A Black Woman Who Talks White – How About Professionally?
Apr 13, 2015
“Oh, wow, Nikki…is that you? I could have sworn you were a White woman!”
I don’t know how many times I have heard that when placing a call or answering the phone from a friend or colleague. The funny thing is that those words have not always been spoken to me by other Black people. It’s an interesting topic of conversation. I mean, when did speaking eloquently or professionally equate to “talking white”? And what does that really mean?
With friends it is easy to brush it off with a joke that I am bilingual. The reality is that common sense tells me when it is best to speak in a professional dialect and when it is okay to be relaxed in my speech, sometimes even using slang if that is how I’m feeling.
It wasn’t until an experience occurred in the workplace regarding this very issue that I began to really pay attention and look more closely at this issue from a different perspective. I had taken a new position that offered a great opportunity. My new manager took me to lunch on my first day and immediately shared why he was so excited to have me on board. Aside from the skill set and experience that I brought to the table, he was so impressed by how I did “not talk Black”! He went on to explain that there were not many Black employees at the company and those that were employed would benefit from some time with me in learning how to speak so that it could open up more opportunities for them. I think in his mind I was to be the Black Ambassador to “speaking white.” He wanted me to create a training opportunity that all Black employees would go through. YES…he shared this dream of his with me in great detail, and with so much enthusiasm!
Now, when you think about it, there was an opportunity there to offer a training class in communication that would be open to ALL employees, but his unconscious bias overshadowed his message, and it was delivered disrespectfully. I remember the feeling that came over me vividly. It was a mix of offense, anger and curiosity. He couldn’t have been serious – right? Oh, but he was, folks! It was at that very moment that I had to question my decision to join the organization. Needless to say, my time there was short, but I did accomplish some great things during my brief stay.
That is just one of my many experiences that make the topics of diversity and inclusion so very important to me. We all possess hidden biases that have been embedded into our being because of the experiences that we have had in life. They affect the things we say, the things we do, the thoughts we have, etc. When those biases affect other people negatively, it is important to pay attention and truly explore what needs to be looked at and done differently.
Personally, I can speak on my experiences as a minority female and educate my counterparts on what is and is not acceptable in order to make a business or personal relationship work. I believe that appreciating those things that make us special and unique are key to thriving.
I am overjoyed about this opportunity to help raise awareness of diversity and inclusion in the Columbia community. So much hurt due to the lack of understanding and appreciation of others has become even more prevalent as of late. For this community – no matter the race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity –healing starts now. My desire is for Diversity Awareness Partnership – Columbia to help the community make that first step toward healing.
Nikki McGruder, Regional Manager
DAP – Columbia