Let me start by saying that I do NOT speak for all black people. I am a singular black person describing my singular black experience. I cannot and will not speak for an entire ethnicity. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about being a young black millennial in professional America, shall we.
I Am Black, Not African American
I guess that we should start with the black part. Some of you may try to correct me and say African American. However, I prefer to identify as black. I’m not from Africa. My parents are not from Africa. I can’t even trace my family lineage back to specific area of this country let alone the continent that is Africa. I am simply black.
I have no problem with others identifying as African American. More power to them. However, I feel as though I will leave that moniker to my fellow black people who are actually from the Mother
I’m the Minority, and It’s Ok
Now that you’re adjusted to me saying black so many times, let’s get down to business. Being a young black professional in the South means that there really aren’t that many people that look like you. I work in marketing, and have since 2015. Of my four years in the game, I have only worked with a handful, literally probably 5, other black people with the same job as me. I currently work in a department where I am the only black employee. Disclaimer, it’s only me and one other person, but that’s beside the point.
The company I currently work for has a lot of black employees, however, these employees are not performing high duty tasks. They are tellers, call center agents, etc. Three of the managers are black but the company itself is run by older white people. This has been the norm since graduation.
What About Bias?
I was blessed with a relatively white and normal sounding name, Larry. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am all for cultural names. I also am aware of bias when it comes to having a cultural name. Sometimes those people may be uber qualified but overlooked because of their name. My brother’s name is Devante. No one can tell me that his name doesn’t sound black, get the point.
Because I have the name Larry, I usually don’t run into an issue when applying to things or receiving phone calls. I have been told that I speak well so I pass phone interviews and screenings. I say this because I have worked with people in the past who could barely put 3 sentences together.
Stay in Your Lane, but Remain Confident
I stay in my lane, but it’s difficult to not look over every once in a while and wonder how in the hell someone got to where they are. Is it because of the color of their skin? Is it because their great aunt knows the owner? Is it because they are pretty or handsome or good looking?
It’s difficult to look around and wonder am I here because I’m the best? Am I here to meet a quota? Why aren’t there any other people who look like me doing the job I’m doing? Like I mentioned earlier, I’m confident in who I am, but sometimes I wonder.
The Whole Diversity Thing
It comes with the territory. And I hate to say it, but the stereotypes are true. People will ask you about sports and hip hop and ask to touch your hair. They will ask you to explain culturally sensitive things. They will want your “diverse” opinion. These are things that happen in professional America. While I’m not a fan of all of it, mainly the harp on diversity, I applaud some of the effort.
Whether it’s for legal reasons or personal moral reasons, things are beginning to seem more diverse here in the pros. The older generation doesn’t get it at all, but the younger generation has a better attitude. I mean they still don’t get it either, but they’re trying and that’s good enough for me.
Things are Changing
The world my father described to me as a child is slowly fading. While it may not completely fade away in my lifetime, I’m happy to see it go the way it’s going for now. As I child I was told to be twice as careful and work twice as hard because of the color of my skin. I was warned that I would be the minority and that people may not like me because of the position I hold.
I have seen those things, but not to the extent my father warned me. It’s true, I’ve worked extremely hard to get what I have. I have been careful in the way I dress and the language I choose to speak with. I am the minority in my field, and I’m sure a few people don’t like me because I look the way I do.
But the fact that I can even hold this position. The fact that I can do the things I do means that the world and this country, while nowhere close to perfect, are changing. Black people are rising through the ranks of white-owned companies and I love it. I would love to see more black-owned business, but the very idea that we are starting to compete with everyone else makes me happy.
Black Professional Millennial
So what is it like being a black professional millennial? It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard of before. It’s weird, sometimes lonely, and great all at the same time. It’s learning to walk the line and blend in while standing out. It’s learning which things you’ll accept and which things you won’t. It’s learning when to speak for the culture and when to speak for yourself. It’s learning that we are all not alike and that’s ok. Being a black professional millennial, is a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m up for and willing to share with you all.