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Black Women, are we ready for workplace re-entry?

Re-entry. This term used to bring to my mind an image of a shuttle coming back from deep space exploration. During re-entry, I imagine the captain and crew checking systems one more time, buckling their seat belts snugly, and holding on for dear life as the shuttle encounters the bumpy and fiery journey back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

It’s August, and naturally the back-to-school commercials are revving up. As an educator, I’m acutely familiar with the mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety as I approach the beginning of a new school year. But this year feels very different. Because the anxiety THIS year is of a brand new variety. This re-entry isn’t the same.

The pandemic has been hard, on multiple levels. But the side effect of social distancing was an unexpected surprise for many. For Black employees, and specifically Black women, working virtually gave space for a lot of things we didn’t even know we needed- like naps. Or cooking dinner instead of ordering out. Or getting the laundry done in between zoom calls. Or taking a walk or spin class before the end of the work day when we’re too tired to do anything like physical exercise because the mental and emotional gauntlet of our typical Tuesday is just too damn much. During the pandemic, we were able to accomplish some of the things that are necessary for our well-being but always seemed to be an afterthought or something to be squeezed in. For many of us, we started to live, even as we watched many others around us succumb.

What we’ve seen from recent research is that there has been a protective layer for Black women who have had the option of working virtually. A virtual workplace offers protection from the exhaustion of micro- and macro-aggressions, micro- and macro-insults, micro- and macro-invalidations. Protection from the multiple and many ways that we are invisible or hyper-visible, depending on the context. Protection from the nasty tasting pill of both racism and patriarchy in our workplaces. Protection from the unrealistic expectations and the numerous implications of tightrope walking through negative or toxic job environments. “The microaggressions faced by employees of color include bigoted jokes, backhanded “compliments,” and offensive nicknames... The psychic toll of such exchanges mean that workplaces can feel very different for white people and people of color. 21% of white workers wish to return to the office. In contrast, only 3% of Black workers want to do the same...” (Anti-Racism Daily).

So, as a Black woman educator, going back into the school building this year feels very much like the following...I’m checking and re-checking my internal systems- are they on line? Am I at maximum capacity? I’m buckling my seat-belt and adjusting the strap to make it snug. And with closed eyes and prayer on my lips, I’m white-knuckling my way back into the working world wondering if I’ll hear the words “Houston, we have a problem.”

Black Women Survival Strategies for Re-Entry

  1. Check to make sure all systems are online. This means your emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, and psychological systems. Prioritize the system or systems that are still lagging behind. Invest time and resources into those systems - this is the practice of self love.

  2. Seat belt check. Who’s got you, boo? Reconnect and strengthen your support networks, those people and places that hold you together.

  3. Hang on. Open your eyes. Look out the window. Even with all of the preparations, we don’t know how this re-entry is going to feel, exactly. But know that you have done everything you can to be the best you possible, and you’re not alone on this ship. Prioritize time for deep personal reflection and even dreaming. You are not your job. What will help you connect to your true power and purpose? What will you do today to bring you closer to your best life?

  4. Send out an S.O.S. when needed. You are not alone. The most seasoned soldiers (or space shuttle captains) know to send out a signal for help when something is wrong. Remember to stop, check in (and maybe checkout), and give yourself what you need to survive the trip. Create a plan to thrive in the journey. Knowing that there will be surprises and maybe even turbulence on the trip, how will you show yourself compassion and kindness?

You’ve got this, sis. Take care of yourself.

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