What does it mean to look professional? What does it mean to act professionally? Who decided what it means? Professionalism standards are classist and racist, rooted in an elitism that wants to keep the “right” people separate from (and hierarchically above) the “wrong” people. This elitism evaluates the way people look and act against a list of standards put in place by the white men who built our society, and we see the results in dress codes, grammar policing, and biased hiring panels. Think about it: is a Black woman wearing her hair in a natural style really inherently less professional, less good at her job than a Black woman with straightened hair? Very often her hair has nothing to do with her job duties at all, yet it is still policed and evaluated.
In a conversation I had with Derrick Reyes of Queerly Health the other day, they pointed out that terms like unpolished, unprofessional, disorganized, and “not a good culture fit” are often used to describe people with multiple marginalized identities. Just because someone doesn’t meet our expectations of what a professional looks and acts like doesn’t mean they aren’t in fact a professional.
We must do better to look past what we expect. Antiracism work requires an expansion of the imagination, a widening of the ways in which we think. Let’s free our minds a little.
© 2020 Judy Blair LLC