One day, several years ago, a Black female colleague at a previous job told me that our white colleagues described my emails as “scathing“.
Below, the definition of scathing:
1. Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical: “a scathing tract on the uselessness of war” (Pierre Brodin).
2. Harmful or painful; injurious.
I was seriously flabbergasted at this description of my professional correspondence. One would think that the emails were littered with rudeness, unrealistic requests, demands and profanity (I save that for Facebook; you’re welcome.) But no, I was simply doing my job, which oftentimes consisted of communicating with my co-workers via email. At the time, I worked in the Corporate Services division of my company as a Facilities Manager and had to relay information to others regularly.
This made me consider how microaggressions are asserted daily surrounding my professional communications. Because I swear fo’ God (in my Ms. Sofia from The Color Purple voice, too), even white people are threatened by a Black woman who can articulate her thoughts immaculately via the written word. I honestly sometimes wonder, “F*ck folk think I’m supposed to do–sound like a slave?” Black people CAN read now, you know. This is BUSINESS.
While I was a college-educated Black woman–with a degree in English–the libelist nature of these accusations painted me as nothing more than an uppity post-antebellum Negress–high off her newfound freedom from the plantation. I presume they would have felt more comfortable and less shaken about being knocked from their imperialist pedestals if I had used broken English–language periodically consistent with shucking and jiving–to convey my messages instead. However, I didn’t excel in ALL my schooling, kick ass in my high school AP classes, (that catapulted me an ENTIRE semester ahead as a collegiate freshman, mind you), and spend tens of thousands of dollars on undergrad to sound like a goddamn plebeian. LOOK IT UP!
I’m certain those complaining would have been just fine receiving the same email from a white woman. Or one of their white male cronies, ahem, colleagues.
My corporate emails were never meant to be a study in the duality of my language that consists of the King’s English and AAVE. And folks reaaaaally need to check their illogical thought processes if they are dissecting professional emails this microscopically. I found myself placing, “Thanks!” (just like that) in the personalized signature attached to all my emails in an effort to assuage the stereotypical mentalities (and white fragility) of my associates. It didn’t work, and I didn’t give a f*ck.
I reject the notion that work emails can have a “tone”. I suppose because I didn’t meet their predetermined expectation of being (and sounding) intellectually inferior, waging an attack on a single aspect of my professional demeanor was the next best thing? Nevermind the time I had a meeting with our local property management team. The woman at the helm had never seen me before; we’d only spoken over the phone. She seemed startled when she realized I was Black. I guess she, too, expected Black women to sound “ghetto” and unpolished.
I will NEVER apologize for knowing “big” words, using them and having a more expansive vocabulary than you. Or knowing when the hell to capitalize and where to put a period, or damn semicolon, for f*ck’s sake.
I refuse to dumb myself down to make the whites (or anyone, actually) feel more comfortable.
The way I express myself via language–professionally and otherwise–is a part of the glorious inner-workings of my #BlackGirlMagic. And I refuse to be any other than Houdini when my pen meets paper, or my fingers caress the keyboard. Regardless of what I’m writing or whom the recipient is.
You betta ask somebody.