Hard Lessons

Women at Work by Pleasant Folk

As an Afro-American woman, I have spent the majority of my life in white, female dominated spaces (such as ballet schools, art history programs, museum offices, and retail). In the discussion of women at work, the wage gap, inter-sectional feminism, diversity in the arts, etc, female dominated professions should not be overlooked. If anything, they need to be critiqued by those of us who are participating or have participated in these fields.

Women have always worked in various roles with varying degrees of willingness and this should not be overlooked. Additionally, many male-dominated professions exist within female-dominated ones…there might be more male doctors, but his work day is completely surrounded by, and dependent on, female-dominated roles like nurses and administrators. Below are a few of my unapologetic observations, opinions, and suggestions about female-dominated work spaces. Based on my lived experiences with recurring circumstances regarding women at work, I offer critique knowing that it applies to me too!

Office jobs are cushy compared to many other professions that women can hold and they are called ‘pink collar’ for this reason. I was fortunate enough to make a living siting down in an air-conditioned building all day long for most of my career. While I consider myself to be bright, physically strong, and adventurous, I happened to choose a career path that is not actually dangerous or hard and I try to be grateful everyday! Below are my reflections about women at work and I do not care if these points seem outdated. This is a far cry from stereotyping. However, I am a woman and much of my time in the workforce was spent dealing with these issues regarding other women. Men can write their own blog post.

These points will be further illustrated in the upcoming art series Place Mat-Spellbook.

*Please do not steal these ideas for your diversity seminars and blog posts without credited me.
Feel free to email me and invite me to speak at panels, lectures, or conferences about the topic.

1. The Pant Suit with Shoulder Pads

Wearing a pant suit, wearing dark colors, speaking with a lower voice, wearing less make-up, minimal socializing at work, blunt communication, high expectations, etc. are not signs that a woman is imitating masculinity to succeed at work…they are signs of a professional choice or the natural habits of that particular person. I personally believe women should dress modestly in the workplace and put the baby voice aside (unless you have a legitimate vocal cord issue). There are some women who are bullied, judged, misunderstood, or ostracized by other women in the office because they exhibit traits typical of professional behavior and it is misinterpreted as trying to be a man. I think women in office settings need to stop negatively stereotyping ‘the pant suit’ image or mentality. In fact, try some of these habits on for size! I look to the female pilots, police chiefs, doctors, and army generals who wear their ‘pants’ with pride.

2. Women vs. Girls

Sometimes women are stereotyped with traits typical of an immature girl, so the concept of woman and girl become unfairly tied. All women are not girls and a girl is not a woman. ‘Girls’, or immaturity in a woman at work, are a huge blow to the strides that history has made for women at work and in the world. I noticed that extremely childish behavior at work led to failure every time. In turn, their shortcomings were repaired or coddled by staff with more maturity and knowledge. Shopping at work, forgetfulness, flakiness, baby talk (or other affectations), flamboyant outfits, frequent crying, dependency, and ignorance tended to be the traits of women who acted like girls. They consistently failed at tasks and could not learn from them or grow. Phrases like ‘I don’t know, I forgot, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this, I don’t like this, I don’t get it’ or the general ‘save me’ mentality were so frequent in the workplace it shocked me. Imagine being in a meeting and hearing a person who is supervising a project while making over $10,000 more than you, giggling and saying ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ while lower level staff carry all the weight. This was a real situation and it is inexcusable in my eyes. Google it or hush. The dumbest person in the room should not be the loudest or the highest paid. Executives love girls at work because it justifies their power in directing them or saving them.

4. Forgetfulness Does not Excuse your Responsibility

People have ADMITTED to me that they ‘play dumb’ when they want to get out of a task. ‘I can’t remember’, ‘I don’t remember’, or ‘I forgot’ is the phrase I hear most often from women who have failed at a task or disrespected me. In fact, forgetting my name or who I am is also a tactic to bully me by acting as if I am invisible or unimportant. Ironically, I am typically the only Black person in most places I have worked or one of very few. How hard is it to remember one name. Get a notepad and a calendar to help you remember otherwise, your consistent forgetfulness will start to look like an act of ‘playing dumb.’ When I was at work, you never saw me without a notepad and people remarked on my memory quite often…but it was turned into a negative. I was called scary or guru instead of intelligible and smart which is racially charged in my opinion.

