How to be a Professional

Johnny Gill can’t dance. Period. He can keep up when he’s dancing with Ralph and them, but he proved to us he couldn’t dance. You remember…

He tried. He put in his best shiny leather outfit and sprayed his hair with a lil extra S-Curl activator… and we appreciated it at the time, but the brother can.not.dance. Most of the video he looked like he was having a spasm. We can applaud his attempt, while simultaneously acknowledging that he was bad at it. He’s great at singing. Just not dancing. But he sings so well… and he tries so hard to get that Brooke Payne group choreo down… we lose sight of his bad dancing. And when bro gets the mic, he spazzes on that joint. Johnny Gill is a professional.

Some people attempt really hard to be good at something… but they are just not. Perhaps their lack is a function if circumstance or of skill. But it is a requirement that they do the shit. When you suck at something… you know it’s not something you are good at because you cannot execute it well, you can’t figure out how to navigate it as it changes, and you can’t move around in it. But if you are a professional, you do everything else that job, project, program, team requires like a boss. It’s so on time its early… it’s so honest it’s transparent. It is what professionalism requires. You must learn to thug that shit out.

On the tv show So You Think You Can Dance… each of the dancers has a style they prefer. Yet to win, to be considered the next big dancer… and many of the winners have gone on to have huge careers… they must be good at everything from the waltz to hip hop. Why? Well to ensure they understand the fundamentals of dance and aren’t just skilled at one modality. Teachers, must be able to communicate well, keep up with changes and new information in the subject they teach, know their students so they are aware if their strengths and weaknesses and their learning styles, and be able to articulate to students, parents, and administrators the clear expectations and goals of their classroom. Doctors must be able to adapt to changes in how in-person businesses and services are run, quell fears in their patients about their health while promoting best practices to stay healthy, educate their staff and patients, and remain dedicated to the health and well-being of patients. They can’t just salsa they must also merengue.

The pandemic has put pressure on people in their work environments in ways I have never seen in my lifetime. It is during this time, however, like any other valley, where the true Mount Rushmore level folks are made… diamonds are formed under pressure. Most of us watching a ballet never have a clue that the dancer missed a whole step or forgot a sequence and filled it in with moves of her own. She keeps moving and dancing like it was choreographed exactly as she performed it. Most of us watching a New Edition performance don’t focus on JG’s questionable dance skills. He just manages to blend in when he’s dancing because he’s gonna stand out when he sings … so I fully expect for folks to remain fucking professional during this time, even through lack, flaws, and frustration. Professionalism is remaining reliable which leads to consistency, which results in trust.

So over the course of this year, someone has been exhibiting their GROSS lack of ability to communicate. She cannot recall conversations had in person. She requires written communication as proof of what was said from others, but when I engaged her in written communication to solve a problem… this mofo tried to Big Red me…

But (1) I have a PhD in receipt collecting, (2) you wanna screenshot me, I’ve got better screenshots, and (3) fuck your office hours. If my verbal communication is questioned by you, then certainly you know I won’t ever trust or engage in verbal communication with you ever again. Everything will be in writing. Everything for Evermore.

More important than her lack of communication though, was her simultaneous lack of organization, lack of adaption, and lack of focus on the most important part of the job… those she serves. She was not reliable or consistent, so both her words and her deeds were untrustworthy. Her lack of professionalism was on display, and in that moment she was not Johnny Gill… sis couldn’t even hold a note AND she was rhythmless. Get off the stage.

I had sat through her show since March, and I could and still can appreciate that it must be difficult to keep track of and remain fully engaged in conversation when life and times are stressful. I understand that, so at first I was okay with her poor communication skills… I figured they were affected by the pandemic. But you will not talk down to me, like I’m slow, for long, for any reason. You most certainly will not do it when you can’t seem to remain dedicated to all of your other responsibilities as well. She was a teacher with no communication skills and no clue how to navigate the new and flawed way of learning. She was a doctor with poor bedside manner. A lawyer with no real analytical skills. An actuary who was bad at math. Furthermore she was a dancer who didn’t memorize choreography, practice, or have rhythm. And I have no time for her shenanigans.

So I challenged her to a dance battle.

She led with this…

And I finished her in one move…

After the issue was solved… after a whole month of her failing to respond to, acknowledge, and hear my concerns… I sent her a concise and comprehensive piece of organized prose about her behavior via email. Be very clear, don’t play with me. I will dog walk you. If you are professional, I can overlook your flaws like I hope people can overlook mine in light of my virtues. But if you want smoke, you want ‘em, I got ‘em. I will boo your ass off stage.

