“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person is America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
The only black woman once again, I thought.
The first time I felt invisible I was ten years old. I was on the playground at my predominantly white elementary school searching for a face that resembled mine. There I was standing by the jungle gym with my pleated shirt, white keds, and pigtails. “This move will be fun Amiyah. A great way to make new friends.” My mom’s words echoed in my head. From the moment I entered the classroom I felt the blue-eyed stares. I saw a bench in the corner of the playground and decided it would be my place of refuge. I sat on the bench every day during recess eating my peanut butter sandwiches with the crust cut off and sliced bananas on the side. The bench was where I daydreamed about being back at my old school: with my black friends, black teachers, and little black girls. I wished on multiple occasions God would send me a friend, He answered in Imani Parks. Through the sea of whiteness I saw her, she was standing by the swings. We made eye contact and she smiled. She saw me. She came over and sat next to me, I handed her a sliced banana. We never spoke; we sat in each other’s presence until recess was over.
My eyes scan the faces around the table. All white women. The fluffed diversity lingo was really code for: We hired the top educated black candidate, that’s all we need.
What I wouldn’t give in this moment to see a familiar gaze in my direction.
“Amiyah, you haven’t given any input the entire meeting, what do you think? Susan asked, tapping her pen against the table.
All of their eyes turned to look at me.
Seriously, this is the fifth time she’s done this in a meeting. Asking my thoughts when she knows my ideas don’t matter to her.
“Great, I think it’s great Susan” I heard the inflection in my voice.
Susan pierced her lips together before closing her notepad. “ Alright everyone that will be all today.”
They quickly gathered their belongings snickering about the latest episode of The Office leaving the conference room. I pick my tablet and pen off the table as quickly as possible but not quick enough.
“Amiyah, do you have a second? I want to speak with you” She said before I could get out of the conference room.
Here we go, I thought. I sat back in my chair looking at her blue eyes staring over her glasses. Her floral top was wrinkled and the blush overdone on her pale cheeks. She scribbled on her notepad and looked up and smiled.
“How are you this morning?” She asked with her deceptive smile. “I’m great, why do you ask?” I responded plastering a fake smile across my face. “Well...” she tapped her pen against the table. “I noticed you were quiet throughout the meeting. I figured you were having a bad morning.”
“No, I’m wonderful, nothing wrong here” I smiled harder, my jaws hurt. “ You didn’t say much when I asked your thoughts about the campaign.” “ I’m not sure what else there is to say. It’s fresh, fun, and flirty. It’s great.” “Yes I know but what about for women like you.” No she didn’t. “I don’t understand your question. What do you mean women like me?”
Her face flushed with redness almost identical to her hair. Say it Susan stop beating around the damn bush. You know what I hate worse than a passive-aggressive white woman? A condescending one.
“Women like you. Women of color, you know black women. Do you think they would buy the product? "
They? Bitch really? “Susan, I don’t speak for all black women just because I’m the only black woman on the team. Would I buy the jeans, perhaps; however, it would depend on a lot.” “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean to offend you.” You never do. “You are talented and your insight is always appreciated for that demographic of clientele.” Maybe if the team was more diverse than you wouldn’t ask these backward ass questions.
“I think it would help to conduct focus groups on the product before going to full distribution. What better way to learn if our consumers love our new items by getting their feedback firsthand.”
“I knew I could count on you. You articulate yourself well when giving feedback.” I’m smart Susan or did the dual degree on my office wall conveniently slip your mind. “Anything else Susan?” “No, that was all. I hope your day gets better.”
“Thanks Susan” I collect my belongings and make a quick dash out of the conference room to my office. Walking through the hallways I overhear a conversation between two of my colleagues.
“Amiyah’s attitude was serious today. She didn’t talk the entire time. “She’s unprofessional.” “And did you see her hair? How many times can she change her hair?” “You know she loves doing that.” They laugh.
I walk past the opening of the door slowly and stare directly in their direction. They are instantly silent. “Great meeting today”, I smile hard to affirm their thoughts.“Yes you ignorant heffas I heard everything you said.”
No one could have told me five years after accepting this position I would feel this way.
