What Does it Mean to be Free as a Wakandan Professional?

Lori Clement

In this period of racial reckoning and the desire for institutions and people to become anti-racist, the Wakandan community has largely, and I believe correctly, owned that changing the systems and institutions for the better is not our work. Our people have spent hundreds of years in countless ways, big and small, educating and providing examples and asking for, and at times demanding freedom, equality and fairness. So, I agree, the systems and institutions need to repair themselves. 

Recently though, I’ve been asking myself – what should be our work? I believe our work is to live, and own, and embody being free people. And being unapologetically free. 

As a Black executive I deeply respect recently told me, “[There’s] no sense being free if we don’t use that shit!” 

The challenge, I think, for each of us is to understand what this means in all aspects of life including the professional. An, the professional is where I want to focus because professional institutions are where so many of us spend most of our time. 

I googled the definition of freedom and got this: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Some might argue that the concept of freedom is not accessible in a professional environment. And, I get it. I’ve lived this belief system having entered my professional career knowing that I needed to act and present as a different person in order to achieve success. In fact, many of the leadership development organizations and other preparatory programs out to help Black people tell us this in some form or another.

Today, our society is ‘woke’ enough to realize how Black people have been forced to subsume themselves to make white people feel comfortable. We’re at a point where society can’t unsee what it is has seen and institutions cannot undo their very public commitments and claims to do better. This very situation has created the grounds and in fact sent an invitation for each of us to claim our freedom within these spaces. 

When I googled the definition of professional, I learned it means: exhibiting a courteous, conscientious and generally businesslike manner. A quick read may make it seem like a restraint or hindrance placed upon our freedom. And yet after googling more definitions, I realize that it is merely a requirement that you be a good person in the workplace. “Good” defined as polite and honoring your commitment to do the work you were hired to do and focus primarily on that when at work. 

We can all be free to act, speak and think as we want in a professional environment so long as we are polite and we’re about the work. So, how does it look to not only be free in the workplace, but use that freedom? I don’t have clear answers but I’ve begun a list below. Some of the items listed are things I do, have always done, and some of the items are things that I feel called to step into be-ing. I expect this list will grow and evolve over time as I get more comfortable being free. You’re invited to use the list and add to it with the hopes that we can all grow from each other’s experience. 

Presenting myself authentically 

  • Wearing my hair in bantu knots or the latest Beyonce style depending on how I feel that week
  • For men, I imagine that’s getting the dope cut with the design in it (a zig zag won’t kill em)
  • Bold and bright colors 
  • Wearing cultural clothing 

Not settling for the excuse that people don’t want to hear the challenge, if I’m not also presenting a solution 

Speak my mind – straight always; 

  •  Stop giving a chaser to make offerings more palatable (a chaser’s only necessary when looking to influence; it takes the necessary sting out of good feedback) 

Stop being the space that let’s others feel comfortable for their racist yet good intentions 

Vote with my feet by choosing projects and work that align to my beliefs and values

  • Organizations are quick to put Black faces to work on projects, clients, etc. where they need to show diversity 
  • I want to be equally quick to take myself off of and avoid the projects and clients that don’t support/value my people or align with my values 
  • No longer allowing a workplace or team to dictate what my beliefs or values should be and instead work to influence the workplace or teams to adopt my values 

No longer taking responsibility for other people’s feelings and comfort

  • No longer making any adjustments whether to facial or other type of expression to reduce the level of perceived threat I may impose 
  • Speaking with excitement if I’m excited and not being concerned that my energy is alarming or ‘unprofessional’ or perceived as ‘angry’ 

No longer letting things slide 

  • Any type of slight is addressed with a swift rebuttal 
  • The right people are aware of the conflict 
  • If I know someone is biased against me, I make sure they have no role in my review/evaluation
  • Demand respect in all instances and quarters

 Play them with the office politics. 

  • Their tool (politics) is my tool 
  • Enlist allies early and build relationships 
  • Leverage them for support with conflicts and to share the gospel of my good work 
  • Be my own politician and ensure my viewpoint and successes are widely known 

Be “extra” Black when I’m the token

  • Feeling comfortable being the dissenting voice and presenting the opposing viewpoint 
  • Knowing it’s not about ruffling feathers, it’s about making the team better

Lori is an executive recruiter, children’s book author and a Mom and wife. She’s got a loud, infectious laugh, welcoming vibes for all, and many opinions, which she only shares with a few.  Positivity, hope and fun are her hallmarks.