Throughout my years I have worked with various media companies and one thing that was always a constant was the feeling of being the black sheep. It’s the feeling you get when you walk onto a job for your first day and slowly scan the office to see if you are the only person of color in your department. Once you realize you are the only one, or one of a handful, there is an instant pressure placed on you to go above and beyond. That feeling is not just because you want to show how much of a valued employee you are, but because you feel like your work is being looked at more closely than others because you are one of the black sheep.
You are suddenly more attentive about the way you speak, present yourself and the manner in which you complete your work tasks. Instead of you just representing yourself, it is like you are representing ALL people of color with your work ethic. If you fail or don’t live up to the expectations of your employer, you feel like you let your race down or even worse that you will make it even harder for the next black sheep that is hired because their work performance will be connected/compared to yours.
Black sheep always have a way of finding each other and huddling together to form a pact of strength. They converse with each other and, most of all, complain about things they notice that happens more with them than their other colleagues of a lighter hue.
I, for one, always had a habit of taking the black interns under my wing when at a job. I felt like it was my duty to share my experiences and teach them how to rise above all the nonsense and subtle racism they may feel when in the workplace. I stress the importance of their really being no room for failure and that they will have to work harder than most if they want to reach the top. They will have to prove themselves more than others and make it so that senior colleagues don’t notice their skin color at all (although we know that may be close to impossible), but strictly focus on the quality of the work they offer.
The pressures of being the black sheep also involve not wanting to play into the stereotypes that some believe are characteristic of all people of color. Being loud, having an attitude, easily pissed off and the list can go on and on. Once again, I know I have always felt that when I went to work somewhere that I not only represented myself, but my entire race. Especially if I was the token black employee, I always made sure to work my behind off so I would never give them the pleasure of saying, “they are all the same.”
Have you ever felt the pressures of being the “black sheep?”