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.