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  • Writer's pictureSharRon Jamison

Pretending is Not Self-Protection; It’s Problem-Perpetuation

Some people love to pretend. They like to act as if they are not hurting, not offended, or if they aren’t suffering. They love pretending, and they expect you to pretend with them.


But pretending does not protect us from our internal demons, inner critics, and inner hatred. Pretending does not protect us from our past, our pain, and our pathology. Pretending does not protect us from external insults, social injustice, and political intimidation.


No, pretending only ensures that our personal and public issues continue to create chaos in our lives and in our communities.


I had to learn the hard way that pretending only traps you into cycles of self-sabotage, self-loathing, and self-minimizing. How do I know? Because throughout my career in corporate America, I did a lot of pretending and one of my best pretending performances occurred early in my career. It’s sad to say, but I pretended so well that I could have won an Academy Award for Best Actress Of The Year.


Here is what happened.



Pretending is Not Self-Protection; It’s Problem-Perpetuation

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After a successful year of sales performance, I interviewed for a job that I felt confident about

getting; however, I didn’t get it. When my sales director asked me if I was upset about not getting the promotion, I did what was acceptable in that corporate culture. I gave a politically correct response; I told them what they wanted to hear. I said, “I am fine, and I am happy for the person who got the job.” I gave an obligatory smile and feigned graciousness. Even though most people and I believed that I was the most qualified for the position, I pretended to be unbothered by the glaring slight. What I didn’t share was that the interview for the promotion

shattered my confidence, undermined my humanity, and made me question my self-worth.


That interview experience was something that I will never forget. As soon as I entered the room to interview, I sensed that I was in trouble. From the look on the hiring manager’s face, it was

obvious that he had limited experience and had little interaction with women and people of color. He appeared disgusted or insulted that I was even in the room. Trust me, his caustic reaction was one that I was very familiar with. I had frequently experienced racism and sexism, and so his obvious disdain for me was not new for me. I wasn’t shaken by his ignorance, arrogance, and his thinly veiled hostility. I was accustomed to swimming in toxic water with vicious sharks.


During the interview, his questions were humiliating, offensive, and totally rude. When he used improper English and bragged about having Black friends, knowing how to speak “jive” (his words), and about being cool, I was floored. When he asked me why a smart “gal” would attend a black college, I was mortified. I could not believe that such a biased manager was interviewing me for a corporate position. I had to bite my lip to contain my anger, conceal my exasperation, and to control my tears. Moreover, I could not believe that none of the other interviewers tried to intervene to stop the bigoted tirade. The degrading questioning continued, and I was humiliated. I felt publicly demeaned, and as if the entire room was laughing at me. Maybe the hiring manager was trying to put me back in “my place,” who knows? All I knew was that I was furious, shocked, and outraged. I wanted to cry, cuss, and cut all at the same time. I thought to myself, is this really happening?


For years that interview experience haunted me, and I could not shake the feelings of embarrassment and shame. Public humiliation and degradation are hard pills to swallow, especially since I felt that I was already selling my soul by constantly censoring myself to fit in. I was already paying a high admission price to have a little, broken, invisible chair at the corporate table. I already endured gut-wrenching slights and endless microaggressions in order to climb a rickety corporate ladder. I paid with the gradual erosion of my self-worth, self-esteem, and self-respect. I paid with the constant destruction of my identity, the subtle and not-so-subtle assaults on my personhood, and the pervasive atmosphere of contempt. I paid by the need to be hypervigilant and by being on constant surveillance, which filled me with endless anxiety and extreme paranoia. I paid with public, plastered smiles and endless code-switching that made

me feel schizophrenic and confused.


I paid dearly.


Yes, the corporate jungle was treacherous. The constant racial slurs, the continuous stereotypical tropes, and the persistent gaslighting were relentless, and nothing in my experience prepared me for such vicious, unprovoked attacks.


I was at a loss.


I didn’t know what to do. I had no allies. Nobody was willing to jeopardize their corporate career to help me or even stand up for what was moral and equitable. No one would admit that the

mistreatment and misogyny that I endured were even unethical, illegal, and downright disgusting. Nobody said a mumbling word. I was on my own, and I had to find a way to protect and heal my bruised soul while still producing at a higher level than my white peers. Most of all, I had to find a way to hide and contain my rage that was simmering and threatening to explode

at the most inopportune times.


