Can I Be “Unapologetically Black” like Kendrick?

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Did you see the Grammys last night?  I did. I rarely watch award shows, or TV in general for that matter. However I happened to be at the boyfriend’s last night and we ended up watching it.

So…Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Kendrick Kendrick! My mind is so blown, I am not sure where to start. That performance stole the entire show! His spirit, his fire, his lyrical talent, his artistic vision, his message! I was so proud to be Black in that moment.  Throughout his entire performance,  I was completely enthralled, not caring who else was in the room and what they were thinking or experiencing. Not caring if his passion and directness made anyone uncomfortable.  It was for me.  He was…

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“I Am Old Enough To Be Your Father”

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OK, so no one actually said this to me directly.  Not in those words anyway.  I put the quotation marks to rattle you. 😉

All kidding aside, the sentiment behind the title is one I have encountered countless times as a young woman in Corporate America.  Given the fact that I am often the youngest person at my level at each company I have worked at, this isn’t surprising. Having a coworker or supplier throw their years of experience in my face has become somewhat of a daily occurrence. Usually it’s prefaced with the statement, “I don’t want to date myself…“, but their intent is to do just that. To let me know they have been doing this job since I was in diapers. That my “fancy MBA” cannot compete with their hard-earned on-the-job training.  Other times they say things like “In the good old days…” or they find a way to work in the even-less subtle “I have a daughter/son about your age…” in the conversation.
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Cube Farm Life

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Have you ever had to go from sitting in a nice cushy office with one employer to switching to a cubicle with another?

Let me tell you. It is not easy.

I. miss. my. office.

In my current role, I get to work in an ultra-modern, brightly and naturally lit building with fully equipped gyms, convenient dry cleaning, fully stocked cafeteria, flex hours and…….yup, cubicles. Everyone, from the person in the mail room to director level folks sits in one of these.  I am not claiming to be above sitting in a cube. Before my last job, I had always sat in them as well. But trust me, after a 4 year stint, a girl gets accustomed to certain things. Such as  having a door and being able to shut it on occasion. Lol.

All of the below happened to me in my first 2 weeks of being in a cube:

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The Spotlight is Shining. Stand in It!

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If you know anything about growing up in an African, ultra-Christian home, then you know a bit about how I was raised.  I, like most of you, was brought up by family members who believed humility and gratitude were the most extolled virtues. It’s hard to disagree when you think of how many chapters in the Bible are dedicated to this ideology.

“Blessed are the meek…”

“In all things, give thanks…”

Where religion leaves off, conventional African wisdom picks up with sayings like…

“Pride goes before a fall…”

“The fool speaks, the wise man listens…”

“Pride is the mother of arrogance…”, etc again teaching us, from a very young age how far we can get in life simply by being humble and meek.

So it suffices to say that I grew up with these values ‘beaten’ (literally, albeit lovingly) into my subconscious.

As a young adult entering into the Corporate American landscape, I struggled with balancing these values long inculcated in me, with the new Corporate values of self promotion, i.e., speaking highly of one’s self and achievements.  I had a difficult time talking about or taking credit for good work I had done.

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You Are One Of The Lucky Ones

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A while ago, I was invited to attend a week-long, company-sponsored seminar at a very reputable business school in London. The seminar was designed to reward the 30 highest performing, high potentials. Given the total company headcount of 15,000, being selected was a definite honor. Several countries were represented: U.S. by way of Nigeria (yours truly), India, China, Korea, Poland, Brazil, Germany, France. 

The trip was nothing short of lavish. After the day’s agendas, we were provided with foods of different varieties, free flowing drinks, the best hotel in Central London, expensive entertainment including a private boat tour of London on the Thames with a live band. I couldn’t complain. Lord knows I would never pay out of my own pocket for this.

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10 Stupid Questions And My Snarky Responses To Them

2015-04-25 15.07.32Americans have a saying : “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I’ve heard professors say this as they try to encourage students to speak up in class and learn from each other.

Well, I disagree.

There are stupid questions. Many. I have been asked these questions by coworkers, classmates, acquaintances, frenemies, even strangers. In my previous post, I was asked a stupid question by a coworker which had me uncharacteristically stumped. Usually though, when  assaulted confronted with these, my first instinct may be to rain down a litany of African curses on their heads. The kind my grandmother used to dish out. But then, I would not only scare them, may also be labeled the anti-social, crazy, Black woman. So… what do I do? I check them with one of my snarky comebacks, while keeping my facial expressions pleasant by adding the following:

  • A big smile
  • Eyes opened a tad wider
  • Nodding
  • Frequent blinking

One or a combination of these will give off a very cheerful, friendly and chipper vibe, thereby creating a nice contrast for the sarcasm you are about to unleash.

