By Shun McGhee
Contributor, Career Services
If you have read any of my blog posts, you have probably discerned I love the hip-hop culture. Becoming part of this culture has been a godsend for me. It is there that I was inspired to join the civil rights movement, cut my teeth as a poet and producer, and laid the foundation for becoming my authentic self.
When I consciously embraced hip-hop culture in the 1980s, inauthenticity (also called “fronting” or sometimes “biting”) was expressly prohibited. By cultural definition, fronting is posing as someone or something you are not. It can even include saying you come from one place when your hometown is really somewhere else.
Biting is slightly different. To “bite” is to take a style someone else originated and duplicate it without giving credit to its creator. Although fronting and biting are slightly different, they can be done simultaneously.
Rachel Dolezal: An Example of Why Workplace Authenticity Is Important
These definitions of fronting and biting replay in my mind when I think about Rachel Dolezal through the contextual lens of “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Rachel Dolezal is a woman in Spokane, Washington, who became president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This civil rights organization was founded in 1909 to ensure racial equality where it was lacking. The NAACP did not require you to be black to join or to assume a leadership role.
Rachel joined the NAACP by telling its members that she was African-American. On social media, she posted pictures of a black man she claimed was her father. Rachel also wove African-textured hair into her own hair to create a more culturally congruent look. She created an entire life as an African-American woman.
This deception went on for some time until 2015, when her parents exposed her to a member of the media as Caucasian. As a result, Rachel provoked a media frenzy, which ended with her resignation as NAACP chapter president.
Some Fronting Takes Place During and After Interviews
I now realize that a certain amount of fronting accompanies navigating corporate America and ascending its ranks. For example, when I interview for a position, the cultural background of the interviewer may serve as a guide in determining the vernacular I use. I wear my best interview outfit, although I would not dress that way on a daily basis. Perhaps I take an interest in a particular sport I know members of the management team play or follow, just to extend our conversation beyond the job functions.
These interview practices are not uncommon for people in the corporate world. They are encouraged to do a bit of acting while they pursue their career goals.
Acting, or fronting, is a necessary component for building relationships and garnering the confidence of colleagues and management. The question is: When does fronting go too far and result in the loss of your workplace authenticity?
How Do You Determine If Your Workplace Authenticity Is Vanishing?
There are a lot of gray areas in determining how far is too far, but there are two red flags that can help you answer the question. First, in “playing the part,” do not put yourself in a position that can compromise your integrity and negate any portion of your previous work.
That’s what happened to Rachel. She compiled a fairly extensive resume from her work with the NAACP. But because of the discrepancies in her personal background, her integrity is now permanently in question. This negative perception of her integrity would be a problem for anyone, but it is especially difficult for someone whose work requires people to believe in them as an extension of the cause they support.
Second, always be able to recognize yourself. Even amid the acting taking place while you maneuver through corporate America, the core of who you are should remain unaltered.
Remember: When the actions you take to get ahead are not consistent with your personal beliefs and your workplace authenticity is in danger, it’s time to do some self-reflection. Losing yourself will always cost more than you could gain.