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The Burden of "Smiling" While Black: Navigating Emotional Expectations at work as a Black Woman

It's a prevalent misconception that black women must always maintain a cheerful disposition in the workplace, as if they are not allowed to express any other emotions. This expectation, often rooted in harmful stereotypes, has created a burden that many black women have to carry, impacting their well-being and professional experiences.

The workplace should be a space where individuals feel free to express a range of emotions, just like any other human being. However, black women often find themselves contending with the pressure to continuously exude happiness, as if their natural emotions are not valid or acceptable. The "strong black woman" stereotype has played a significant role in reinforcing this harmful narrative, perpetuating the idea that black women should suppress their emotions for the comfort of others.

How many times has a black women heard

"You're not your usual happy self"

"If you are angry we need to know"

The reality is that black women, like everyone else, experience a wide spectrum of feelings. They may feel joy, sadness, anger, frustration, and everything in between. However, the expectation for them to constantly wear a smile can lead to emotional suppression and the internalisation of their true feelings. This can have profound effects on mental health and self-expression, creating a dissonance between their inner experiences and outward presentation.

Moreover, the pressure to maintain a facade of constant happiness can overshadow the professional challenges and systemic inequities that black women often face in the workplace. It can diminish the visibility of their struggles and the need for genuine support and empathy. This further exacerbates the isolation and emotional labor that black women are compelled to endure, all while striving to excel in their careers.

Being treated as if they are not allowed to have any other emotions can also reinforce feelings of invisibility and underappreciation. It communicates a dismissive attitude towards their experiences and an expectation for them to prioritise the comfort of others over their own well-being. This emotional taxation can lead to burnout and a sense of being undervalued, impacting job satisfaction and overall morale.

The path to addressing this issue involves a collective effort to dismantle the stereotypes and biases that drive these expectations. It requires creating inclusive and equitable work environments where individuals are empowered to express their authentic emotions without fear of judgment or prejudice. It entails recognising the humanity of black women in the workplace and validating their right to emotional authenticity.

Managers and colleagues have a pivotal role to play in fostering an environment where black women are not confined to a narrow definition of permissible emotions. This involves active listening, empathy, and a willingness to challenge preconceptions. It requires cultivating a culture of understanding and support, where everyone's emotional well-being is respected and valued.

Ultimately, black women should not have to bear the burden of constantly "smiling" to fit into an artificially constructed mold. We deserve the space to be authentically ourselves , to express our emotions without constraint, and to receive the same consideration and empathy afforded to their counterparts. It is through embracing genuine emotional diversity that workplaces can truly honor the richness and complexity of the human experience.

In conclusion, the expectation for black women to always be happy at work is a harmful stereotype that perpetuates emotional suppression and undermines their well-being. Creating an environment of emotional inclusivity and recognition is essential in reshaping workplace dynamics and fostering a culture of genuine empathy and support. It is time to move beyond the confines of outdated expectations and embrace the full spectrum of emotions that make us all human.


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