2. Avoid Gossip

Try not to talk to people from work about people at work while you are at work. Your workplace is a team and everyone there deserves an environment of trust and respect. I once worked for a major museum and most of the time this gossip would happen within ear-shot and eye-shot of me or some other target. I could walk into a break room or turn a corner and hear people talking trash. Other times, people would approach me to talk trash about others. I was called stereotypical things like unfriendly or intimidating by the same people that I greeted every morning. Many times, people would imitate fake Ebonics when repeating things I said in an attempt to make me seem more aggressive (again, within ear-shot of me!). I was constantly told comments by other people that someone else made about me. This kind of gossip can ruin relationships and careers, so please stop.

There were times that coworkers presented themselves to me as ‘allies’ and I confided in them my problems with glass ceilings or racism at the museum. They brushed me off as a gossip (despite the fact they gossiped all the time about petty things). I realized a solution could not be brainstormed with these false allies, so I turned my attention to HR for problem solving which was unfruitful. Turns out…museums have a horrible diversity problem (duh!) and my allies were just frenemies in disguise.

Always document what has been said about you and by whom. If it is legal in your state, record these conversations. Respectfully ask these people to stop (verbally or in writing) or turn in your documentation into HR. Sending a frank email has always worked for me. Leaving museums all together worked even better!

3. Avoid Lying

I will never understand why adults, especially women, continue to lie so often in the workplace. My nail in the coffin with the workforce was that everyday someone was lying to me about something or lying ON me to my face in front of other people. Usually the lies were to cover for failures which happened far too often. This is completely disrespectful and quite frank…this is deranged. If you have a lying problem, please seek professional help because there is not much I can do for you here.

5. Demands of Friendship, Cliques, and Exclusion

First and foremost understand that a job is a place of business. No one should be talking excessively at work unless it is work-related. If you see a quiet woman at work or there is a woman who is not talking to you specifically…get over it. They may have been told by their manager NOT to socialize at work. They may not like you personally and choose interact with you only when it is work-related. They might also just be naturally reserved and that’s ok too. With all of the gossip and lies that happen at work, people have the right to protect their personal business. In other words, not every woman needs to be ‘saved’ by your friendship, so leave them alone. Please remember, you cannot command or demand someone into friendship or dictate how that friendship will play out. There was a woman at a museum where I worked who would bake cookies just for me every week because she was obsessed with the idea of my friendship. She gossiped to colleagues about my personal matters to gain insight. She tried sabotaging me many times when I rebuffed her advances in major ways. This person ended up in a class of mine when I went back to university and her obsession continued. She would try to start arguments with me in class or turn around in her chair to stare at me. I finally sent her an email to back all the way off.

Lunch breaks, happy hours, and office parties are either personal unpaid time, paid breaks, or optional. In other words, no one is obligated to socialize in these situations. But, if you choose to socialize at work and form friendships, these are your best outlets to do so with like minded people. If there are friendship groups that naturally form at work, understand that no one else is obligated to the rules of your social circle. Keep the dynamics of your clique out of work-related tasks and enjoy your friendship group during personal time like lunch breaks, happy hours, office parties, or outside of work hours. Engaging in cliquish behavior during work-related tasks is either disruptive to those around you who are actually trying to work, or it can make people feel excluded professionally.

Do not use work or work-related tasks to retaliate against personal feelings or rejections of friendship. Being excluded from a friendship group, disliking another woman, falling out of friendship, or the like is absolutely no reason to sabotage another woman at work. What happens outside of work stays outside of work. What happens during personal unpaid time, paid breaks, or optional events at work should not penetrate work-related tasks. Learn to compartmentalize your life and your job.

4. Kill the Red Eyed Monster (Jealousy)

So many of my work place issues rose out of other women being jealous. Whether it was personal or professional, I ignited a bizarre psychology in many people and it was not my fault. People would be jealous of things they never tried, places they had never been, and tasks they hadn’t worked hard to complete. Complacent, lazy, or privileged people would bolt out of their chair to catch up to my accomplishments or take them from me out of jealousy. It was suffocating because jealousy bred conniving behavior. Many people were subconsciously distraught at the idea of a Black woman, skinny woman, or younger woman ‘winning’. Carve out your own niche at work and stick to your own job description.

5. Passive Aggressive Fights for Power

Coming Soon…cause this could be a novel.

