Be Your Authentic Self At Work — But Only if You’re White

LUDMILA LEIVA | Refinery29

When Cassius Green first started his new job at a telemarketing call center, he struggled with his sales pitches and was constantly hung up on. That is, until Langston, a veteran at the call center advised him to find and use his ‘white voice’ when making calls. Heeding Langston’s advice, Green was able to quickly rise through the ranks and score a promotion, securing the coveted company position of ‘power caller.’ Okay, yes. This narrative is a fictional one — from the brilliant mind of Boots Riley as a central plot point in the movie Sorry To Bother You — but the film does raise an important, real-life question: Who do people of color need to be in order to succeed at work?

The idea of bringing one’s authentic self to work has taken off in recent years. And while the sentiment may be well-intentioned, it lacks a degree of nuance. Some argue that no one, regardless of race, can or should truly bring their whole selves to work. And, though this may be true, the issue is far more complex for people of color.
Emma Bracy, 31, a media professional, believes that many workplaces become toxic and inhospitable to people of color because there is a near-constant expectation of keeping white colleagues and employers feeling comfortable. “I’m generally expected to present as articulate, sometimes I’m expected to be the ‘cool’ one, the one who can dance and knows about hip hop and has an opinion on why blackface isn’t cool,” Bracy told Refinery29. “Sometimes I’m expected to validate my non-Black colleague’s political opinions [and] make them feel like they’re being ‘good’ allies. But I’m almost always ‘supposed’ to be docile. To be safe.”
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