I’m not a victim, vindictive or angry…
I’m just scared shitless of success.
There are times I self-sabotage in life because the ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ haunt me. On my chest is a black scarlet letter that I carry around with me. A plus-size Black woman with the audacity to try and make it into the club, that room has been defined by White America since the first Black slave stepped onto these shores. The exclusive club that has brought a plague to my career walking into rooms as the only minority. A victim I’m not; because I still sashay in with my street smarts defined by a hardened childhood of poverty, drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse and physical violence — but also a college education. My comfort drinking a 40oz. bottle of beer outside some housing projects is the same when walking into a boardroom filled with millionaires. Having street smarts and college degrees prepared my militant maneuver within corporate America. There’s a calmness in me when there’s chaos around me. As a natural born leader, I’m able to walk into a room and align teams back to the prize — the profit and success of the business. However, with this revelation came a target so big on my back that I feel an itch before they pull the trigger. What they don’t know are the layers that define me, so it’s a steady aim that needs to topple my kingdom of fun. Yet, no matter what’s been done to me I still have the courage to try again.
During my teen years in New York I had no confidence at all. A lot of it was beat out of me, so the pavement became my world. I’d stare at the cracks and divets trying to navigate around crack needles and trash that rats scurried out to claim. I recall, one day, a grouchy teacher in high school who grabbed my hand and spoke to me. She was known to ‘bust your balls’ with a smile on her face. Back then I carried anger as a best friend so no one would bully me, lashing out at those who wanted to test my nature because I’d been tested so many times at home. Looking back I see myself as a feral animal that dressed nicely, covering up bruises and working around the soreness my body endured from abuse. So when she grabbed my hand and looked straight at me asking something like, “Are you okay?” I was shocked, No one had ever asked me that before. Tears sprang to my eyes so quickly, but that split second of care was brushed away in an instant. My Incredible Hulk masquerade slammed back onto my face. I shrugged her hand away from me and screamed venomous anger from my throat. ‘Now someone cared?,’ I thought to myself. ‘Where were they when the terror claimed my soul and made me into a reluctant warrior?’
That warrior remains in me but she is a lot nicer now. Time has faded the shakiness in my hands and turned me into steel. The courage I bring forth now comes from my lack of knowledge by not seeing the right enemy. ‘Is it I or they that sabotage my success?’ I now ask. When I walk into work the faint whisper of many cycled moons still asks “are you ok?” and the Incredible Hulk looks up slowly to say — “Yes I’m fine.”
Still, it’s not fine when I’m brave enough to ask the questions that everyone else in the club has said before. “Is my work not enough?” “Is there room for growth, can I learn more, how can I support the team and would you mind if I tried this option?” Those questions only bring forth a tilt to others’ heads and a smiling mask to their faces. Never reaching their eyes, of course, replying, “No everything is ok.” All anyone can say is “manage up,” but how about managing alongside? Should a Black woman not challenge the status quo in order to be promoted? Currently there are only three Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. All of them are men, and that figure is down from six in 2012. Those stats are disheartening when fighting to climb the corporate ladder. Should I not play a victim to the Gender Wage Gap that pits my work ethic against men? Statistics show women are paid $.80 to every $1 a man makes. However that figure is even lower for Black women at $.61. Does the world compensate us for that by offsetting a lower cost to mortgage, daycare or travel expenses? Additionally this makes me fourth in line to white men, white women and black men. Have you ever tried running a track meet where the gun goes off last for you?
I’m still sitting here with a smile on my face and courage in my heart to never give in to anger. I want to worry less about the figure in my bank account that’s accruing no interest from the lack of a fair salary. The goal for me remains the same, which is to do a great job and help maintain profitability for my employe, but in my heart I know it’s the bravery that bothers them most. The hard handshake I give that used to be for the boys club only; the eye to eye stare that has them blinking and averting their eyes. Could it also be the dimples in my cheeks carved out from the tears of my oppression?
Also, my strategy of acceptance in corporate America has changed over the years. When I first began this path, I told myself to get the highest degree I could hold in media so no one could never say I am not qualified for the job. Guess what? I still ain’t qualified for the job. It’s not that privileged white people have said that to me, they just don’t know what to do with me. I smile big even with the ugly I carry inside. I’m optimistic, even though I’ve watched countless other people move onward and upward in their careers. Out of 100 people in the division of a major TV studio, I was the only black person. Before that, when I worked at one of the top five motion picture and television studios in Hollywood, there was just me and one other black woman, out of 200 employees. When I went to grad school I was just one of two black women in the graduate school program. Then there are also the friends I’ve met along the way who invite me over to their homes, where I’m usually the only black person in the room.
I always pause in the doorway and I say – “Forget it.” If I’m meant to be dragged in the street and lynched, at least I carved out a lane for those behind me. To stroll into that door again and challenge the Matrix just one more time, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing has, except stagnation. In my career, it’s become exhausting hearing the word ‘No.’ But how can other people really see my sacrifice? Who wants to be known as the angry Black woman? I’m writing this so the world can know how much I love each and every person. That little girl who used to be balled up on her bed crying into the wall, praying for the pain to stop, is gone. As I see it, we only get one round on this roller coaster called life; one chance to hand in our ticket to fun. So when I shake your hand, look you in the eye and smile at you genuinely, please know it’s taken me a long time to wear my courage.
Welcome into my world.
Vonti McRae is an alumni and since 2017 a Film Instructor at the Academy of Art University. She is an up and coming screenwriter who has worked tirelessly in the media industry for over 10 years. Her writing is inspired by her childhood plus travels across the USA, and hopes to one day see her stories on the big screen.
Contact her at [email protected] for writing inquiries. Follow her on:Instagram the_real_vonti Blog: therealvonti.com Follow her blog therealvonti.com and IG the_real_vonti