By Chanel Davis
One encounter I would like to share is starting a new job, and during that new hire orientation, I scanned the room to find someone to sit next to or near. There was this very sweet-looking older woman who was already lighting up the room with her presence and smile. I decided to sit directly behind her. As the orientation began and we all went around to do introductions. When it was my turn, I stood up like everyone did before me. I stated my name, where I was from, and the occupation I would be performing. After giving my introduction, I returned to my seat, and the older woman sitting in front of me, who I had already started to admired for the past 20 minutes, turned around to me and asked, “So nice to have you! How old are you?”.
I am very used to getting this question and with no problem answering it because I understand that I look very young for my age. I replied with a smile, “I’m 29,” which I was at the time. She looked at me, shocked before she replied, “Oh my! You’re so young! I didn’t expect you to say that number! I know these little boys on this campus don’t need a distraction like you! Do you do your makeup every day? You’re just so pretty!”
I then replied, “No, ma’am. I don’t. Just when I dress up, mostly.” Now I love my makeup because it is fun, and I like to switch it up to beat the face for the Gods some days. However, in a professional setting, I usually do a very natural look with maybe only powder, lashes, and my favorite color lipstick. “Are you married? Kids?” she next asked. Now just a reminder that she is asking me these questions while others are still doing their introductions around us. I spoke very quietly, “No, I don’t. It’s just me.” I put on a smile and slightly shifted my body away from facing her directly to discourage her from the continued questions maybe. Then she paused as if she was hesitant to speak any further. But you know how we as women can be when we have something on our mind. 10 out of 10, we are going to say it! She goes, “You must be trying to find you a husband here, huh?” She giggles and then turns back to the front. Now I just stared at the back of her head in confusion and feeling a slight bit disrespect. Here I thought she was going to be a great person to connect with, but instead, she made me feel belittled all in a two-minute conversation. Now maybe I was wrong to try to judge a book by its cover, in a positive way, but I did not expect her to look at my exterior as if I was putting effort in the way I looked in hopes of only being employed to find a spouse.
What bothered me the most, is entirely too often I see women in the workplace frequently tear each other down—some indirectly and then some bold ones who are proud to do it directly. We’re not all supposed to be best friends with coworkers, but why tear down your own, but anyone for that matter to feel less than in a world that already views women as unimportant, especially black women who are the most unprotected individuals in our own country?
I wish this were the first time this has happened to me, but it isn’t.
Thinking back on those who have made me feel the most inferior, black women have been the unkindest in my experiences. For me, it falls back into that stigma in the black community within families that it is disrespectful to disagree or defend oneself when an older individual is verbally harming or insulting you. I think I was most upset with myself for allowing myself to be vulnerable so quickly in a new environment. Then I realized that I would never be able to control how one perceives me. I am not usually the one that handles worrying about the opinions of others. Whether they choose to view my face, body, or personality as something threatening is not on me.
My pastor said something today while I was watching online service that fits this experience perfectly. He stated, “just because we disagree does not mean we have to dishonor one another.”This meant to me that one does not have to discredit one due to not having aligned views, morals, and opinions. Differences do not change the physical and genetic makeup of an individual.
I could have chosen to respond to the older individual I mentioned earlier in several ways. I opted to stay silent and flash her my smile. Combat could have been initiated if I chose to respond to my feelings. My smile, to me, represents class, poise, and wisdom that allows me to resist to react to things that I can control will affect me. It can be a representation of any emotion I choose, even when it does not mirror what I think or feel. It is a gift of showing kindness to those who may not even deserve it. If they try to harm me verbally with or without intent, I can leave them with the lasting impression of my countenance. By wisdom, a house is built, and through knowledge, it is established.
Choose what you want to build and the foundation of who you are to be made on. You will always get a lot further in life with being compassionate, not combative.
Chanel Davis is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Chanel is the creator and operator of the Diary Of A Chocolate Girl podcast aiming to connect with chocolate girls all over through personal experiences and opinions with mild humor and a spiritual flare. Be sure to connect on IG and Facebook @DiaryofaChocolateGirl.