My name is Laurise McMillian, and I lead R29Unbothered’s social media team. Welcome to About My Business, our brand new career column. For years, I was getting tons of DMs like “How can I negotiate my salary?,” “I don’t know how to discuss mental health with my boss,” and “Why does this white woman insist on asking me everything just because I’m Black?” This is a space to answer your questions while spilling my guts, tips and tea.
This installment of About My Business is for anyone who’s been the only Black girl at the table. As a Black editor in a predominately white industry, I’m often the only Black woman in the room. And while I’m only 26, I’ve been in the game a while. This isn’t some new realization for me. Even as an intern in 2013, I was always sticking out in photos like a sore thumb.
Not only was I aware of my “otherness” in the workplace, but I also knew that there are and have always been hella Black girls in the same position. Now that I’m grown, a bit more confident, and I have a platform, I wanted to confront this elephant in the room and have a discussion about what it’s like to navigate these spaces so I hit up my girls Nia Sioux and Teala Dunn. Dunn is an actress and lifestyle vlogger (like 3 million+ followers, yall) and Sioux, who started her career on Dance Moms, is a singer, dancer (duh!) and actress. Together, the two real-life homegirls came together to create Adulting, a new podcast from Parlay on Spotify. To be honest, the show reminded me a lot of Unbothered’s Go Off, Sis podcast. I felt that same sisterhood when I recorded season one; in fact, I believe I told them I felt like I was lowkey creepin’ in on their FaceTime conversation! They do not hold back! Both Sioux and Dunn get super vulnerable about growing up and navigating everything from breakups to awkward roommate encounters.
WORKING WITH BLACK WOMEN BE LIKE
“Exactly! It was like a FaceTime call! Like, we’re on the phone like GURLLL what happened this week! That was our goal, for people to not only relate, but to just see how easy it is to talk with each other. Teala’s like my big sister,” Sioux says of her experience working with Black with Dunn. “Our friendship is like a freaking onion,” Dunn chimes in. “There’ve been so many different layers and we’ve both gone through so many different things in each other’s lives. Nia’s seen me change friend groups and surroundings and go through so much, and people who I thought were my friends in this industry.”
I can attest, working with other Black women can be comforting on a different level. At Unbothered, I’m lucky to be surrounded by Black women and that truthfully means that I can relax and explain myself less. When you work with people who have similar or shared experiences with you, that bond just hits differently. Beautiful things happen when Black women stop seeing other Black women as competition and start seeing each other as collaborators and confidants.
“We don’t get jealous of each other, we’re not competitive in that way.” Sioux agrees. “There’s room for everyone. I always tell people this! There can be more than one Black person in a film or a movie or a TV show. And there should be!”
Working with other Black women can be therapeutic in a number of ways. It can be internally fulfilling for you and your collaborator, but also equally impactful to your audience through the lens of representation. “I think it is so important for me and Teala to do this podcast as young Black girls who talk about real issues but also just have fun. It’s important for young black girls to have a place to go to just have fun and you don’t always have to see or listen to what’s on the news,” says Sioux.
Sioux, who is 19, is hyper aware that Black girlhood is easily robbed. “You know, have fun because as a Black person, you grow up really fast, I feel like there are a lot of things as Black girls, we didn’t get to live our full childhood because you have to think about certain things,” she says. “It’s really nice to just see black girls in a positive light that are doing things they love, talking about things they love, telling our stories, sharing them. I think it’s important to have normalcy, and not for it always to be so sad, dark and tragic all the time. This is a space where you can almost forget —not forget because you’re never going to forget about it — but in a way you can get a little comfort seeing Black people who actually are happy, who believe in the same things you believe in, and stand up for change.”
While these young women are working to create spaces for Black girl joy, they know we have a long way to go. Prior to hosting their own podcast, both Sioux and Dunn recall experiencing microaggressions, belittling, and racism in a number of situations.
“I definitely had experiences, especially on set where people would just kind of brush me off because I wasn’t the white lead. I was like number seven on the call sheet or number five, but because I wasn’t the blonde haired blue eyed lead, I just got ‘oh who cares what she says’. And looking back on it now, that’s messed up, says Dunn.
Sioux nods and says, “I was young growing up on a reality show. I had a crazy dance teacher who would always put me down or say terrible things and there were so many times where I had to bite my tongue when there were things I wanted to speak out against, but I knew if I were to speak out against them it would framed in a different way and it would be me being disrespectful. So I always have to keep that in mind throughout my life and pick and choose my battles.”
Hearing this hurt my heart. How many Black women out there have been accused of being too loud, or ratchet, or disrespectful in the workplace? I know I have. I’ve also been nervous to speak up for this exact reason. “There has just been so many times where I felt like a fish out of water. I definitely got different treatment than other people because I was Black, and that definitely has affected me and I have grown from that and learned from those experiences and how to navigate through them,” Sioux continues.
“So I thought it was cool that you brought up the friend thing. I do have a lot of white friends, and I have tons of Black friends as well — a collective group — but as far as being in the industry, I’m often the only Black girl at any of the events or parties. I soon realized that I was the token Black girl. I was okay to hang out with but if it was someone else, it wouldn’t be. Or if she probably had darker skin they’d be like ‘No, she’s not cool’… that’s not okay. So I had to realize that different friendships go in and out and learn who is my real friend and who is not.”
And let’s keep it a buck: the disregard for Black women is an issue with arms, legs, teeth, allat. It’s already difficult being Black, now add being a woman and a young adult trying to navigate the world.
Sioux says, “I’ve also had experiences where, because I also think it plays into dating too, I’ve had white friends tell me, ‘You are so beautiful of course every guy wants you and I was like you don’t understand, you don’t understand. I’m Black. That’s just like another layer. Like ‘do they even like Black girls’ “are they racist?”
It’s hard, but you will lose your identity if you allow yourself to be subdued to make white people more comfortable. “I don’t care where I am, if I’m in a room full of people and they’re saying some disrespectful stuff, or if someone has said the n-word, or something when they need to be put in check, honey I will do it. Gladly!” Dunn says while laughing. “If someone disrespects you in any kind of way or makes you feel uncomfortable, I feel like it’s very important for people to know your boundaries. And to show people that you deserve to be respected, no matter who you are. A teen, a Black person, whatever. And I feel for me, that shows my adultness. I used to be such a people pleaser.”Sioux calls on the strength of her tribe to empower her. “When I got older, when I was a teenager on Dance Moms, I would speak up whenever I didn’t like something. Even in friend groups I have no problem putting someone in their place. I don’t like confrontation, but if I need to, I’m going to say something because that’s how I was raised,” she says.” “One thing my mom has taught me since I was young was to not be a doormat. My whole life [my mom has] been a strong Black woman. I have amazing strong Black women in my life who I look up to like my nana, my grandma, my aunt, my mom, Teala, I’m surrounded by a lot of powerful Black women, and they remind me to stick up for myself because everyone knows being a Black woman there have been thousands of times where people overlook you and disrespect you.”
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