Recently in a conversation with some young women of color, I was informed of instances where they felt further marginalized in the workplace, so I told them to act up. *Pause* Before you begin to get in your feelings rooted in historically oppressive thoughts about appropriate behavior, journey with me. I’m a 28-year-old woman of color who works in the nonprofit field, for an organization rooted in social justice. I mentor, advise and coach other women of color who are from all walks of life. With a strong foundation of who I am, I will surely justify why I told these magnificent, engaging and trusting young women of color to act up.
In an hour long conversation, they both told me about how the intersections of their identities were not being taken into account by a white female supervisor. I’ve been there. I listened as these women spoke about their religion, mental health and what to me sounded like a toxic work environment, and I gave my honest opinion. ACT UP! One of the young ladies happens to be from the city. She mentioned not wanting to "bring the city out" in these interactions with her white female supervisor. I stopped, and I questioned, "why not"? She then paused to ponder on the question. Why is it that our feelings have to be suppressed so we aren't deemed an angry black woman?
As a proud North Philadelphia native, I’ve taken the city with me wherever I’ve gone and realistically it hasn’t failed me yet. Over the years, and having attended a PWI for college, I’ve been told that my city demeanor was always too much. Yes, I’m blunt, and I don’t like small talk, however I am also trustworthy, loyal and respectful. I sincerely engage with others and they have my support to the fullest. City girls can be multifaceted too.
I ensured this young lady that there is nothing wrong with the "city girl" coming out because at the end of the day it is rooted in wanting to be respected. Stay with me. I was NOT directly advising her to engage in any of the stereotypical outrage that you’re thinking of. If you're thinking that, just stop. I was merely telling her that there is nothing wrong with self-advocacy. Historically Black women have been casted and categorized as angry, loud and so forth. In reality, those feelings if expressed in those ways comes from thousands of years of being unheard. I can be loud if I want to.
In my professional opinion, I told these two promising Black woman that acting up is truly redefining what it means to be a Black woman who shows up authentic to themselves and can advocate for their respect. I often work with women of color who, specifically in the workplace and higher education have been taught that you must conform to a timid, and soft spoken way of advocating for yourself and that’s not always realistic. In fact, that may make some so uncomfortable that they choose silence as a means of coping.
As a woman of color, self-advocating may feel like a burden however it is necessary. You are deserving of respect and I urge women of color to understand that the idea of professionalism is rooted in oppression therefore how you choose to show up to advocate for yourself may not align with societal norms and that is OK. In my true North Philly fashion, that translates to acting up, and disrupting the systems that are set against you. The young women I spoke to recently helped me to see that I need to follow my own words more closely and while I know they left the conversation inspired, I left feeling eager to get this message out to others:
To the young girls in the all-white high schools who feel unheard, act up.
To the young professionals who are entering the workforce and want to be heard, act up.
To the women of color who are constantly cheated of promotions and accolades, act up.
To the women of color who are constantly silenced, act up.
You are your strongest advocate, and you deserve respect.
A North Philadelphia native, Ms. Tamika Austin serves as the founder and CEO of Embracing You, LLC. With over 10 years of experience as an educator, Ms Austin takes an innovative approach to working with students and stakeholders. Her experiences include working with Education Works, Americorps, Montessori Genesis schools, and state and private colleges. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal Communication Studies, and Master of Education in Counseling and College Student Affairs. Having presented at conferences, and audiences of over 500 participants, she possess the experience and training needed to thoroughly engage with others. As an advocate for college access for those of marginalized identities, Tamika provides consultations and assistance for college campuses and organization on how to best support these students.
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