As a fan of teachable moments, I still respect the spaces and practices of others.  Before answering questions regarding your culture or experiences, stop and ask yourself:

Do I find this question offensive, why?

Is this an appropriate conversation for the workplace and how does it apply here?

Is there a ready resource I can refer them to?

Seeking a therapist is always an option when dealing with difficult life moments.  The key is treating therapy as a preventative or proactive measure, learning skills to: cope, communicate, and advocate for example.  Best ways to locate a therapist:

Contact your insurance company, requesting a therapist within network who works within your particular concern; allows for searches based on: location, insurance coverage, expertise, etc.

Forward Wellness has a host of therapist who vary in their areas of interest and expertise.

Lastly, as the Elaine Welteroth quote stated above, remain you!  Do not allow the snide remarks, insensitive questions and comments, or passive aggression get you down or out of character.  There is something great about the spirit of a person who comes in with a stride of confidence and power-that they can back up.  At the end of the day, your there to do one thing-your job.  Continue to learn, grow and do it well.

Ideally, we would all be a part of work spaces that support everyone with equity, allowing group and individual growth and development.  Yet, in 2019, we know there are still a lot of things, people, and places that are lacking in terms of equity.  Start with you.

This list is not exhaustive and my hope is that it creates conversations and resources to aid in eliminating these experiences and spaces.


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