The Dilemma of an Ambitious Black Women by Nomalanga Mashava

September is upon us and we will be celebrating the one year anniversary of Solange Knowles Ferguson’s masterpiece A Seat at the Table. This album was insightful and spoke of the realities of being Black in America. As an African it really hit home for me. Last week Molly, in HBO’s Insecure, spoke of how she still has it on repeat in her car. I understood why because in the workplace actually in general Black people especially are underpaid and undervalued. Race dynamics in the workplace was also the theme in Lawrence’s storyline in this week’s episode. Everything he was going through was just way too familiar.

I have also been there where my ideas have been praised but never implemented. The worst is when you’ve done something that a Black person supposedly will never do and they praise you like you are a show pony. When I left my old company no one but these 2 girls could compliment me but could say things like I have a good laugh or my earring game is dope. It is ridiculous and I understood Lawrence’s storyline the condescension was disgusting. When I was younger, I did agree with this because I was just so happy to have a job; any job. I have been the token Black girl. I have had instances where we’re looking through African names and for some odd reason people believe I can pronounce them because I’m Black. I told the lady that I don’t speak that language. I am Zimbabwean and we don’t speak SeTswana in my country. The old age problem of all Black are the same. 

South Africans do diversity hirings known as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). BEE was brought into by the South African government to redress the inequalities of Apartheid. In theory it is a fantastic idea but in practice it has done more harm than good. The companies are rated on the BEE scale for their diversity hiring. On the BEE scale, a Black woman is the ultimate hire. The problem is that sometimes like Lawrence, people are just hired to be there not to grow or flourish. I have known instances when they don’t tell you about meetings, set you up to fail or completely discredit your work. For me my bosses were not that cruel but I was underpaid because my boss felt guilty for bullying a new intern. White guilt is something, that is for sure.  The girl was under the impression that we were getting paid the same amount and was surprised to hear that I get less money because I actually did more work than her and had a more senior position than her.

As someone who values her self-worth all this is a hard pill to swallow. There were times where I saw things that were upsetting and astonishing. I just could not believe White people just thinking so little of Black people. Their ignorance is absolutely shocking. For me the microaggressions were the worst and the comparison to mediocre white colleagues sucked. I grew up with White people so I can easily assimilate well, yet I was even lost for words at times because they are just so stupid at times.

I applaud Insecure for bringing this to light with Molly and Lawrence . Workplace politics are the worst and they can break your self-esteem. It has happened to me and I have seen it happen. In the past it would really affect me and I would go home and cry. I obviously cannot change racism but as Papa Pope famously and accurately said in Scandal “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much”. It is also a case of learning the game, but I’m probably being idealistic. The question I have is how do you do well in your job when the odds are stacked against you? The answer is that I have to work for Black businesses or become my own boss. I will admit that being black in the workplace can be hell but I will not let that affect me and my womanhood. I am AMBITIOUS and UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK! That will never change.