6. How to Avoid Being Perceived as Racist

I am not here to speak for all races. I speak on behalf of myself as a Black woman and the sum total of the direct experiences I’ve had which is my only obligation. Person of color is a term I use only to describe those of African descent in every hue. Stop teasing the people of color at work. Stop excluding people of color from professional situations they are entitled to participate in based on their title and education. Stop robbing them of their contributions by falsely claiming them as your own. Stop cherry picking a ‘favorite’ and excluding or teasing the remaining people of color. Try harder to memorize the names and faces of staff of color. Stop speaking in an accent completely different than your own for amusement. Stop asking invasive questions at work about personal grooming habits. Do not make assumptions about the background or upbringing of people of color. Stop acting shocked when a Black person speaks and dresses well or says something smart. Stop pandering to destitute people of color on social media with savior antics while disrespecting upwardly mobile, independent Black people in real life. Being well traveled does not excuse racially charged, rude comments. Do not touch other people without their permission and do not stand too close when talking. I cannot tell you how many times a white woman in power has tried to stand centimeters from my body or lean over my desk or touch me while saying the rudest things…it is an intimidation tactic. Even if you do not intend the above actions to be racist, it paints a negative picture of you and the company. Try to be more conscious of this and stop.

7. Don’t be so Delicate about Emails

An email is a record of information and any lawyer worth their salt will tell you to put things in writing. Emails are an effective way to RESOLVE or DOCUMENT all of the issues listed above. Stop demonizing the sender of emails and stirring up unnecessary drama. Instead, focus on the information presented to you and continue to do your job. I cannot tell you how many times I have been called into an office by a woman in power and berated about the ‘tone’ of an email or my audacity to send one at all. These messages were usually written to resolve the lies and forgetfulness of another person or they were completely normal and I was being controlled. I have noticed that only liars hate things in writing ;) They want to keep everything verbal and continue spinning a web of deceit and confusion, so writing is their kryptonite.

8. Every Woman is Different

We do not all come to work for the same reasons. I have met women that admit they do not need the money they are just amusing themselves during the day by getting a job. Some women have their survival needs met by a partner or trust fund and admit to using their wages or salary for leisure. I have even met women who were hired or kept on the payroll due to love affairs or family connections. Some women are mothers and/or wives, others are single and/or child-free, while others are caring for aging parents. DO NOT assume you are busier, more tired, or more special than someone else! In other words, you don’t know anyone else’s story, so stop assuming and simply respect everyone equally. I was a single, child-free woman without a trust fund or alimony check and lots of student loans from a large family. I lived off of what I earned at work and needed multiple jobs to survive. The looming responsibility of caring for aging parents kept me a nervous wreck for my entire adult life. Being bullied, sabotaged, unappreciated, unfairly punished, or pushed out at work (and university) by other women meant my safety was being threatened. I have had to rebuild my life from scratch several times or rely on my retired parents for survival. I finally realized I needed to start my own business and save myself for good.

9. Stop Shopping at Work and Stop Having your Shopping Packages sent to Work

Just get a PO Box. If you have enough money to shop excessively, you have enough money to pay for a PO Box. Also, it clearly means you are not working if you are shopping all day! It’s an insult to those around you who make less money to flaunt your excess wealth AND time at work.

10. Avoid Crying at Work

Excuse yourself to the nearest bathroom as quickly as possible. Again…there are policewomen, fire fighters, army vets, social workers, and surgeons who will see more horror and sadness on the job than an office worker ever will. Nothing that happens at an office will be worth more tears over what these women face, so try to compose yourself and be grateful. If an issue is worth your tears, ask yourself what happened to get things to such a boiling point and correct it or resign. There have been plenty of women in power who have tried their hardest to break me down and make me cry at school, university, or work. These were immature, toxic people and my strength frightened them. The one time I can remember crying at work in a closed door meeting, was a job I quit shortly after. Wasn’t worth a single tear!

11. Stop Villainizing Criticism

I have witnessed and personally experienced the process of turning customers or colleagues who ‘complain’ into villains. Stop doing this. Document this criticism and learn from it! Everything I have ever complained about in the arts just so happened to become a national movement. Patrons of a museum who write on social media about a controversial piece of art are attacked by the institution or laughed at in the hallways of the office. Take a spin at the GAP if you need to learn how to solicit, digest, and learn from customer critic. You come across as a brat if you cannot handle criticism! I was a dance major in university, so I was raised with harsh critique from the time I was a third grader. It blows my mind how women who work as arts administrators or professors cannot handle criticism from patrons of their museum or students.

