Being Black in Corporate America

When I was in my Master’s program, I did my capstone on Marketing to African Americans. Why? Well, 1 because I’m black. 2 – marketing is my profession. 3 – It’s a bit precise, and something people tend to overlook or don’t know how to address, because, well, they’re not black. And I don’t say that in a derogatory manner. I don’t know a ton of Italian, Irish, or even African traditions. The only thing I know is how to be African-American in my city and state. And some of these generalizations go a long way.

Going back to my capstone, my presentation’s introduction started with a list of TV shows and magazines – some majority and some African-America based. And at the presentation, where the population was primarily Caucasian, I asked the audience whether or not they knew which was which (i.e. Friends vs. Girl Friends and say Cosmopolitan vs. Ebony). And I was shocked to see that some knew some of the African-American themed media. However, for the most part, the audience was oblivious to the African-American media. And while I had an inkling that would be the case, it was too bad, as when it comes to marketing, one of the main points is to be where your audience is. If African Americans are consuming Ebony over Cosmopolitan and watching Girlfriends over Friends, that’s where your advertising needs to be.

So how does this relate to being black in corporate America?

To put it mildly, being black in corporate America is like being a fish out of water. Being around people who have different cultural norms and relate in ways in which you may never relate is uncomfortable to say the least. Why?

  1. I don’t have many people to talk to about what I watched last night. Who do I talk to about the latest episode of Tyler Perry’s the Haves and the Have Nots or Martin or 106 & Park or the Stellar Awards.
  2. I don’t have many people to talk to about my music choice. Yes. We all may know Jay-Z and the likes, but what if I want to talk about what Joe Budden did on Love & Hip Hop or something that happened in Mary J. Blige’s life.
  3. My inside jokes are not the majority’s inside jokes. For example, I don’t know that I can say a line from Coming to America and the general public would just get it.
  4. Food is celebratory and not a bad thing in the African-American culture. We gather around food and enjoy it. And when we hear others talking about we It’s super uncomfortable to sit at a table with people talking about calories and fat, primarily on the account that in our minds we’re already told by society that everything we do is wrong.  when that’s just not what you’ve been taught to be your top priority. Size is just something we don’t focus on much in the African-American society.
  5. My language isn’t perfect. It wasn’t until I was in college that I stopped using “be” inappropriately in sentences (i.e. I be doing it like that), and I hate the fact that I have to work so hard to not be the “chick from the hood'” when in fact I am the chick from the hood. Nothing can make that go away, but that doesn’t make me any less intelligent.
  6. African-American kids are not “poor inner-city kids.” They are kids who are like any other children, a product of their environment, and their entire environment isn’t always negative. Parents may be working multiple jobs to make ends mee. They all aren’t products of single-parent homes, and they aren’t all neglected by their parents. Instead, they have parents who want a good life for their kids and may not have the resources to give them everything they want. Mothers may shed tears because she don’t know how she’s going to make ends meet. She may forego food so her family can eat well. Their homes may be infested with bugs and rodents, yet their parents still find a way to put clean clothes on their backs each and every day. Their fathers may be incarcerated or their fathers may right in the home. Many blacks haven’t had the opportunity, network, or resources otherwise to rise beyond their current circumstance. It pains me to hear these kids, their households, and their school systems being judged without having the full picture.
  7. I hate being the African-American poster child. There is so much pressure to ensuring you’re being seen in the correct light. I’m afraid of being silly, for I don’t think I would be seen as the silly girl, but instead I would be seen as the “black silly girl,” especially since we’ve already been told in one way or another that being black means that you’re not refined. I am also conscious of what I wear and say or how I say something and how I wear my hair or how I paint my nails or if I wear hoop earrings (because yes, I’ve heard of hoop earrings referred to as hooker hoops). I mean…CAN I WIN!

The bottom line is we as a global society have to get to a point where we 1) understand that we have different cultures,  2) learn from each other’s cultures, and 3) truly embrace the different cultures, We shouldn’t deem one as right or wrong or negatively different, but instead, simply come to an appreciation that different is okay, and it’s okay to accept and maybe even enjoy the differences. While it still may be frustrating to be different, by experiencing different backgrounds, the walls of stereotypes have definitely been broken down and I’ve come to appreciate things that I was once not exposed to. 

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