Being a Black woman in the United States can be a very draining experience. Daily, we experience discrimination at the intersection of race and gender, also known as intersectionality.
In the workplace, intersectionality can influence many things, including relations with coworkers, feelings of self-efficacy, and the expression of one's personality. Male and female coworkers can treat you differently simply because they see you as a Black woman, as less capable of performing certain tasks because of harmful societal stereotypes. Assumptions about your familial or financial status may also be made simply because you wear a particular thing or make some aspects of your life private. As a Black woman, it's often hard to see yourself in certain roles because little-to-no Black women did so before you. Imposter syndrome can hit any moment despite your qualifications or skills before and in the position. Lastly, self-expression can be seen in many ways: the way you talk, dress, wear your hair, and more. Recently, in the United States, a new natural hair movement declared that naturally curly hair is appropriate for work environments. Historically, the acceptable norm has been straight, neat hair, but many workplaces are finally shifting to be more inclusive. For many Black women, their hair is a significant part of their identity. I know that I had to unlearn the idea that my hair has to be straight or neatly slicked down in every professional setting I enter. My hair is professional, curly or not. Intersectionality also affects one's reaction toward current events, which is often a forgotten aspect.
While interning abroad, I did not expect race in the workplace to come up at all, but it did. Before and during my time with Vall d'Hebron, several violent incidents in the U.S. were racially charged, one of which was the grocery store shooting in Buffalo, New York. We were only a few weeks into the internship when the fatal shooting of Jayland Walker happened. I appreciated my supervisor because he always emphasized the well-being of myself and my team members. In every meeting, we would have some kind of check-in. This meeting happened not too long after the shooting, and with us both living in the U.S., my supervisor asked us how we felt about the incident, along with others like the Buffalo shooting. I was glad to have another black woman interning with me at that moment.
I'm thankful that I attend an HBCU because it affords me the space to have those conversations with my peers and instructors. When the topic was introduced by somebody on the other side of the world, it completely threw me off for several reasons. First, I'm not used to race conversations in professional spaces because of the taboo nature of the subject here in the States. Other than that, it has never occurred to me how the racial violence here is viewed and perceived by people in other countries on the other side of the road. After I got over the initial shock of the question itself, I was appreciative of the opportunity to have a genuine conversation about what it's like to live somewhere where it's dangerous to do simple things like go to the grocery store or act impulsively at a traffic stop.
As I get the opportunity to travel in the future, I look forward to learning more about how race relations are in other countries. I'm also interested in learning more about how people in other countries view us and what happens here in the United States.
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Aliana Stanley is a Senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. She is a Psychology and Political Science who plans to attend law school after graduation. In her free time, Aliana likes to spend time with friends and catch up on the latest trending Netflix show. She has a passion for helping others and learning new things. As she goes through life, she hopes to visit at least 6 of the 7 continents and be fluent in 4 languages other than English!