I came up with the title of my book, “Bitch is the New Black,” twice. The first time it was a subconscious thing — a situation tailor-made for a declarative sentence — and then Tina Fey confirmed it during her now notorious SNL sketch in 2008.

Months before, I had a conversation with my “white work wife” in our shared cubicle about the phenomenon of coworkers being allegedly too scared to say hi to me when they walked past my desk.

“Why does everyone around here walk on eggshells around me?” I demanded one morning after actively ignoring a fellow reporter I thought was an ass. “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?”

My work wife, “Emily,” swiveled around to look me directly in the eye.

“No,” she deadpanned. “It’s because you’re a bitch.”

It was an Aha! moment that got tabled until I began batting around potential titles for a collection of first-person narrative essays about this girl’s life. So when Tina Fey shouted, “Bitch is the new black!” a light bulb didn’t just go off, it shone to bursting.

The phrase encapsulated all the questions I’d been struggling to answer as an adult. Was my place in the world affected by my own emotional armor? Or was my armor collected hodge-podge with every blow to my body inflicted on the basis of my race, gender or whatever? These questions have actually become my life’s work in a sense — trying to suss out all the stuff that makes up my filling like a Build-A-Bitch workshop.

And there’s no place like a work place to start figuring out who the real you is. It’s a fishbowl and ambitious cesspool all in one. We spend nearly half of our waking life working, and according to a new study, those of us who are minorities may get our personalities torn in half, too.



A snapshot of what a meeting could look like at my old job

“People of color too often feel that they have to hide their true selves at work,” according to a Bloomberg News article outlining a new study called“Vaulting the Color Bar: How Sponsorship Levers Multicultural Professionals into Leadership.”

“More than 35% of African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as 45% of Asians, say they ‘need to compromise their authenticity’ to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style. Forty percent of African-Americans — and a third of people of color overall — feel like outsiders in their corporate culture, compared with 26% of Caucasians.”

Now add those numbers on top of the same isolation many women feel in the work place and you’re cooking with C-4.

I remember feeling not just like an outsider, but an alien. I didn’t fit in with the typical corporate movers and shakers I watched elbow their way up. I resigned myself to my cubicle and my tiny corner of the D-section. It was a chicken or the egg type situation that I couldn’t crack for the life of me. So I quit.

One solution, according to the Bloomberg article, is mentorship.

“As a result, protégés are nearly 60% less likely to plan to quit within a year.”

But where are these sponsorship speed dating events going down? Conference room all-staff meetings don’t count. I hate meetings and avoid them at all costs. So, yeah, I was hardly exemplary.

I still don’t know if I jumped without a parachute because the plane was on fire or because I just don’t like turbulence. If I couldn’t see myself up there in first class with the rest of the brownnosers, or if there was an invisible curtain that kept out all the brown folks. And are any of these road blocks mutually exclusive? It’s been years since my last office gig and I’m still trying to sort through the answers.


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena Andrews on XOJane! 

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  • GeekMommaRants

    SInce the first day of work in a corporate environment, this has been my life. There are 40M of us in this country, but a lot of us are “only ones”at work. Black and a professional, this reality does not fit the stereotype so many co-workers are confused. The same has been true or worse working outside the States. We pay this price professionally and sometimes, personally. Our only option has always been, dust your shoulders off and keep it moving.

  • Don’t forget some college programs. Black women especially.

    And I’ve seen white women display some despicable, no home training type of behavior. Like a place I worked in, one woman was constantly late, would leave work early, confrontational with other employees including myself. A nice attractive guy started working there and she pursued him aggressively, even though he was happily married and politely refused her. When he complained to the management, she suddenly “remembered” that he grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand down her pants. He was put on suspension and decided not to come back.

    But lil old me, who did my job, was always early and never late, always available to work overtime, was pleasant but not obsequious and generally about my business. I was the one everyone was scared of and apparently,according to a male coworker, felt intimidated by. No home training girl was supposed to train me,left me alone on the floor my first day. She did this a lot, and the supervisor caught her at it after me and a temp complained about her going on lunch for two hours. She did something she wasn’t supposed to and I got fed up with her incompetence, so I complained to the supervisor. No home training girl then took it upon herself to come to where I was working by myself and get verbally aggressive with me until I walked away from her. Everyone saw her, and I had to demand management to move me to a different department. Nothing was done to her. New department gave me the cold shoulder, many of her cronies worked there, but I still did my job excellently and when I applied for a different position in the company and got it they were disappointed to see me go. I ate a lot of crap, including doing work that I was supposed to get help with alone because people were “intimidated” by me.

    Apparently directly confronting the No Home Training Girl by bringing managements attention to her incompetence and disruptive workplace behavior was what made me a “bitch”. And not taking her shit either was what made me a “bitch”.Not everyone shared this opinion, but the people who agreed with me were too afraid to speak up. Most people liked and respected, especially the HR woman who hired me. She was the one who made sure I got transferred strait away after the No Home Training Girl barged into my work space and started screaming at me.

    Black women have to constantly live up to the highest standard in order to not be labeled negatively. That’s not a problem for me most of the time. But it is when I have to stand there and get screamed at, and then just walk away.

    I can’t defend myself if I’m being harassed, “No home training girl” did this a lot to people she didn’t like, because then people view me through the lense of the “Angry black woman”stereotype and automatically assume I’m the aggressor, or treat me as if I am, even when that clearly isn’t the case.

    After the harassment, I asked management that I not work with that girl. They agreed, but then they were short on staff one day and told me that I had to work with her because she would be working alone, never mind that I had worked by myself many times and been fine, God forbid I should ask for the help I’m supposed to be receiving, they told me to work with her or leave and never come back.

    I left.

    Talk about alienation. I would steel myself before I went to work and then hyperfocus ont he things I had to do until quitting time. Often I would not even take breaks, I used the time to make up for the help I wasn’t recieving. But I always got done earlier than everyone else. Which I imagine made them dislike me even more. Their shenanigens were supposed to make me look incompetent. Instead they were the ones who looked like the didn’t know how to do their jobs and they worked there longer than I had. That’s because while they were bullshitting I was getting my work done. I mean that is what I was there to do, right?

    Those kinds of experiences at work and school made me almost robotically closed off and stoic in the workplace and I don’t care what people say about me unless they make an open effort to include me. You can be nicer than Ned Flanders when you’re a black woman and you still are considered aggressive, hostile, and angry.

    My motto now is: I’m here to do my job. I’m not here to kiss anyone’s ass or be anyone’s favorite. If you don’t like me, stay out of my way.

  • I forgot to mention I have acute social anxiety, and although I hide it well, people seem to jump to the conclusion that I’m hostile, just because in social setting I’m quiet and stick to myself.

    I get along well with most men. Only ran into this problem with females in the workplace.

  • WorkinGirl

    Going through this right now because I refuse to discuss my private life.

    The main ones who want you to share your personal life don’t share theirs.