How to Escape the Sunken Place at Work

You are riding high on top of the world. You are successful, educated, and getting paid.

Then it hits you.

You suddenly realize there are still culturally-based barriers and hurdles to overcome in the supposedly post-racial world of ours.

You find yourself in “The Sunken Place” where you are keenly aware of what going on, but you feel powerless to stop it.

If you have seen the psychological thriller, Get Out, you understand where my analogy is going. In the movie, the trigger that took the main character to The Sunken Place was a beautiful teacup.

The little cup seemed innocent and fragile, but in the end, it was deadly to the people who were caught off guard by its power.

The workplace often provides the right environment for The Sunken Place phenomena to occur. Like the tintinnabulation of a refined silver demitasse spoon in a porcelain teacup, the policies and procedures that create disempowering barriers can permeate our places of employment.

What are the institutional triggers that can take us to The Sunken Place? The triggers often sound like this:

  • That’s not how we do it around here?
  • Why is he so angry and intimidating (especially when referring to African-American men)?
  • Well, my [insert the name of appropriate ancestor here] started this institution.
  • You just don’t understand the culture.
  • They just don’t fit in.
  • The appropriate hairstyle for this workplace is…

How do you get out of The Sunken Place and begin to thrive in settings where you may be the only black or brown person?

Break the damn teacup.

Breaking the teacup can be challenging for young professionals. But here are some practical steps you can take to escape The Sunken Place.

Know the Rules

As the old saying goes, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” There are often both written and unwritten rules in all institutions. You can’t succeed in the game if you aren’t playing according to those rules. Once you know the rules, then you can begin to use the rules to your advantage.

Find a Mentor

We all need mentors to help us get ahead. Mentors can help us avoid unseen pitfalls. They can also champion us by introducing us to the right people, vouching for us, and giving us a degree of credibility.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Do what you do best and find a solution to correct your areas of weakness. Don’t waste too much time working on your weaknesses, but find the right tool or right system so that they are not a hindrance. Spend your time being the best at what you are already good at. Often being good is not enough. Shoot for excellence.

Learn to Listen

When you are the new guy, it is always best to listen. Listen to the conversational trends. Get a feel for the deep culture of the organization, not just what is floating around at the surface. When you do speak up, make sure it counts. Consider your words carefully and be strategic with your input. No one appreciates a babbling brook unless they are fly-fishing.

Build a Support Group

Find a group of peers internal or external to the organization that can help you grow. Sometimes networking groups can open doors to other opportunities. Sometimes they help you mentally process the cultural barriers, and other times, network groups just give you a different perspective that lets you know that you are not the only one that finds The Sunken Place from time to time.

As you are well aware, Mocha Man Style is all about that life: fashion; cars; grooming; music; entertainment; travel; food; etc., but we can’t elevate the outer man if the inner man is suffering under the weight of The Sunken Place.

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