Here are some questions I have gotten and my responses.

(At a work happy hour with a Supplier) You look too young to be in this role.  How old are you? Old enough, I think. Actually, I’m not sure. Would you mind cutting up my food into smaller, bite-sized pieces? Thanks.

You are so articulate and you’re from Africa. You speak English so well, how did you learn? At the airport. As soon as I arrived, I stopped the first White man I saw and asked him to teach me English.

Oh, where are you from? Nigeria? Oh cool. There’s a man in our church who’s from ummm… (*turns to husband*Honey where’s Peter from again? I think Tanzania. Do you know him? Peter from Tanzania? Oh, yes! I think I might. I think his hut might have been a few doors down from our compound.

Is this really your name? It sounds American. Did you just change your name because you were applying for the job? 👀…Yes. My reeaaal name is spelled  Nduxgherzxyhjsfikwe. It actually means Oh Sarcastic One.

Wow, you travel a lot. You must make a lot of money? Yes. You know I also work nights as a part time flight attendant.

Oh, you went to a ‘Black’ University? That’s… interesting. Do you feel it was as good as sayyyy a…..non ‘Black’ University?  You may be right! *rubs chin thoughtfully* We did spend the entire time learning about MLK and Malcolm X and Stomping the Yard.

The length of your hair changes so frequently. First long and then short and then long again in 2 weeks. Yea, Black hair is like that. You literally pull on it and it extends out of our scalps. Cool, eh?

I heard Black women can’t wash their hair.  How gross! Is it true? Yea well, we do our bit to conserve water. We do care about the planet.

You run? That’s … different.  I don’t know any Black women who run. I think it’s because of their hair, right? Oh no, that’s not true. We have to practice running from the Police.

You like watermelon. That makes sense I guess. Do you like any other fruits? No, just watermelon. Yea, as kids we used to practice who could spit the seeds out the farthest. Wanna see me try?

What stupid questions have you gotten and what are your snarky comebacks? Please follow and share.

I Eat My Jollof, You Eat Your Turkey Sandwich

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Most of us look forward to lunch time at work.  That one hour that is yours to spend as you please. Unless I have a deadline of some sort, I make it a point to leave my desk for lunch. Sometimes I run errands while grabbing a quick meal on the go. Most times though, I bring a packed lunch and eat in the office either alone or with coworkers.

Being Nigerian, it’s not unusual for me to have Jollof rice and fish or rice and stew with plantain and moi-moi.  Before I gave up meat, I would have some goat meat, fried chicken (Naija style), assorted meat, etc.  Yes. Your girl can throw down 😜.  Even when I cook non traditional Nigerian meals, they are still usually infused with our traditional herbs and spices. It is one of the rare evidences of my “dual citizenship” at work, one of the few things I allow myself to bring from my world into theirs.

It has not always been easy and I haven’t always been comfortable eating my Naija food at work. In my early days within Corporate America,  my main goal, besides getting my work done, was fitting in. I did not want to be different.  My job at the time was in Public Accounting  which  involved long hours with my audit team, stuck in a conference room. I was literally with these guys for 10, sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day. Lots of opportunity for them to ask stupid questions.  Sometimes depending on the clients site at which we were located, there was no cafeteria so we would have to eat in the same conference room.

Most people either had a simple sandwich or salad. So imagine the glances, the comments, the scrunched up faces, when I open up my bowl of savory and spicy deliciousness.

“That smells different…”

“How does it taste? Looks spicy…”

“Where did you get it? Did you make that?…”

“Looks … interesting.”

Just a few of the quips as they peer into my bowl. It was almost as if they forgot I was “foreign” and this served as a reminder.

Many foreign nationals in Corporate America have probably had this experience. My Indian colleague at one of my jobs was constantly teased and accused of “stinking up the office” with his home cooked meals. Once after he had used the microwave, I overheard another coworker complain that her lunch now smelled and tasted of curry because she used the microwave right after he did. Another White female coworker actually went as far as complaining to HR about the smell in the office claiming that it was not “conducive”.

For a brief moment, I thought twice about bringing my food. I know of many others who make the conscious effort not to bring traditional meals to work and would rather endure eating a plain salad for fear of being singled out at the lunch table. As I became a veteran dual citizen,  I decided this was a part of me that I was not willing to suppress at work. Food is too important. If I’m going to be sitting there for hours, enduring all the nuances of being in this world, then I need my strength.

So…please eat your cold sandwich and let me eat my jollof in peace. Thanks 🙂

Any food related stories at work? Please share.