An Open Letter to Assata Shakur

Dear Assata,

I hope that this letter finds you in the comforts of your freedom. I won’t take too much of your time.

One day (about a month or so ago), I visited my favorite herbal apothecary. I picked up a 21 day guided journal and I as gifted a bracelet with “Exist Like Assata” etched into it. I am a firm believer in the intentions of the universe. I took it as a sign that during this current time and space in my life, I was supposed to be learning something from you. Prior to receiving this bracelet, I had no idea who you were, what your impact was or how much you’d change my life. All I knew was that I was being encouraged to “exist” like you….whatever that meant.

Being the bookworm that I am, I decided to begin with your literature. I’ll be honest, I typically finish reading books in about three days. Your autobiography took me over a month to finish.

As I read, I researched. I researched words. I researched locations you mentioned. I researched the Black Liberation Army. Your autobiography was my first introduction to it. In the history of my education, it has NEVER been mentioned and after reading, I fully understand why.

As I read, my blood boiled. I became frustrated. The frustration led to anger. The anger led to feelings of such helplessness that I cried and had to continuously put the book down until I pulled myself together.

Assata, I am in awe of your spirit, strength and the courage that carried you. Thank you for inspiring me to make greater efforts to be an advocate for our people. Most importantly, I thank you for sharing your truth. I wish you continued freedom, light and love.

-Racquell

Subject: Corporate While Black: Things to Keep in Mind

I’ve worked in Corporate America for the past four plus years, and let me tell ya, it ain’t for the faint at heart, for ANYONE. For me as a black woman, I have had my fair share of not so pleasurable experiences in comparison to that of my black male counterparts. How can I be confident in saying this? Because I ask them. If there is a black person in sight from the parking lot to my desk, the minimum is a hell. I’m exceptionally happy to see other black faces joining me in elevators, at work socials and in passing with the signature “another one of us….we made it” head nod.

So what’s the issue?

Staying true to myself while ensuring that I don’t get fired. Following chains of command. Not replying to emails in all caps saying how I really feel. You know. Stuff like that.

And on to

Point Number 1: It’s going to hurt for certain people to talk to you *cough cough (the blatant and closet racists)

Working in an industry dominated by middle and upper aged white men, who the hell do I think I am correcting them? A woman? A black woman at that? I mean it’s still the 1950’s right? Listen, people die. Their ideas don’t. Racism continues to thrive in corporate spaces. It’s passed down and continued through generations of leadership. Don’t believe me? If your company has a website or announcement board highlighting organizational changes, look to see how many people look like you in comparison to those that don’t. See anything strange? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about the diversity initiatives that have magically started springing up all over the place. Are they truly diverse or does it simply sound appeasing?

Point Number 2: When you’re right, it’s a big deal

All those “I’s” better be dotted along with all of those “t’s” being crossed baby. The “I’ve been with this company for 300 years” retorts are coming fully loaded. Carefully reminding your counterparts of policies and procedures has and always will be a sore spot for them.

Point Number 3: When you’re wrong, it’s a big deal

So you forgot to dot those “I’s” and cross those “t’s” didn’t you?

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Dammit Gina! I told you to make sure that you were one point! I TOLD YOU!!!

Point Number 3: There is plenty of power but apparently not enough to go around

Yep. You heard it right. There is a (not so secret) rival for dominance that “we” aren’t apart of. Once again, it’s the “I’ve been with the company for 300 years” folks versus the “my daddy runs xyz departments.” It’s quite the spectator sport. It can get ugly, so steer clear.

If you get the privilege of (or by accident) getting cc’d on the email exchanges, grab a cup of tea and/or popcorn. Below is a minor breakdown of what a few phrases really mean.

To Whom it May Concern = First of all

Per attached emails/see string of emails below = I got proof

Any additional questions or concerns, feel free to contact me = DON’T. I said what I said and that’s the end of the discussion

Best regards = fuck you very much

These emails are better than paternity episodes on Maury!

Point Number 4: You will intimidate some folks just based on the color of your skin. Everything is magnetized. Abuse of power is likely.

Tone. Somehow, some way your tone can be taken out of context 80% of the time. Apparently black women are naturally angry and aggressive? Whisper. You sound like you have upset. Blink. You have an attitude. Need I say more? Heaven forbid you breathe out loud during a meeting!

The same applies to body language.

And speaking of bodies……….what you wear MATTERS.

Always has. Always will. Black women come in all beautiful shapes, curves and sizes with all kinds of hips and dips. I’m super mindful about what I wear into the office because of this. I’m teetering on being shaped like Megan Good. Professional body con dresses are always problematic. Along with pencil skirts. High waisted slacks. Burlap sacks. Y’all get my point. Play it safe by being familiar with and always following the employee handbook guidelines as best as possible. That way, when you’re “reprimanded” you can just refer them to Section 10 paragraph 5.

See a real live example of how what we wear matters.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/african-american-reporter-takes-stand-after-body-shaming-n817621

Crazy right?

Despite the negatives, there are some positives in this conversation.

For starters.

It’s possible to make good connections

I’ve met and had conversations with some pretty dope people from the top down. Despite being a cutthroat environment, there are folks that want you (us millennials) to excel, bring change and challenge the status quo. These folks are on a case by case basis. Nobody’s titles matter in elevators, at coffee pots, in the work gym or cafeteria lines. I’ve been presented a multitude of opportunities just from being myself and having casual conversations. To help you even further weed out the good apples from the bad ones, if you really want to know how people are, have conversations with the receptionists, janitorial staff and IT personnel. They know.

Figure out your “why” and don’t let it die

Unless your goal is to own the company you work for someday, you must keep your “why” in mind. Let’s take mine for example. I work in Corporate America because the things that I want to do with my life requires a salary that (so far) Corporate America can provide. There are huge things that I have in store for Pretty Dope Right and they ain’t cheap!

I grind because I’m the only person fully supporting my platform. My goal is to cut out the middle man whenever possible. I taught myself how to create and maintain this website but moving forward, I’ll be converting it from a blog to a business site. I’ll have startup costs for the business aspect. I can hear the dollar signs in my head. My why is what drives me to get up every day and work 40 hours on someone else’s dream.

I seriously hope you can’t relate.

Diversity

That one email that burns me to my soul

While we have carefully reviewed your resume, we have decided to pursue other candidates, whose qualifications are more closely aligned with the requirements of the role

But what about me

How can I learn the skills if I’m never given the opportunity

THEY said “go get an advanced degree

So I did yet and still you constantly overlook me

My hair isn’t burned to the roots or blonde and straightened to my shoulders

Perhaps that’s why you don’t consider me over and over

Maybe my skin isn’t light enough

And no matter what car I drive, the degrees I hold, the languages I speak or how proper I talk

I’ll still never be white enough

Does my work ethic upset you

My productivity speaks for itself

Cause I work like I’ve got something to prove

And everything to lose

Is it my fault that my confidence makes my superiors feel inferior

You see

For me

 Since day one

I’ve been taught to work twice as hard, be twice as smart, be twice as good to even try to occupy spaces for people that look like me

 Where there are none

So when you pride yourself on “diversity”

Are you even talking about me?