I can hear the new intern being led down the line of cubicles, introduced to each team member by name before she gets to me.
“And this is Necewrldpeace — but we call her sassy…”
In the short year that I’ve worked for this company, I’ve somehow earned the nickname “sassy”. It’s not all of my co-workers that refer to me as such, actually only a couple. I’m not sure if it’s my signature big hair that people can’t get enough of, my fashion forward work attire, or the mere fact that I’m a Black woman and although I speak properly, pronouncing all of my -ing’s and -y’s, there is a certain Black girl nuance in my voice that I don’t bother to mask for the workplace. I don’t stand with my hands on my hips, nor do I roll my neck or my eyes in disagreement to anything. So I’m not quite sure what it is about me that screams sass. Is is my quiet confidence? The subtle hair-flips? The audacity of my hips to sway when I walk? If that’s what you call sassy then fine. I’ll be that.
But, if you consult my close group of friends, while sassy may be in the mix of adjectives somewhere, it’s definitely not the first descriptor that comes to mind when you think of me. Goofy? Yes. Cynical? Yes. Sarcastic? Yes. Corny? Debatable.
I get the impression that “sassy” is a term of endearment here, but every so often it still rubs me the wrong way. There is a long-standing complexity existing in the thin line between “sassy black girl”, and angry, confrontational black woman–even more so when it comes from people who don’t look like you. Sass is acceptable and cute when it’s all about the way I dress, the way I walk, and the way I style my hair. The thing is, it gets complicated when the “sassy” black girl begins to open her mouth — when it becomes deeper than the physical being. She becomes a threat. To what? Patriarchy? Whiteness? Corporate America? I don’t know.
What I do know, is what was once just a cute little word, becomes a guided missile aimed at my character. I don’t want to be associated with sass and attitude, because I have a lot more to offer, than a “ki-ki”and some cute shoes, and especially since there are two co-workers who, off the top of my head would go before me on the sassy scale, yet are never met with such a vivid descriptor. One, an older charming southern belle with impeccable style, quick wit, and almost always includes the word honey in a sentence, no matter who she’s speaking to. The other, a fiery red-head from up north who you can usually hear from a mile away, either yelling to (not at) her subordinates from her office, or cursing someone out–most likely a media representative from a local news outlet.
Then there’s little old me. I say good morning to everyone passing by, I keep a smile on my face, and more often than not, I am seen more than I’m heard. How these two got passed up when they were handing out the sassy moniker is beyond me. Wait…no it’s not. Because I’m the Black girl. I’m expected to roll my neck and suck my teeth at the first sign of irritation. I’m supposed to put my co-workers “in-check”. I’m supposed to be sassy…even if I’m not.