Racial Bias I Have Faced in Museums (and Academic Programs in the Arts) by Pleasant Folk

I have bullet-pointed the biggest issues I have faced in the museum field from academia to employment. In short, I have felt completely betrayed by the museum field and I am more comfortable operating independently at the moment. All of these points are relevant to the retail, law, library, and service roles I have held. One day, I may expand on the topics, but I felt it was important to share these experiences as soon as possible due to the trending conversations of diversity in the arts. Nearly all of these indiscretions were carried out by women in power and in lower level positions than myself. The reason I mention this detail is to contrast what we know about women at work, glass ceilings, the #metoo movement, and feminism. I had hoped never to be this forward on my business platform, but life and business converge in reality.

These points will be further illustrated in the upcoming art series Place Mat-Spellbook.

*Please do not steal these ideas for your diversity seminars and blog posts without credited me.
Feel free to email me and invite me to speak at panels, lectures, or conferences about the topic.

MLA format:
Pleasant, Rae. Newsletter: Racial Bias I Have Faced in Museums (and Academic Programs in the Arts). Dallas, TX: Pleasant Folk LLC, March 2019. www.pleasantfolk.com/newsletter/hardlessons

1. Intellectual Theft

My ideas instantly, and I mean in mere seconds, would ALWAYS become the property of someone else. Whether these ideas were written or verbal, they were taken from me and credited to someone else right in front of me. If I sent through proposals or applications, they would often be denied and then copied. There is no point in a museum career if I cannot be credited with my original work.

2. Downgrade of Contributions

Most of my contributions to the museum field were tasks I was assigned in my original job description, or completely original projects/research/initiatives designed and executed by me. However, my contributions would be completely and utterly ignored or downgraded to the point I was called ‘intern’ ‘assistant’ when that was NOT my job title or that I had ‘helped’. I would be hired to do a job and then my job description would be taken down to nothing without explanation while any original contributions would be rejected or stolen.

3. Disrespect of Intelligence

I was constantly told that I did not know things or asked how I could hold a particular knowledge of something. I have been asked if I was in the building because of Affirmative Action. I have been told that most Black people don’t know anything about Black history, but I am living history and also I have several degrees.

4. Living Culture and Academic Study

As a Black staff member, there are times when I want to experience the culture like a jazz night or Black History Month event. I may incorporate a family story or photograph into a lecture about Black history. The majority of staff had the cultural intelligence of a booger and in turn disrespected me culturally and racially on several occasions throughout my education and career. I have been told at every phase of my education and career that I either HAVE to study Black American or African history or that I CANNOT because Black people don’t know Black history/haven’t been to Africa. My contributions about the terminology or ideology of the culture were disregarded as were my outreach initiatives. These same aholes are tweeting right now about diversity on social media and taking selfies at homeless shelters.

5. Mediocrity vs. Genius

Museums are staffed by ordinary, often times mediocre, people who have lofty careers on the back of someone else’s genius (the artist). It would be appropriate to have humility and gratitude in these circumstances, but instead proximity to someone else’s genius bred arrogance in most staff. Most upper level museum staff has no artistic ability or motivation. Those who practice art in museums often hold labor intensive roles or lower level roles. While outdated standardized tests and GPAs are the gold standard and gatekeeper of the industry in the traditional sense, no one is ever tested or trained to actually make art. These people are not contributing to art history they are paraphrasing it to death and rewarding themselves for it.

6. Propped up on Pedestals

Museums and the field of history, art history, and the like are traditional models where a mentor essentially chooses a student or lower level staff based on how similar they are to each other (their academic interests and many times their looks, or family background can be grounds for this relationship). The relationship is maintained via ass kissing. Far too often, there are not professors in these programs who hold expertise in topics that appeal to diverse students, or they show no natural interest in mentoring diverse students.

It is the Elizabeth Holmes Effect where mediocrity and/or failure in an individual from a historically preferred group is propped up to create the illusion of success and/or intelligence. This kind of favoritism is meant to mask glaring problems and keep power dynamics intact. The person is kept on a pedestal because their failure means they must be rescued by people in power, so in turn they remain beholden and submissive to said power. Both parties get something out of it; executive administrators remain powerful because they have to guide such inexperienced, immature, or ignorant individuals while those being guided are propped up with the superficial trappings of a career (ie. attention). But, I have witnessed far too many people fall once the hand that guides them is moved away. They are left in the dust and it’s on the the next young thing. When people attempted to do this to me, I refused or recoiled immediately because I felt ready and seasoned at an early age having prepared myself with extra internships, projects, and courses. There was nothing for me to gain by an older woman in power lying to me, stealing my ideas, or bullying me. This ‘rebellion’ led to backlash or fallout.