The only way I knew to survive was to pretend that I was unfazed and unbothered; I had to emotionally detach from the environment and from my truth. I had to feign amnesia and willfully act as if I didn’t know that fairness was just an illusion. I had to pretend as if senior management was fair, inclusive, and welcoming. I had to imagine that the men who witnessed the degrading interview forgot and respected me as a professional. I had to fantasize that there were no glass ceilings or institutional barriers for women, especially Black women. I had to convince myself that the toxic environment was healthy, equitable, and nurturing. I had to persuade myself that I wasn’t constantly tokenized, trivialized, and traumatized. I had to make believe that the daily humiliating interactions didn’t erode my confidence or my self-respect. I had to pretend that my colleagues accidentally forgot to invite me to dinner, forgot how

to pronounce my name, and forgot to inform me about meetings. I had to pretend that oversights were not deliberate, malicious, and strategic. I had to make-believe that stealing my ideas was an alternative form of acceptance, validation, and collaboration. I had to pretend that my performance evaluations were fair, that developmental opportunities were equally distributed, and that nepotism didn’t exist.


I had to pretend to survive.


I always pretended, but one day I could not fake anymore because I was too broken and devastated. I was emotionally whipped, spiritually fatigued, and slowly sinking into depression. I was sick of all the compromises and concessions that left me distraught and perpetually embarrassed. I grew tired of smiling to hide my tears, laughing at insulting jokes to appear less threatening, and listening to KKK-like rhetoric that undermined my dignity. I was weary of the affirmative action tirades and “I can’t find qualified people” conversations aimed to invalidate the talents, diminish the education, and discount the contributions of Black people. I grew disgusted by the sexual innuendos that made me feel dirty, fetishized, and just plain yucky. I was tired of dodging political bullets, removing political knives from my back, and accommodating racist attitudes. I was so drained by the non-stop abuse that suicidal thoughts gripped me and daily called my name.


Thankfully, I had enough sense to recognize that I was at a tipping point and was able to put my joy-sucking job in perspective enough to regain my agency and sanity. I told myself, “You can get another job. But you can’t forget who you are. You are not a rug for people to walk on. You are God’s child! You deserve better.” My soul had to convince me of something that my mind no longer believed because my colleagues’ toxic words and assessments of my worth felt truer than the word of God. I was dying.


Why would I pretend for so long? I am always asked that question, which honestly makes me feel small, inadequate, and ashamed. But, I have to speak out because there are many women of color who have also been shamed by their experiences in corporate America. There are other women who have been bullied and then blamed for the abuse they have suffered. There are other women who have been exploited to satisfy diversity initiatives but then vilified for wanting to speak and participate in meetings. There are other women who wanted to admit that corporate life felt like solitary confinement or a spiritual black hole but knew that their cries for empathy and help would be ignored. There are other powerful women who could not speak out because their families and communities depended on their salaries for food, shelter, and health care. There are other women who wanted to tell the truth but feared being ostracized and being kicked out of the very boardrooms that they suffered, sacrificed, and struggled to get into.


And since they can’t speak out, I will.


Despite the stigma, the judgment, and the “why didn’t you just leave” comments that fail to acknowledge the painful conundrums for women of color in corporate settings, I will tell the truth. I will share my truth and the truth of other powerful women who continue to be freedom fighters in corporate boardrooms and on corporate battlefields even today.


So, why did I pretend?


First, I pretended because the truth of how I was being treated was hard to accept, and I was embarrassed that I endured it and embarrassed that I allowed it. I pretended to protect myself

from the judgment of my loved ones because my friends and family thought I had “made it,” and I didn’t want to lose their respect. I pretended because I was making more money than my parents combined and didn’t believe that I could generate the same level of income in another industry. I pretended because I was socialized to tolerate injustice and expect discrimination, and as a result, I had a high “take shit” threshold. I pretended because I knew that systemic oppression was woven into the hearts, minds, and visions of most employers, and that injustice was the norm. I pretended because most companies didn’t hire many people of color, and I knew that the “last hired and first fired” policy was prevalent and practiced throughout the industry. I pretended because I was warned as a child that being talented and educated would not insulate me from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. I pretended because I was socialized to live, accept, and navigate in racially unsafe environments. I pretended because I didn’t trust human resources and leadership to hear me, help me, or support me. I pretended because navigating power dynamics and engaging in political gymnastics left me feeling worthless and impotent. I pretended for years because I felt that I didn’t have a choice.