But if you Johnny Gill me… I will look past your bad dancing, and wait until you woo me with your “oh oh oh oh oooooooo ouuuu ooooo” on Can You Stand the Rain. That’s the true sign of a professional, even when it’s raining, they open their umbrella and…

Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain

This Woman’s Work III: A Foreword

A Modern Day Tale:

“…but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind! ” -Virginia Wolf

It was 2018, I was working in a federal government office, where I had worked since 2004, amid moves and changes in everything from job title to the way I logged into my computer. People had come and gone, and I was still plugging away. My workplace had transformed from this very robust, albeit disheveled and disorganized office, like the set of Barney Miller, to this very sterile building. It was cold, soulless. Clean and neat, but like a psychopath, it lacked a genuine personality and flavor. It wasn’t even vanilla. Very often my spirit felt held captive.

Welcome to Dystopia.

Culture and diversity are kaleidoscopes. No matter which way you turn, there is rich color and a soundless rhythm you can still feel in those same places music makes move. Some White Americans are devoid of culture, so they latch on to the fallacy of the American Dream as their identity. When one can only see themselves as important through a lens of monetary and positional success, money and power become the things that mean the most to you. Similarly those of us who embrace our many cultures, I for example am a Black woman, of the hip hop generation, educated, urban, and a Detroiter, have an identity beyond the tools use to subjugate most of society… money and power. Most of the White people that I know and consider friends are very cultured… whether that be spiritual, regional, ancestral, you name it. And in this cold and sterile environment, cold and sterile White men had infiltrated this once robust and diverse group of people. Money and power trumped (pun intended) public service, employee development, and humanity.

In practice, these White men wanted me to turn over my brain to their whim… and I wasn’t built that way. I am of the “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “Knuck if you Buck” generation of Black women with a killer side eye, a big ass brain, and a deadly vocabulary. So as they tried to force us into servitude, held us down and forced disciplinary action and termination down our throats, I refused their poison. Instead of gouging out our eyes, they made us watch our ancestral sisters walk the green mile, cardboard box in hand, to remind us of our punishment should we disobey.

It was a pure mind fuck!

While this wasn’t unique to any particular women in the office, Black women were on the front lines. It was almost like they hired newbies to remind the old school folks just what would happen to us if we were bold. A few days in the door, and the writing on the wall was clear… do our bidding or get sold. I watched them come and go like barren slave girls, sold off, cast off. And although I knew their pain, I could at least find solace in the fact that the powers that be were threatened by my big ass brain and deadly vocabulary. I also knew that I was more competent than anyone above me, and being the smartest person in the room is a sign to find the nearest exit. You are the prey.

My daily experience seemed like a cross between films I had seen on the gestapo and life on the plantation. Overseers watched over us and used bullying, threats, harassment, and discrimination as whips upon our backs. I got paid a nice sum, so it wasn’t the horror of involuntary human subjugation, but it was inhumane all the same. To shield themselves, our overseers did the bidding of the powerful… and no one seemed to do it with more enthusiasm than other Black people. A Black woman in particular. The personification of self-hate.

A self-proclaimed minister and counselor, she was so blinded by feigned power and control, she could neither see nor feel the sting of her own abuse. Her own personal demons lashed out at us, all younger, more aesthetically pleasing, and well liked. She was Black and cracked… and not with the beauty of kintsuroi but with the fury of karma. If you didn’t kiss her ass she disliked you more, and if you did, it was only a set-up to stab you in the back. She used stereotypes to paint us as loud, lazy, Black girls with bad attitudes. Behind closed doors her White friendly smile turned into a self-hatred scowl and her fake endearing voice turned into a Newports and Colt 45 growl. She thought she was keeping us in line like a den mother, but in all actuality she just proved that Black people can be racist towards one another. She was the antithesis of freedom. Her presence was the penitentiary.

The workplace was not a place for me to develop my talents into skills, and serve my country. Instead, it was the realization of my intersectional position. My race, my sex, and my race paired with my sex, along with my age, after 40, became these identities that both made me proud and also served to marginalize me into professional pariahhood. I felt alone. I started to share my experiences out of necessity, so I could see if anyone could feel me and maybe help me navigate this space.

“Your silence will not protect you.” -Audrey Lorde

Suddenly, I had a hundred other examples and stories and anecdotes from Black women who assured me I wasn’t alone in dystopia. Soon, every group of Black women I came into contact with had discourse that would read like an anthology on the plight of sistas on the modern day plantation. I was swimming in a sea of support, and it made me realize that like Kimberlé Crenshaw before me, there didn’t just have to be one Harriet to lead us through the maze of patriarchy, racism, sexism, ageism, and colorism to freedom. I too could be in that number.

Come with me on an exploration of how Black women experience the workplace, and how despite our trauma, we continue to succeed and elevate with style and grace. Only through the sharing of information, can we expose how limiting these practices are to corporate America with the creativity and innovation Black women bring to the table. We must take our seats at the table armed with our manumission papers. We must free ourselves. Furthermore, perhaps just one somebody will refuse to participate in this exercise of inhumanity, drop their weapons, and free themselves from dystopian thought. We don’t have to join them to beat them!