Since I was young, my father would tell me to never slouch and always stand tall.
“Be proud of who you are, Jenny,” my father’s words still echo in my ears over 20 years after his passing. “No matter what kind of day you’re having or how you’re feeling, be proud of who you are and always stand with confidence.”
My parents, like most, taught my brother and I right from wrong; basic courtesies of please, thank you, etc; the meaning of being respectful, never disrespectful to all walks of life; and the basic injustices we should stand up for and the more advance ones that we had to decide for ourselves if we were going to stand up as we got older.
Growing up in a relatively “normal” suburban neighborhood, I didn’t know much about the differences between black and white, yellow and purple, etc. As a child, the color of someone’s skin was just another quality about them in my mind.
So imagine my surprise when some little boy asked me in the 2nd grade if I was a n@gg@r? I didn’t even know what the word meant, so I came home and asked my mother. Since I am neither black nor Hispanic (as most people believe), I had no idea. My parents were furious. My parents removed me from that school at the end of that school year and placed at another school 30 minutes from our home. There, I was not looked differently for the color of my skin. Instead, I was looked at differently for the area where I lived and my parents’ income.
Throughout my life, I have been judged and mistreated for things out of my control, just because people wished to talk underneath their breath as I walk by and make their own opinions without ever understanding the truth.
It is no mystery that in the corporate world, women live day in and day out, in a man’s world, fighting not drown. We fight to be heard. We fight to be understood. We fight for equality. And we continue to fight for respect every single day.
With that said, I feel there is a special type of hot spicy karma for those women who do everything in their power to keep other women down; who climb and claw and push their way to the top with no disregard for who they step on, who’s career they jeopardize or even who’s lives they may destroy in their path.
In the last year, I continued to fight for that respect, that equality and that understanding of just wanting a better team environment, only to have doors slammed in my face and fingers pointed in my direction.
In my head, I picture an old southern woman sitting on a giant front porch with sweet tea, fanning herself from the summer heat, shaking her head in disbelief with a smirk on her face…
“Hush, Girl, know your place!” she says every time I try to just stand up for myself, just to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. “HUSH, GIRL! You get what you get, and don’t throw a fit.”
Each time, my pleas went unanswered. I felt like a scolded little girl who had been sent to the corner of the room. I felt stupid for saying something at all, and at the same token, I felt foolish for backing down and not standing my ground in the first place.
Accusations continued to be thrown in my direction… bad performance, un-manager like behavior, misuse of time, hard to work with, no longer following directives, etc… the more things got worse, the more I heard that old woman in my head only get louder,
“HUSH, GIRL, know your place!”
Except, I couldn’t keep quiet. I couldn’t be silenced because no one should be told to hush their beliefs. Maybe it was just because of the way I was raised and the beliefs I learned to cultivate from my family. Maybe it was because I couldn’t stand by and not only endure it myself, but I could no longer watch it happening to the people around me. Maybe my parents just raised too strong of a woman who would be a lookout for those being disrespected, shamed, retaliated, and harassed.
No one should be beaten and broken down to the point of submission for a job, a paycheck, or what is supposed to be a team. While respect is earned in any position, it should not be given to some while others are publicly humiliated and prosecuted when everyone is supposed to be working as “one team.”
In my head, I think I can hear that old woman shaking her head in agreement with a better understanding of me now and why I do what I do…
“Hush, girl, know your place…,” she begins as always but this time in a gentler, kinder voice. “in this world, shine brighter than anyone else to make a difference and go touch the sky!”
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