7. Mean Girls in Bland Packages

Yes, most museum offices are made up of white women who are middle to upper class financially before entering into the field. Many are married with dual income. Bullying, jealousy, gossiping, and lying were common place and made museum offices overwhelming and toxic. It felt like revenge of the nerds with homely women either bullying or latching onto thin or conventionally pretty women. A huge problem would be immature girls in lower level positions becoming jealous that I was hired at a higher level and demand my work or original projects for themselves. This behavior was never punished when reported.

8. Lack of Solidarity Between Women, LGBQT, and Ethnic People

The LGBTQ, Hispanic, Asian, or Black people that were in the offices were not always guaranteed to be allies personally or professionally. Please know, there have been some amazing ethnic coworkers, women, and LGBTQ I have had the pleasure of working alongside. However, some have been traitorous or complicit in office politics or worse which is blow in the struggle for inclusion and fairness. I am not obligated to speak on behalf of other groups when very few have stood up with me. I speak on behalf of myself and what I represent. I stand with and respect those who also speak on behalf of their perspective. When I would confide my problems in white women who presented themselves to me as allies, ethnic people, or LGBTQ, I was often abandoned or labeled a ‘complainer’. These were people who did not experience even half of the bad treatment that I was given and could not relate or did not want the trouble. Far too often, they were complicit or active agents in problematic behavior in museums.

9. Imagined Villainy

My excellence was seen as a threat and people reacted with vicious jealousy. My accomplishments were manipulated into negatives. I was called ‘mean looking’, ‘unfriendly’, or ‘intimidating’ by simply walking down the hall or sitting at my desk. When someone has imagined themselves as your victim they are looking for reasons to justify it.

10. Verbal Abuse

Since elementary school, I have been pulled aside to be unjustly verbally abused by women in power. I refused to live the rest of my adult life being spoken to in this manner.

11. Rich People

Museums and galleries are playgrounds for the rich. I do not aim to villainize wealthy people because many museums and careers would not exist without their philanthropy. However, most business models for the arts are not sustainable for everyone involved. Many times, rich people would bring their offspring, niece, or family friend to work as an intern or employee with no questions asked. For a family business, this is customary (many people in my family own businesses), but cultural institutions need a bit more democracy involved. The college majors that lead to these professions attract people who already have money and can afford to travel the country to take unpaid or low paying internships. Wealthy young people might have grown up with fine artwork in their homes and that early expose has given them an advantage. Again, I do not blame wealthy people because I want to learn from their successes and mistakes. My career has been dependent upon philanthropy, so I have seen the selfless side of wealthy that most people do not. However, it must be noted that art history degrees and museums can have major blind spots.

12. Class Divide

I was born and raised in the Black middle class which continues to be unacknowledged and disrespected in conversations about race and diversity in America. There were often class clashes in universities and museums that played out in the context of white liberal spaces. It was far too common to see white liberals post pictures of Black people in need and placing themselves as the savior on social media…while ignoring or mocking feedback and complaints from middle class Black people about controversial exhibitions. It was common to see white staff begin to acknowledge or greet Black janitors, guards, or security after I was hired because they witnessed me greet them everyday. Other times, the service staff would greet me in the presence of white people and the white person would assume the janitor was greeting THEM. I would begin to hear staff brag about how friendly they were with a particular service staffer while treating me with disrespect or barring me from meetings I was fully entitled to attend. Cherry-picking an amenable favorite or a person who is staffed beneath you does not make you less racist. In most institutions I have ever worked, I have been one of few Black staff that is not in the service department. Throwing a ‘Hay gurl’ in faux Ebonics to a janitor or retweeting a trendy article about diversity does not absolve the rest of the staff from the disrespect they showed me everyday. Especially when I have been mocked about my articulate way of speaking by white people who often use faux Ebonics as a declarative or in jokes. In every museum where I have worked, I have been asked to remove my badge and pose for promotional photos as a pretend customer. This was a direct attempt by the museum to attract diverse dollars using a convenient body…mine. Yet, my work as an employee was not publically promoted unless I fought hard and loud for it making enemies in the process.

