Most people have a vision of what being professional is, the attire, and the image that accompanies the designation. Once upon a time, it meant skirts only for women, and tailored suits and ties for men. Interoffice relations included the unspoken but enforced in-office rule was to always smile and be pleasant, and avoid any controversial topics like race, religion, and finances.
As the workplace evolved, so did the definition of professional attire and image. Business casual was acceptable with a more relaxed dress code and more casual banter. But the definition of “professionalism” remained the same for people in marginalized groups. For Black women it meant making sure our hair was straight, no natural hair or protective styles. Our outfits had not one blemish or wrinkle, and personal topics were avoided. One slight misstep would render that “professional” label null and void. The norms of the workplace may have relaxed, but we could not.
Then came the rise of tech, and the new mantra of “bring your whole self to work,” where seemingly anything goes. Jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops replaced khakis and button downs with loafers. This casualness extended to conversations, both in office and online. For some, previously off limits topics were “teachable moments.” But these good intentions were disguising Pandora’s box. Those teachable moments often came at the expense of people in marginalized groups who had to do the teaching, often reluctantly, because there is nothing worse than being a token, except being seen as a token who is always harping about being a token.