Have you ever sat at a table or in a classroom, looked around and noticed you are the only woman or person of color? I’m sorry, because then you also know what it feels like to have the weight of your entire community resting on your shoulders on top of the pressure to represent them in a decent way. As if life wasn’t hard enough without that! Did you know there is actually a term for this? Cultural taxation is what describes this situation, where you are expected to act as a diversity consultant on all sorts of matters that go way beyond the role you were hired to do. It goes without saying that cultural taxation is never rewarded with a promotion or pay rise, despite the extra time and effort it requires.
It does make me wonder, when I find myself in situations like these which unfortunately still seem to happen one too many times, why am I the only one here? What is it about me that made the HR or board decide to offer someone like me a seat at that table? Is it my education and experience? Is it luck? Or dare I go there, is it because of a quota…
Being the only representative of your community is also known as tokenism. Firstly, you are welcomed with open arms into an organisation that is proud to present you, a person of color, as an addition to their white team. However, as soon as you start speaking up about micro-aggressions or even bullying you are suddenly the problem and become the villain of the story. Unfortunately, this happens so often that we have normalised it, people of colour are forced to leave their jobs as they no longer feel comfortable and have to tend to wounds caused by this toxic behaviour that damages self-esteem and self-worth.
After all these years I still have not made up my mind about the diversity quotas that companies, organisations, and schools must live up to. Yes, everyone deserves a chance, so it is good that special attention is given to those that belong to groups that are less likely to be given those chances. Yet, it is cringeworthy to think that the only reason you are accepted/hired is because you are a number that contributes towards reaching the diversity quota in order to avoid fines, sanctions or bad publicity.
The first time I was made aware of this dilemma was during an episode of Ugly Betty, where Betty was offered a dream job only because she’s a Latina. I vaguely remember that this caused some heated discussions in her family and that Betty, despite her family’s advice took the job. Betty’s point was fair, she didn’t care how she got in as long as she did. Her talent and dedication would speak for itself.
Although I really agree with this point of view that we should be given an opportunity, the motive behind it just doesn’t sit right with me. It makes me look back at every job or opportunity I have had in the past. As a Dutch-born woman with a Surinamese background I am quite the deceiving candidate. Especially back in the day before it was the norm to add a picture to your CV. Without a picture of me, my birthplace and full name do not necessarily give away my cultural heritage. Now that I think about it, this has most likely worked in my favour many times, as I was able to land jobs very easily.
Obviously now that pictures are the norm, I have included one on my CV too, curly hair and all! I am proud of who I am and am not going to change or hide aspects of myself that show my heritage. The only problem is that when I do apply for jobs, I receive a lot less interview invitations. Mind you that I am in marketing and communications, so not a stuffy work field full of old men at all! You’d think the creative industries are much more open-minded but unfortunately that’s not the case.
During my job hunts I have seen agency after agency proudly present their team online of all white employees. When I see that I honestly don’t know what to think. Do they not care about the diversity quotas? Are they against hiring people because of their ethnicity or gender? But then why have they been unsuccessful at hiring diverse candidates, seeing as talent knows no race or gender. I understand that there are multiple factors that influence a decision like this, but I do think that a lot can be improved. If we start by making all people feel comfortable when applying for something by including inclusive language and images and by posting vacancies or advertisements on platforms with diverse audiences, your pool of candidates will also become more diverse. Ultimately that should lead to a more diverse workplace or classroom, without having to let race or gender to the talking.