Why does my naturally, curly hair offend you? Does the color of my brown skin make you uncomfortable? Does my intelligence threaten you? Do my emotions intimidate you? Do you even want me to be confident and true to myself?
On Sunday, March 1, 2020, the poet, activist, and influencer, Crystal Valentine, came to James Madison University in Madison Union Ballroom for a program called, “Black Girls Rock!” This event was hosted by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. to uplift and empower Black women on the campus of JMU. Crystal performed a set of spoken word that challenged patriarchal constructs, recognized the many deaths of black bodies, and emphasized how black women are not considered as “professional” beings. In this post, I want to use her spoken word regarding professionalism to reflect on and connect with my personal identities of being a woman of color.
So, what is professionalism? More specifically, what is professionalism for a Black woman? In my experience, professionalism has been a way to marginalize my character, appearance, and womanhood. When I walk into a space where I am expected to be “professional,” such as my job, or when I am with people who hold higher authority over me, I find myself using a form of self-censorship that does not allow me to be my authentic self. In the past when I would have job interviews, I would straighten my hair because I did not believe my curly hair would be accepted by others. I would change the ways in which I speak (code switch) in order to please whoever I was interacting with. These may have been small acts, but they were a way to conform to societal standards in order to be accepted by the dominant groups in society. However, I now REFUSE to conform to the ideals of professionalism, and I will NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR BEING, BREATHING, and LIVING my TRUTH.
Another issue Crystal Valentine mentioned, and that I have encountered in the world of professionalism, is how my emotions are constantly invalidated. I hear comments such as, “Why you look so mad, you got pretty dimples so smile!” and “You seem pretty intimidating. You have a sweet personality, but it sometimes feels cold.” Here is my response to these comments:
Hmmmmm, do I seem mad? Well, I guess if my dimples aren’t showing then I look angry. Just because I am a woman, does not mean that I have to smile or be bubbly every second of my life. I am entitled to my emotions (good and bad). If my straight face and coldness offends you, you may exit and that might put a smile on my face, but you’ll never know.
After reflecting, I realized that professionalism caused me to feel less confident about myself and the identities I hold. LET ME TELL Y’ALL… I REFUSE to continue in the cycle of white washed confidence. Here is my definition of confidence. Confidence is the way I stroll into a room with my natural and God given beauty. It is the way I speak and walk with my head tall in any space I am in. It is the way that my silence is never silent, instead it is a silent storm that will create ideas of GOLDEN.
I have the right to be my most authentic and honest self. And yes, I just might be too intimidating for you.
So, Dear Professionalism: If all of this bothers you, then I am (not) sorry, but my job is not to please you or your expectations that you may have of me.