I am Black Herstory: Addressing The “Black Ceiling” In Corporate America

Many people wonder if Kamala Harris’s ascension to the office of vice president will rid America of barriers that keep women of color from advancing in the workplace. Maybe it’s too early to tell, but if history is the teacher, then we ought to know better than to believe in a trickling down of equality. Nevertheless, her accomplishments have etched her a place in history worthy of celebration. 

Regardless of your political views or affiliation, bearing witness to the descendant of a people who voyaged from kingdoms, through the middle passage, to a world where THAT is possible is worth rooting for; especially because she is a black woman. You probably have a mother or an aunt who favors her, and THAT is called representation. 

As I reflect on the experience of being a black woman in corporate America, I’m quickly reminded of the “black ceiling” that manifests itself into the stereotypes, microaggressions, and misogyny that consumes opportunity.   

I have never had the luxury of bringing my full black female selves to the table. I recall vividly the many times I’ve shrunk to avoid the trope of the ‘angry black woman,’ or because I was just grateful to have a seat at the table. Those tables were often at the laps of white men who looked to me as the spokes for my race.

Being the “only” has a way of making you feel that your blackness is always on display and falsely creates the need to make the best impression possible for those who may come after you. It’s that type of hypervisibility that causes shrinkage as it suggests to be black, but not too black. If you’re unaware, those are the rules we play by.

From the earliest time I can remember, I’ve always been taught to shrink. The problem with shrinking is that it teaches us to abandon ourselves and robs us of the ability to be who we indeed are. It took time, prayer, and work to feel comfortable being in rooms where I felt like I didn’t belong. At times I still struggle, but here is what I’ve learned:

  • Take up space. If you’re unsure what that looks like, I encourage you to read “Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change.” Amazon Link Here 
  • Your foremothers suffered greatly to give you a seat at the table, and your hard work gave you access to that room. Let those who question it get their answer from who appointed you. Know deeply that you belong there.
  • Excuse yourself from any table if what’s being served doesn’t appease you. Your ancestors trust you to build your own.
  • Build a fortress of women you can look to and learn from. Trust me; you’ll need all the support you can get.
  • Taking up space should not create less space for other women. You should always lift as you climb.

Finally, I don’t believe VP Kamala is enough on her own to change the business culture or corporate policy, but I know each of us can, together, if we take up space. Know that “his-tory” would be primitive without the contributions of black women. We know of too many great ones to play small. Sis, I hope you learn to take- all of you- into every room God called you to. 

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