The truth is – I overestimated my emotional ability and my capacity to withstand the barrage of constant insults, racial slurs, and unfair marginalization. I actually thought I could quiet and pacify the internal demons that harassed me and further shamed me when I failed to advocate for myself. I also underestimated how destructive and disorientating racism was on my mind,

body, and soul.


I hate to admit it, but for years, I pretended. But none of my pretending worked, and all I did was ache inside. And my pretending gave several biased managers ample opportunity to severely wound and traumatize other women and people of color for decades to come.


Thankfully, I no longer pretend. I now accept that I have a moral obligation to challenge injustice, biased policies, and oppressive behavior. I now affirm that I have a spiritual responsibility to challenge comments that demean and degrade me and others. I no longer pretend that systemic, historical, and corporate trauma don’t exist and don’t affect me or you. I no longer pretend that radical change and real progress will happen organically. I no longer pretend that controversy and agitation are bad words. I no longer pretend; I participate and I disrupt peace to promote change. If something violates my humanity and the humanity of others, I attempt to fix it, heal it, share it, protest it, finance it, talk about it, and garner support for it because pretending only results in problem perpetuation, not problem cessation. Now when I see a good fight for justice, I jump in it. I launch forward fortified by God’s word and God’s

promise for liberation and justice.


So, when you are hurting, face the problem, and fix it. Even if you need to maneuver politically, confront your fear, and conquer it. If you have a divergent opinion, own your perspective, and speak it. If something is not working, identify the cycle and break it. If somebody is unfairly labeling you, dismiss the label and discard it. If something is threatening your self-worth, acknowledge it, and address it. If people are not listening, amplify your voice and repeat it. If the problem is too big for you, find support and attack it.


Don’t pretend.



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I had to learn the hard way that pretending that a problem does not exist will not make the problem go away. Pretending only guarantees that the problem persists, and ensures that biased policies, inequities, and violence will continue to hurt us, all of us, for generations to come.


My friend, don’t pretend because you deserve better! You deserve to speak your truth without fear and retaliation. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. You deserve to be protected and supported. You deserve access and fairness. You deserve justice!


So, what do you do now? First, forgive yourself and be proud that you survived the experience and can share your story to help others. Secondly, release any shame that you feel about not

speaking up. Systematic oppression was and still is a formidable opponent; you didn’t create it and you could not have single handedly dismantled it even if you had reported the abuse. Next,

forge a new path with the wisdom and strength you gained. You now have additional knowledge and insight that can help you navigate in new places and in more strategic ways. With that new understanding, you can reclaim your true identity and effectively mobilize, collaborate, and agitate for change. Finally, pursue your purpose. Regain your joy and passion by doing what

God has called you to do.


Sis, (and Brother too), you don’t have to pretend anymore because you have everything you need to win in life. You are gifted. You are anointed. You are loved. You are worthy. You

don’t have to surrender your soul by pretending to be less than you are and less than God created you to be.


Are you ready? The world is waiting for you, and so am I. It’s purpose time!





SharRon Jamison is a life strategist, minister, author, and corporate leader who helps people BE who they were born to be, so they will never settle for what society has told them to be. You can sign-up to receive weekly information at solo.to/sharronjamison. 








 

Article originally published in the pages of SOULACY



SOULACY is a monthly digital and print entrepreneur lifestyle magazine and community. Here at SOULACY, we're creating an empowered, diverse, safe, non-performative, and purposeful environment for women. SOULACY editorials focus on purpose-led entrepreneurship, leadership, generating more wealth, personal and business growth, aligned strategies, equity and diversity, wellness and mindset, creating a legacy, and more, written by a global community of women entrepreneurs.


Find out more and subscribe at soulacymagazine.com 


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