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  • Writer's pictureSas Miller

Black Woman Navigating Self-Employment: Don’t Become Your Own Barrier

In April 2022, I walked away from full-time employment with no job or job prospects lined up.  While self-employment had been a long-term goal of mine in moving to Canada, the circumstances that precipitated it weren’t the expected impetus. My decision was made after 6 months of increasing microaggressions at my job, which led me to resign as a matter of self-preservation. “My peace is paramount” was the reasoning I gave to a Supervisor, because I figured, at least if I’m my own boss, the only person who can disturb my peace is me.

Getting Started

I was already prepared for the bureaucratic difficulties of starting an audiovisual business from scratch and building a client base. In 2020, I’d slowly began investing in equipment, and in August 2022, I bought a production sound kit to signal to myself and the Universe that I was serious about my decision. The biggest opportunity so far came from my first professional short film production from July 2023 - January 2024. 

The first day on set was nerve wracking, as I was the sole Black person in the crew. I felt the weight of the task ahead, for not only would my performance reflect on me, but every other Black person who might want to do sound in the future.

It was my first time working with crew members who have union credentials, and as part of a post-production pipeline. It wasn’t until I received the Crew Sheet that I realised I was department head for Sound, and was responsible for setting the call time for myself and my Boom Operator. The first day on set was nerve wracking, as I was the sole Black person in the crew. I felt the weight of the task ahead, for not only would my performance reflect on me, but every other Black person who might want to do sound in the future. Not only were my skills tested, but my diplomacy as well. When my Boom Operator overstepped his role twice by telling me where I should stand, I quickly realised that I had to be more assertive and less amiable in our interactions, even if it meant being perceived as The Angry Black Woman.

Lessons from the Journey So Far…

In navigating the field of audio as both a woman and a Black person, imposter syndrome is an omnipresent voice in my head. This led to my biggest epiphany so far: sometimes the obstacle isn’t the world, but me

My number one piece of advice to other Black and POC individuals is, don’t suffer in silence. Ask for support and give others a chance to follow through. The most surprising part of my production experience was how much people were willing to help. Vulnerability is not something that I’m used to expressing, but after literally worrying myself sick, I had no choice but to reach out. When I made mistakes or asked for assistance, people provided constructive, non-judgmental feedback. I felt relieved that I could make mistakes without fear of losing my role, and grateful to have room to be human instead of perfect. In the end, I walked away from the experience feeling empowered as an audio professional, established new connections, and proud of the personal and professional strides I made. Filmmaking is naturally a collaborative process and I feel extremely blessed to have had such a positive experience on my first major production. 

How can companies and organisations be better accomplices to their racialized employees?

Provide meaningful support. Many companies are quick to advertise their DEI initiatives and desire to recruit diverse employees, but that’s where their commitment to racialised employees ends. In a post-2020 labour landscape where diverse hiring became a trend, companies were quick to hire POC individuals, without thought or care for how to create safe, welcoming and supportive work environments for these employees. 

The experience of eunice bélidor (who does not use capital letters in her name), who was hired as the first Black Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2021, is a prime example of the harm that’s done by this kind of disingenuous hiring practice. bélidor resigned from her role at the museum in less than 2 years citing:

“Institutions don’t care about Black employees’ well-being… I was the Black Lives Matter hire, but Black Lives do not matter at institutions. The only thing that matters is money and power. Institutions don’t want to make changes. They just want it to look like they’re making changes…”

When asked what the MMFA could have done to make her more comfortable, bélidor responded: “It isn’t a matter of being comfortable; it is a matter of being respected, valued and supported.”

Support can look like:

  • Building anti-racist structures and systems of support that don't use cis, white men as a baseline, but is created by and for BIPOC humans, taking into account their experiences, their history in workplaces like yours;

  • Holding space for employees to express themselves and actively listening to their needs and mobilising to respond to their requests.

  • Implementing training and onboarding structures that support employee integration into their role and the workplace.

  • Providing the proper tools, manuals and setting clear expectations in the performance guidelines for employees to understand and be able to meet their defined job duties.

  • Internal reviews of policies, practices and behaviours that cause the high turnover of racialized employees : What is missing HERE? What are WE doing wrong?


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