13. Sexual Harassment

As an unmarried young office woman, I was often targeted for uncomfortable conversation by men who claimed to have or had a wife or girlfriend of color. Other times, I would be targeted for unwanted attention, staring, or comments by janitors, security guards, cooks, and electricians of color. It would be a shocking betrayal in an environment where I was fighting so hard for racial equality. These reports to HR were never handled.

14. Invisibility

While white staff would brag about superficial relationships with service staffers, many people could not even remember my name, my position, or my background. My headshot was usually not professionally photographed by the museums unless I was asked to take off my badge and pose as a customer for marketing campaigns. I was not given press releases for my appointments or accomplishments. Even when I asked to write simple blog posts, I was told no (it would be a battle just to get a blog post if one was granted at all). My alma maters would usually not include me in public relations even when I updated the department about my progress. I believe to date I have been included as a line item in a list of names. nearly all of the lectures or publicity I have gained as a museum professional, I had to secure independently or assertively request. In short, I have been rendered invisible while the field and the press announce to the world that Black museum professionals don’t exist!

15. Stubborn Sacrifices

The poverty I have experienced as an adult is a direct result of my stubborn persistence int eh arts. While my tuition was covered for my double major in university by pell grants and scholarships, student loans with high interest rates covered expensive student housing, living expenses, books, and fees. Low wages and high cost of living as an employee of arts institutions was a contributing factor to post graduate poverty. Transitional periods after university graduations, relocation, or job moves were especially tough. I sacrificed the comfortable middle class lifestyle I was accustomed to to make decisions I thought would benefit my career. One day I will make a post about my university experiences.

16. Twice as Good

I know for a fact I worked twice as hard and received very little accolade or financial gain for my troubles. See point #6! I had a knack for being creative and flexible WITHIN the job description I was given. I was also excellent at refining my job description to match the actual work achieved. I also took on projects within my jurisdiction that others did not want to do or that had been neglected to compensate when my job descriptions were reduced or disrespected. My work ethic was ten times my peers and it was seen as nothing more than a threat on top of my ability to work well with men. I decided that I should only work this hard for myself and spare my energy and passion!

17. The Realities of Racism

There have been times when I was walking to class or driving to work and I experienced the harsh realities of racism. I had to enter my classes or job and carry on knowing I could have easily been rendered a statistic on the way there. I have been called racial slurs from passersby, solicited for prostitution from moving cars, or pulled over by cops with batons at the ready in a gripped fist. I have been denied entry into hotels that were booked and paid for for work. I have been aggressively harassed in cabs and frisked privately when I fly or called a terrorist. I have been scammed systematically by large financial institutions with little to no justice and no empathy from ‘friends’ in the field. In New Zealand, I was told several times point blank you can be a maid or a nanny in this country, but these establishments are high end and customers don’t want a Black person with weird hair (locs). One day I will write about my time in NZ. Not only did I have to deal with bullshit at work and university, I had to deal with incidents that could have gotten me KILLED on the way there! And still, I persisted with these stubborn sacrifices.

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Blaming Afro-Americans

Often times, the lack of diversity is blamed on the underrepresented group. We are perceived as not trying to have museum careers, not being academically inclined, not interested, or not exposed to the arts. This is not true. Most of the Afro-American people I know are lawyers, engineers, nurses, doctors, teachers, artists, home owners, and council members. There is a sickening habit of acting like Black people only exist as charity cases while ignoring Black professionals. We are proactive and hardworking. I cannot spend the rest of my disproving stereotypes because I’ve done enough. I will not spend my career competing with white people who claim to be ‘experts’ in Black history or who earn a living lecturing about, painting, or otherwise riding the Black body for their own acclaim. Do not ask me if I’ve ever been to Africa because it’s not an obligation. I am also not obligated to do more for down trodden Black people than a white liberal. I do for MYSELF everyday and some days that’s more than I can handle, but either way that is enough. That is The Dream of MLK. Jr .

Stop Acting Like There Aren’t Afro-American Artists, Museums, Libraries, Universities, Archives, Etc. Etc. Etc.

Just stop. Please simply share the praises of these institutions and individuals! Google is your friend if you need help finding them.

