Let me first state for the record that I love Game of Thrones.
I am literally the woman who throws birthday parties in its name, buys all the t-shirts, goes to the concerts, speaks a little Dothraki, dresses up in GoT garb and bears a rather glorious direwolf and dragon tattoo on my shoulder. In short, Game of Thrones got me shook like a fat kid loves cake. I am the only human on the planet I know that starts to sweat when the theme song is played. And why yes, it is my ringtone!
And apparently, I’m not alone in my fandom. There’s a whole 16 million of us that glue ourselves in front of the television set every Sunday night, every season, sometimes with the books in hands and pewter goblet in the other, ready to digest all that Dan and Dave have to offer. And boy do we feast on the violence, the political backstabbing and intrigue that one can take of a world filled with dragons and Night Kings. And can I just say, unlike most fandoms like Doctor Who, Star Trek or even The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones has one of the most diverse followings, even if the casting is not. (Sigh, a blog post for another time…)
To me, Game of Thrones is not just a television show adapted from one of modern literature’s best fantasy series: Game of Thrones is a way of life, which if one watches with as much commitment as one can muster, you can learn a lot. And after 20 solid years of climbing my own personal ladder of chaos (sorry, Petyr Baelish for me will always be Bae), shaping and designing my career path I would say Game of Thrones has taught me much about work and people.
“Angry Black Woman”: Angry? No. Black Woman and Ambitious? Hell yeah, I am. #SorryNotSorry
Avoiding the title of “Angry Black Woman©” is a troupe I always thought was possible, until it happened to me. For those in the know, the definition of “ABWs” are:
“Sassy, ill-mannered, and tempered by nature…The Angry Black Woman myth assumes that black women are aggressive.”
I learned pretty quickly that “ambitious” was not a word often associated with women of color when, say, we asked for a promotion or stood our ground on an argument. But “aggressive” passed easily in conversations. I often watched colleagues of the “Caucasian Persuasion”, particularly men walk into meetings late, yell or talk over colleagues, and do some variation of “Whitesplain” or “Mansplain” when in conversations where race and gender collided with work, all while moving ahead with promotions and praise.
Instead, words I’ve often heard in my work career:
“Aggressive.” “Brash.” “Argumentative.” “Threatening.” ” Loud.”
Translation: Don’t question. Don’t raise your voice. Let people talk over and above you and negate your arguments or decisions just because of who they are, not because they are valid.
For the seven-Gods, what the hell is “over-determined”? I didn’t even know if that was a word or something someone could be.
Yes. Heard and noted from a male colleague once. I think he thought he was being “cute.” [Translation: totally, chauvinistic and he should be happy that I was naive in my youth…]
To be or not to be me. That’s [no longer] the question.
It’s taken me nearly 40 years to learn how to stop apologizing.
When I was over 300 lbs, I apologized when I felt like I took up too much space in a chair on the subway. When I was a little Black girl, I apologized or bite my tongue when someone was offensively racist or prejudiced in front of me because I so desperately wanted to avoid being “one of those” type of Black people and my heart ached to be liked. So many times in my life as a woman I have apologized to men for their aggression, for their taunts, unwanted touches or behaviors. I was a woman. I was fat. I was black. In my mind (and perhaps society subtlety wanted to be sure I understood) I wasn’t beautiful. I didn’t deserve to be respected. I should just learn to be appreciative of what I had and not seek for more. I should enjoy and know “my place.”
Well, guess what? I “bow to no one.” [Sorry. There HAD to be a Lord of the Rings reference made, and it was gonna be here.] I’ve finally found my voice in the workplace. If I think something is amiss, if I feel my work or my experience slighted, I let it be known that I feel that way (constructively, oh course, and with evidence, because everything should come with receipts).
My identity is and has never been a weakness. It has and continues to be the sword in the darkness…and in the workplace, aligned with my experience and ability to work with others, it it perhaps not just a differentiator but my greatest strength (and perhaps its slowly becoming a commodity…)
Contrary to the very mislead president of Apple’s Diversity VP, who is literally the walking definition for “skinfolk don’t make kinfolk,” it is problematic for industries to be so mono-cultured and homogenized , in particular marketing teams. Yes, 12 White males will have varying levels of life experience, based on age, where they’ve lived, schooling, and class, but if you think they can tell you what it’s like to be a woman of color, well, I got a few things I’d like to sell you because apparently you’d believe and fall for anything.
Mischief Managed, Lessons Learned.
I think we’ve all been there: The sword of friendship is double-edged and carves both ways. And I would say work relationships have sometimes shown me that friendship in the workplace sometimes is best left for the cubicle jungle.
I’ve learned that just because you help people get a job, finish a project, recommend them for promotion, defend their losses and praise their successes, that doesn’t mean people will necessarily want to do the same for you. And that’s OK. Because the best advocate in ensuring your success is always going to be 100% YOU. Lower your expectations that others are equally looking to see you succeed, and transfer all that energy to yourself.
Case in point:
I’ve worked in predominately female orientated workplaces, and while I would say most have been supportive environments, what I have found is often the greatest level of misogyny I’ve experienced has come from women. Perhaps it’s like the myth of crabs in a wheel barrel, all of us just trying to crawl over each other just to be the lucky one to make it out and above the rest, but it has broken my heart to see backstabbing, back whispering, conspiring and clique formation the likes of which even “Mean Girls” has never seen occur to tear each other down for scraps. I’m sure part of the reason I don’t label myself a feminist has been I’ve been caught too unawares by women trying to do me harm.
The nitty gritty, really, is no one should never do anything for others unless you are doing it from a place of your own want — your inclination to do good and to be helpful. Don’t expect for coworkers or bosses to provide you the steps or keys to your achievement. However, when they happen, praise the Seven Gods and be thankful for the dragons in your life…
Giving Thanks to All the Dragons Who Made Me a Dragon, So I Can Raise A Few Dragons, Too
One of the best things about my career thus far, besides working with some of the most talented and passionate people, has been receiving direction and support from some my colleagues and directors. I’ve had some of the best, Tyrion. Queen Oleanna and Varys approved leaders and colleagues that I’ve learned so much from and have given me sage advice that I still follow years later.
We need to lean in on those folks. Find the people, whoever they are, who see your strengths, help you identify and surpass your weaknesses, and literally are your cheerleaders and role models. I haven’t had a lot of people of color to lean on in most of your job experiences (the life of marketer of color is usually to be the “only” and maybe, if you’re lucky, one of 2-3 others.) However, I’ve been graced when some women and men who have helped me to rise to the very best of my abilities and have in their own career modeling shown me the path to success. It’s their advice I go to when making a job change or learn what next step to take. I am of the mind that you do not get far in the world without someone bending a knee for you, and so you should always reach back and bend a knee for someone else.
Because if it’s true that behind every successful woman is a tribe of women and men helping her succeed, I’m literally supported by a small legion of people and I am eternally grateful that that list continues to grow with every organization I’ve been a part of.
Glass ceilings that are placed before us in our careers are not something we have to learn to accept. We can and must break them. We should let our drive, our talents our ambition and determination not be turned into dirty words but set them to spark like Wildfyre, ready to burn down systematic racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other “isms” that could hold us back from our own greatness.
To those who would seek to stand in the way of my goals, I say: