I’m trying to run the world. That’s what I tell myself. My philosophy is: If I aim to run the world, I have to start, at the very least, by running my world. I have to take control of my life and make decisions that ALWAYS benefit me and my cause. I take advantage of every opportunity I can, and once I commit I give 100 percent because I understand the value of impressions. But if I can be real, the harder I work, the less people I see that look like me.
At first, it was discouraging. I’m busting my behind and all of the people I see who pull strings look nothing like me. I felt doomed. It didn’t help that the first few successful African-American supervisors I had were the ones who taught me the least. I can’t say I don’t understand why. They probably had to work as hard as I did, if not harder, to get to their place in life, so perhaps that’s why they don’t want to help too much because they want me to figure it out. But my creative shell was the toughest to crack in those black-owned offices because I didn’t feel valued enough. If I showed initiative if I shared a great idea, how would it be received? It’s insane how impressionable I still was at the time. The woman I am now would never hide in the corners of a space where I’m supposed to learn. But I was not always that way. My dreams were big but my gut was not. It shook my confidence. How are you supposed to run the world when you can’t even run this desk job?
At this point, it became motivation for me. Samaria, you are going to be great and you are going to help other little black girls and boys struggling to be themselves and be great too. I met Liv Lewis at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference in Austin, Texas. She is the vice president of Egami Group, a company most known for Procter & Gamble’s “My Black is Beautiful ‘The Talk’” campaign. If you don’t know about it, I encourage you to look at the link above. She is a communications and marketing expert and she made such an impact in the world talking about being black while being black. We connected, and she gave me the best advice I ever heard.
We tend to code-switch. You know, turn on our “white voice” and smile through a whole conversation. But there is a difference between doing that and just being professional. All you HAVE to do is be professional, and that’s for a few reasons. Liv Lewis was right when she said you don’t want to be anywhere that doesn’t welcome you, for you. At that point it’s both uncomfortable and exhausting to keep up with that persona. Second, she said her creativity flourished as soon as she let go of that girl. How could you think out of the box when your energy is focused on staying in that box the entire time you’re on the clock?
Now that I’m done venting, I’ll get off of my little soapbox and tell you what I’ve learned from all of this.
1) I am impressionable. My idea of the business world, heck, any world, comes from the people around me. What I need to do about it is make sure I understand that and don’t take anything too personally. Just find the lesson in my situation and let it move me in my favor.
2) Run your world. Walk with your head held high, wear what you feel the most confident in and be who you are to your core. If it looks, swims and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, right? Well, look, swim and quack like a boss. Every. Single. Day.
3) It’s not always intentional. You’ll find some people trying to relate in ways that make you uncomfortable. Racism is no perfect science. For example, I was at a photo shoot one time with my natural hair and the photographer complimented me by saying she has a wig at home like my hair. I realized she was flustered after mentioning it so I responded, “I have a wig at home that looks like your hair, too.”
Being black and being in the business aren’t mutually exclusive. You can do both, and it won’t be easy because it’s not. But it’s up to us black people to change that transition for the generation after us. We have to make our environments learning spaces, and in the words of my professor, Stephanie Cooke, “Don’t drill holes in my boat,” or anyone else’s for that matter. We don’t have to fight each other to the top, and it’s time to put real value to the energy we release into the world. I have learned a lot in these last few years about both myself and my profession, and I am extremely blessed for my opportunities. I thank those from all different backgrounds for contributing to my future success.
This piece was written by Samaria Bingham.