The Consequences of Authenticity

Photo is of a person in a striped, multicolored shirt, hat, pants, multicolored shoes, and bag around the shoulder. The person is posing in front of a stone wall with doors on both sides. The person is posing with the right arm stretched out straight along the wall and the left arm bent so that the hand is touching the face.
Photo from Flickr

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague, and she admitted that she feels like she has felt a “wall” in this pandemic among other crises in the world. She certainly is not the only one.

Recently, I was scrolling through social media and saw a forum from the Harvard Kennedy School titled Three Wednesdays in January: insurrection, impeachment, inauguration. I paused and smiled to myself. As a writer, I was impressed with the combination of alliteration and accuracy in that title. Whoever named that event deserves a raise.

I was thankful for the conversation I had with my colleague. We do not work in the same office, but it was so nice to hear someone in my professional network openly acknowledge how draining and traumatizing these times are. Sometimes other people try to push us toward “unity” and “positivity” without addressing the origins of the injustice in the world. It has been so frustrating for me that I wrote about this in my post aptly titled Unity.

Right now I need to be in circles where people are being honest about the current state of their personal lives and the world. If a dialogue is not authentic, I do not want to engage in it. Part of this attitude can be generational for me. A few days ago, I saw this post from @blackpeopleintherapy on Instagram and in resonated with me:

Boomers: I heard she went to *looks around nervously* *whispers* Therapy

Millennials/Gen Z: LMAO YALL GUESS WHAT MY THERAPIST TOLD ME TODAY

I dare you to tell me that this Instagram post is wrong. You know and I know that it is accurate. Furthermore, I would argue that Gen Z is more open than Millennials. As an educator, I work in large part with Gen Z students. Boy, oh boy, do they have an openness about their mental health and their overall health that I do not observe as frequently with Millennials or older generations.

Some people in my age group think that these Gen Z students need to get older, experience more of the world, face more consequences for their actions, and then they will change.

While only time will tell how much Gen Z evolves, I can tell you that they are authentic in a way that I wish my generation and older ones were.

Speaking of authenticity, yesterday I watched this Facebook video from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When I first heard about her video, I was reluctant to watch it. In the video, she mentions being a sexual assault survivor who was triggered during the insurrection of January 6th. Being a sexual violence survivor myself, I was unsure if I wanted to watch the entire video. It was rough. I still am mentally processing her video, but I am glad I watched it when I felt ready.

I used to be a hotline counselor for a rape crisis center, and I used to hear stories like hers all of the time. Basically, it is not uncommon for people who have experienced any type of violence to be triggered when they either observe or experience another violent event. When I was a hotline counselor, sexual violence callers used to call when they were triggered by some type of violence in the world: a bombing, a mass shooting, racial violence, you name it.

As part of my training to be a hotline counselor, I attended a panel with sexual violence survivors. As one panelist told the audience, the violence in the news did not necessarily have to be sexual for her to feel triggered.

That makes sense. Ultimately, all violence is inextricably linked to each other and is rooted in the same origins of fear and hate.

Whether or not you watch the aforementioned video by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I hope that you take time from your day to think about the violence that she and others like her have experienced in their lives, especially in the last four years. Although we have a new President, we still have more work to do in our “unfinished” nation as Amanda Gorman so eloquently put it in her inaugural poem.

I watched Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s video and thought about how much I want my life to be meaningful. Especially after having experienced breast cancer, I feel like I have not been using enough of my talents to educate, advocate, and activate for more substantial change in society.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been super vocal in advocating for herself and disenfranchised communities across the nation. With her success, she has become a bigger target. It is not fair for women of color like her to consistently be penalized for defending their dignity. People with more privilege in racial and gender issues must speak up more. Social justice is not an extracurricular activity that you can put on your resume. Actually, for some people it is, and that is a large part of the problem.

Some people think I am doing “enough” for the world problems that matter to me. Sure. I serve on the patient and family advisory council at a cancer institute, on the leadership team of an antiracist group in my community, and on the board of a global women’s empowerment organization. I find the work satisfying enough for my current life, but I do envision my work growing broader and deeper than what it presently is.

Someone could argue that I address these issues in my day job as a career coach. I would say yes and no. By virtue of who I am, I will always incorporate the drive for justice into whatever role I hold. By no means though is justice an explicit part of the work I do. It is not an explicit component of my job description or my office’s mission. With that said, maybe that is okay for now. Maybe someone’s passion does not always have to be their life’s work. It is so weird to think like this now because that is so contrary to what I believed when I was younger.

When I was younger, I was consistently pursuing jobs where my job could be inextricably linked to my passion, my purpose, and my life’s work. One pandemic, one recession, and one racial reckoning later, I am questioning how self-sustaining that professional pursuit can be. A few days ago, I watched this video on TikTok, and the speaker’s breakdown of the concept of a “dream job” resonates with my current mood.

In late 2019, I attended a networking workshop at one of my alma maters. A student asked the speaker for career advice. The speaker told the audience not to get “political” in their careers because they could be seen as “polarizing.”

For context, I am pretty sure that the student was a woman of color, and the speaker was a White man.

I was sitting in the back and observing the audience as they soaked up his tip. I wondered to myself how many of these students had the privilege to avoid getting “political” in their careers. If there had been more time, I would have loved to have asked the speaker what he considered “political” and “polarizing.”  

Here is my take on his advice in 2021: He is correct in understanding that if someone is perceived as too “political” according to their employer, they may not advance in their career. I have seen this happen countless times in my own profession and in the careers of others. The employee who chooses to be liked and agreeable—at least on the surface—with their employer will always be given more opportunities to advance. This is not a secret. I did not need to attend a networking workshop to learn this.

With that said, what do people who are oppressed have to gain by being liked if they cannot be respected?

Throughout my life, I have seen people who play the role of “model minority” attain success in the capitalistic sense of the word: raises, promotions, and overall recognition. However, I have observed the tradeoffs that they experience when they play the model minority role, which is heavily rooted in White supremacy. They do not get to be themselves as much as they would like to be in their workplaces. Now I cannot ever tell someone which tradeoff is worth making. I simply am saying that I have observed the tradeoffs that come with playing model minority … and in this world plagued by a viral pandemic, political unrest, and all types of violence intersecting with each other, we have to figure out if that role is still worth playing.

Even in a time where many corporations, institutions, and leaders are pledging to engage more intentionally in social justice, there still is some game to playing it safe with those pledges. What are those organizations, what are those leaders, what are we … going to support no matter what? What principles will we uphold regardless of what people in our professional and social networks think?

You do not have to answer to me, but you do have to answer to yourself.

From what I can tell in the world around me, lots of people are asking these questions. They are realizing that toughing out toxic environments for capitalistic gain is a privilege, but it is also a privilege that is draining their health and wellness. At that point, what are you willing to endure for the privilege of work? If you do not like the current system, what work are you willing to do to transform it so that people do not have to keep making tradeoffs between the privilege of work and the privilege of being treated with dignity?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s