She's Not Polished Enough

She's Not Polished Enough

During my second year of law school, I interviewed with multiple firms. Not to brag, but my interview skills have always been above average and, quite frankly, I met every criterion most of the firms were looking for: good class rank, GPA, diverse, sociable, etc.…except one: polished. How do I know this? I asked a trusted source at one of the firms. Initially, when I was told that I was not “polished” enough, I was so baffled as to what that meant. If you know me, you know I’m proper when necessary, intelligent, have manners, all of that; so, to hear that I wasn’t “polished” truly stunned me. Having noticed my confusion, I was told that “she’s not polished enough” means “she’s not white enough.” Once I understood that I knew exactly what they meant; I had not assimilated into white culture enough for them to “forget” I was Black. Although I was nearly the ideal candidate, they were not comfortable with me being unapologetically Black.

Growing up in a predominately Black neighborhood and attending predominately White schools, I’ve always known that I needed to be able to turn “it” off and on, “it” referring to my blackness. Turning it off meant I had to speak extremely proper, soften my tone, smile, and remove all Decatur everything. Now that I say it out loud, it really does sound ridiculous. There has always been a perception of what “acting White” looks like and that if you act White, you will be on the same playing field as them (a lie). Since I can remember, and probably you too, I was told that I needed to be twice as good as the next White kid in order to achieve the same level of success. I needed to assimilate into a White culture in order to have the same opportunities my White classmates had and to form “friendships” with my White counterparts (friendships being in quotes because how real are these friendships if you can’t be yourself). I remember trying to form these friendships at my predominately white private school, but because I was never the one here for the assimilation, high school was tough for me socially. I loved where I came from and the fact that I was everything, Black…I called out and challenged the ignorance, I got loud when I was passionate, and I refused to be “white-washed” so I could fit in. It was as if White Culture was better than Black Culture…which is hysterical in and of itself…as if White Culture wasn’t, and still isn’t, built off the appropriation of Black Culture (and every other culture these colonizers can get their hands on). And as we know, that is problematic as hell; but, I’ll save that discussion for another time. In high school, I knew the truth (the only Christopher I acknowledge is Wallace) and I wasn’t here for it. And because I wasn’t here for it, I wasn’t seen as an equal. And that has carried true even throughout my law school experience.

Law school has been life-changing, transformative, and challenging. The challenge came from not knowing what to expect because, in case you didn’t know, law school is a different type of beast. I realized that I didn’t know what real studying was (undergrad was a whole joke) and what real writing was; you would think I was new to this school thing in general. But one thing that didn’t change was how I carried myself. I clicked with who I clicked with and, for the most part, I was just there to do my work. I learned a long time ago that when you are in a predominately white atmosphere, all that’s needed is for them to feel like they know you. And that is exactly what I did, made them feel like they knew me. Let’s be honest, we all got that “9 to 5 [insert your name here]” and that “after-hours and weekend [insert your name here].” They got that “9 to 5 Sakia” and that was all they needed to know. But because they thought they knew me, they THOUGHT they knew I was just barely getting by. So, when first semester grades dropped, and I EARNED the Torts CALI Award (for my non-law school folks, the CALI Award goes to the one student who receives the highest score in the class), the whispers really started. I mean I heard everything from “she’s lying” to “our professor wouldn’t do that” (still unsure what that means. . .). And none of that even made sense because 1.) the list is published for all to see and 2.) our exams are submitted anonymously so the professor doesn’t know whose exam they’re grading. But because they thought they knew me and I didn’t act the way they presumed I should act, i.e. white enough, they didn’t see me as competition, let alone equal. Now when I earned my second CALI award (Copyrights to be specific), they could no longer say it was a fluke (White folks love thinking Black folks get lucky) and they knew the competition was real.

Throughout my life, I never acted white to please others. I have always been and will forever be an advocate for staying true to who you are. I love everything that makes me different, I embrace Black Culture unapologetically, and I never want people to “forget” that I am everything Black. With that being said, it isn’t necessary to act White to be seen as equal (because in reality, even if you act White, you’re still Black in America), but it is necessary for you to still be twice as good to get just as far as your White counterparts. I have learned that in White America, I cannot do the same thing as my White peers: get drunk at corporate functions, be loud while on the phone, show up late and leave early. . .the list goes on. But I have also learned that you don’t need to erase your blackness for the comfort of others in order to get what you have earned. Despite not being “polished” enough for some, for others I was exactly what they wanted and needed. I got a job offer from an awesome firm even AFTER I went through three different hairstyles (black weave, feed-in cornrows, and a blonde bob. . .yea I tried it lol) in the span of two months of working my summer position because I earned it. . .I was professional, did good work, diverse, sociable, and they liked me. I didn’t act white. . .I was a young Black professional who deserved a seat at the table.

7 comments

  • Raymond Elliott

    Nice read, thanks for the share…

  • Kelicia Hodges

    I love everything about this article! Having the discernment to know what you have to do versus what you do not have to conform to as a black educated student compared to your white counterparts is key! I like the fact that Sakia had a very realistic outlook on the fact that she had to go above and beyond the work that her white counterparts did in order to flourish, however, she did not suppress her “blackness” while doing so. This is a read that could possibly help some of our young, ‘melonated’, highly intelligent up and coming professionals! Spread the word! Keep it up Ms. Delaney!

  • Jasmine Cain

    This is amazing Sakia! I shared it with my entire family! This is definitely a message that needs to be shared with all of us. Especially us young professionals entering the professional world, battling internally with the increasing pressure around us to speak softer, hold back, say less. This is all of our struggle! Thank you for sharing your journey to success. #Soproud #Gogirl

  • Grace DeLaney

    Thank you for those words of wisdom, as I have said so many times I am so very very proud to know you and be a part of your family! My daughter encountered those same issues, she attended PW schools and caught flack from both sides. This is just what Jordan needs to know.

  • Mikisha J.

    Great Blog!
    Say it Loud.. I’m Black and I’m Proud.

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