A few days ago I was checking Facebook when the image above popped up on my feed which said:
Professionalism is coded white supremacy
And I had to stop and read it twice. What does it mean to be a professional?
I often hear the words “be a professional” used to say that I, or those I work with, should be putting our best feet forward, not being petty, being responsible, and being good to work with. But is that all that statement means?
In many work or educational environments, the term “professionalism” is also used to dismiss concerns. So bringing up issues related to gender, sexuality, or racial inequality often is seen as being “unprofessional” to those in charge. Responding to concerns with “be a professional” is a quick way to dismiss those with less privilege.
Professionalism also implies that there is a clear way to act and way not to act, but if someone grew up in an environment with less opportunities, how would they know the difference? In my own life, I’ve been lectured many times about “professionalism” without truly being told what that entails.
But back to the quote: “Professionalism is coded white supremacy.” Who decides what is and is not professional? Well, as of 2011, 74.4% of corporate directors were white males, with another 13.3% being white females. This means that only 12.3% of corporate directors in America were people of color. By these standards, that quote seems a little more relevant.
In my opinion, asking others to be more professional in work or educational environments is fine. But what’s not okay is using professionalism as an excuse for not hearing out issues. Take action, listen to others, and remember to check your privilege.