“Are we ready to toast ladies?” Jada raised her champagne flute. “Amiyah I hope your glass is full to the rim.”
“It looks empty,” Tonya yelled across the room. She grabbed a new champagne bottle from the table, popped it opened and filled her glass.
“Imani can you do the toast?” Jada asked.
Imani nodded and scooted her chair out to stand up. They were seated around a well-decorated table in Amiyah’s favorite colors, canary with light touches of blue accents.
“Miyah I pray the next season of your life brings you all of the desires of your heart. I am so proud to call you a friend and a sister. To another year of life and not settling for less than you deserve.”
“ Cheers to letting go of dead weight!” Tonya yelled.
“Yes!” everyone raised their glasses in unison.
“Okay,” Imani said, “I wanted us to play a little game that I made up to help Amiyah
reflect on her 20s.” She bent down to pick up a box from the side of the table. “Inside are different cards with questions for the beautiful birthday girl, so everyone take one.” She passed the box around the table.
“We should probably order too before we start,” Tonya said. She whipped her head around as their waitress passed the door of the private room. “Excuse me,” she called, “Can we go ahead and order?”
“Yes ma’am I’ll be right there,” the woman said, scurrying past. She’d said that four
Jada looked at her cellphone, then at Imani and Tonya. “We don’t want to be late for
our next adventure, we gotta be there in an hour and half.”
“We will be fine,” Imani said. She touched Amiyah’s arm, a hint of concern in her eyes.
“You ok Miyah, you’ve been really quiet?”
“She’s drunk,” Jada said, scanning her menu.
“You know she’s always been the lightweight of the group.” Tonya giggled. “Let us not forget Homecoming.”
Imani tapped her glass with her fork on the table. “Alright now time for the questions. I’ll go first. What is something you would tell your twenty-year-old self?”
Amiyah leaned in. “I would tell twenty year old me--”
“Ladies are you ready to order?”
“Aww,” they all groaned and burst into laughter.
The waitress threw up her hands, “I can come back later.”
“No!” they chorused in unison and laughed again.
She grabbed her pen from her apron and wrote down their orders--salmon, fettuccine shrimp pasta, and New Orleans style jambalaya. When they were done and the waitress was gone, Amiyah continued her answer.
“I would tell my twenty-year-old self to never give up on your dreams, at any moment they can manifest, especially when you get your dream job on your birthday”
“Wait what? You got the job?!” Tonya exclaimed.
“Who has the next question?” Shana asked.
“I did”, Amiyah answered. “You're now looking at the new Senior Editor in Chief at
Thrive Marketing Firm.”
They all cheered in unison.
“This is exciting!” Imani said, clapping in excitement.
“This calls for more champagne!” Angela summoned the waitress. “Cheers to your 30s and new beginnings in your dream job!” She raised her glass before taking another sip.
This place was exhausting, a supervisor from the pits of white women hell no wonder my position had high turnover. I had given my all serving as the Senior Marketing Chief at Thrive for the last five years. They pulled the wool over my eyes from the beginning.
“You left an impression on our CEO Amiyah. He was impressed with your innovation. Where did you learn your strategies? ” Susan flipped through the portfolio.
“Strategies?” I asked perplexed “Yes, surely you hired a consultant to assist you in compiling this portfolio. The details, the structure, the creative taglines.”
“I created it myself. Research goes a long way.” “It sure does. We think you would be an asset to the team. When can you start?” She smiled. We can’t let someone with your talent get snatched away by our competitors. We’d like to move quickly.”
“I’m flattered. Can I have a few days to think about it?”
“Yes, absolutely. This position is perfect for you. We take care of our own at Thrive.
Bright-eyed and ambitious I accepted the offer, it came with healthy compensation and a nice corner office with a massive window overlooking downtown. Now I’m trapped. I want to escape, but guilt overwhelms my conscience. This couldn’t be the end of the road but it feels like it as the days pass by. A dream job turned nightmare with my minion ass colleagues and supervisor starring as the passive ass grim reaper.
For more information on Nikita Haynie check out her website www.nikitahaynie.com.