Becoming the Change You Want to See

When I started my own art business, I became the change I wanted to see professionally and artistically. I created the artwork I longed to see and I am the Black woman artist and picture book writer children have been longing to see. I secured a professional head shot and it is used every time I collaborate on a project. There have been so many people happy to see my fro and brown skin on digital signs, posters, and booklets. I am being interviewed and asked for my opinion. People shake my hand and remember my name. Some of these experiences never happened naturally in museums, even after a decade in the field!

Silent Influencer by Pleasant Folk

Baltimore to Dallas, 2015

Baltimore to Dallas, 2015

Over the years, I have noticed my ability to influence others and until now it bothered me. My influence is often silent and subconscious in its effect on others. Now, I understand how important it is to be a silent influencer and to effect positive change in the lives of others.

What is a silent influencer? I could have easily called it the reluctant influencer. It is a term I have coined to describe people that create positive ripples wherever they go without necessarily wanting to or trying. A person who leaves a lasting mark in the heart of others without trying. Their influence spreads like butterflies or dandelion seeds on the wind. Humans are animals and it is natural for animals to take silent cues from one another. A better world can literally be created because of people like you and your silent, humble influence.

Other people mimicking you is the first sign that you are a silent influencer. You don’t need to have one million social media followers to catch the attention of impressionable people. Imitation means you are being used as a template for someone else’s life. They may not do this intentionally, but there is something about the way you live your life with confidence and integrity that people admire.

Competition is another way that other people may react to your influence. They may see the things you posses or the accomplishments you have made as a ruler with which to measure their own success. Most of the time they did not know they wanted these things until they saw you with them! Achieving what you have already accomplished helps them feel accomplished themselves. Sometimes, the people who laugh at you are the first to mimic you, so these two categories can go hand in hand many times.

Seeking out your attention is one way people confirm if they are mimicking you correctly on a subconscious level. It can also be a way to check on the status of their competition with you. Either way, these people desire close proximity to you because it keeps your influence on hand. You may be suspicious of these connections as fake, shallow, or deceitful and you are right to be cautious.

Now, being a silent influencer is a thankless job and one you probably did not ask to hold. It can be emotionally draining and lead to anger, depression, mistrust or other emotions as a result of feeling used. Many times the people who are influenced by you are actually jealous or lost as a result of feeling insecure in themselves. They need a leader and they are turning to you. Do not expect to be credited with or thanked for the ideas and actions that you influence in other people. This is where the term ‘silent’ (and ‘reluctant’) comes into play. But, continue to live your life with boldness and originality and stay true to yourself.

Protecting yourself and recharging is extremely important because the truth is your ability to silently influence others will never shut off. It will stay with you for life and learning to cope with this soft super power is essential to your own mental and physical well being.

-Deflect the influence away from yourself by mentioning another source. For example, suggest a blog, magazine, celebrity, or book that contains similar information or ideas.

-Start your own blog! Most people who have one million instagram followers have probably already figured out how to channel their outward influence. But, even if you have a private blog and two followers you now have documentation of your ideas, accomplishments, and actions. This will help you feel put back together when other people want to pick off pieces of you for themselves. You can also suggest people check out your blog to reduce the day to day exhaustion of their demands.

-If the attention is really bothering you, confront the person with compassion and tell them how their behavior is uncomfortable and unwanted. A common response is to place the blame on you by trivializing your feelings. Try to keep the conversation away from literal mentions of feelings and about evidence and behavior.

-Keep people at a distance and allow them to admire you from afar. Do not divulge personal information to them, just allow them to observe from a distance. Pay close attention to warning signs that other people in the ‘competition’ category are not trying to sabotage your well being in an effort to win their own imaginary games. If you suspect this is happening, document the incidents and collect any tangible evidence then report it to management or an authority figure. Even if nothing can or will be done, performing your due diligence will always make you the bigger person.

-If all else fails, and if possible, cut that person from your life entirely. Avoid their physical presence and cease all communication. You should not be drained of your personality or sanity for the sake of someone else.

-Seek alone time to generate the things that influence other people the most. A simple example: if your clothes are always a source of envy, imitation, and competition that means you are a style influencer. So, try going shopping alone or online. This will reduce the stress of impressionable people demanding your attention, mimicking your choices, or competing with you while you shop together.

-While impressionable people may find their way to you, it is possible to make your way towards others. Try engaging with people who are completely opposite from you on the surface and you may discover you have a lot in common at the core. Your differences will allow you to bond in a deeper way because both of you have established identities and interests.

I hope this helps you understand your special place in the world!