Legal Practice,  Work Life Balance

Cultural Conflict: Finding the Balance between Keeping it Real and Selling Out

One of the my favorite IG pics is Kermit, reminding us that we can all turn hood if we need to—and even for those of us that didn’t grow up “hood,” as people of color, we code-switch all the time. When we decide to play the game of being an attorney/joining a professional field we have to take stock of what it takes to be successful in that field and decide whether or not to assimilate to those standards.

B9oCfdwCUAAS49m.png largeSpeaking quietly, acting obedient, dressing modestly, and doing everything possible to not seem Brown is expected in seemingly all areas—even wine trains; but especially in the legal field.

For example, I am a fast talker and I talk with my hands (Hi, I’m Mexican). I would get so much crap in school about that. A judge even told me to talk like I was from Alabama as a helpful tip. Lol ok.

So I invested a lot of time to train myself to speak at a pace that the professional world seems to accept. I trained myself to use my hands less and less because that is supposedly more persuasive.

For those of us that have a real connection with our cultural identity it can be really difficult, and sometimes it can feel like a betrayal to who we are, when we force ourselves to change. We’ve spoken before about the conflict that comes with Looking Latina and feeling the need to chance our appearance, but what about the conflict that arises when we have to change our personality/behaviors?


Speaking loudly and fast is such a part of my family identity. We have great times together and that happens because we’re all participating, sharing, laughing, and exclaiming with one another. This is how many of us are taught to communicate. Yet, that behavior doesn’t translate into legal field. In the professional world, we’re expected to be nice & quiet.

There is a school of thought that says we shouldn’t have to assimilate. We should be able to be our natural selves, because the standard set by the status quo of what is professional is molded off of people that don’t generally look or act like us. So when we say talking loud/fast isn’t professional—we’re also saying it’s not acceptable behavior because it’s not the way current people in power behave. And when you think about it like that—it’s a hella bogus standard.

But how many of us have enough power at this point in our careers to actually say, I’m going to do me, regardless of the results? Most of us can’t do that—I can’t do that. If I want to progress, I have to play the game—as annoying, eurocentric, and unfair the game may be.

Instead, what I do to balance the feeling of “selling out” versus dealing with the consequences of “keeping it real” is to draw a line and decide what’s most important. For me, that means I’ve stopped trying to look a certain way. If my hair seems “wild” to someone, that’s on them because my natural curly hair is just as professional as a straight blonde hair.

But I do change my behavior depending on the group–the larger the group of white folks the more I abide by the standards set because I’m not trying to get singled out as The One Who Can’t Behave or worse, The Sassy One, #nothereforthat.

Others may assimilate easily or argue that the rules are the rules and we should just follow them to get ahead. But It’s important to do everything with an understanding of why. Why do I feel the need to dress this way? To change my speaking patterns? To change my looks? Because once we understand why we’re pulled to do something we can actively decide if we want to do it. And this isn’t an all or nothing decision, we can decide what things to abide by and what to ignore. We can also chip away against rules that say our natural way of being and looking isn’t professional.

As we increase our representation in this profession the ideas of what’s good and bad will slowly change as well—that’s what gives me relief and why I feel ok with altering my behavior because I know that once I do gain some power, I’ll be able to help change the standard.

Do you keep it real at work or do you try to be as “professional” as possible?

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