RuPaul's Drag Race is a cultural phenomenon, and has brought many phrases that have been well-known, well-loved, and well-used into mainstream culture. These include the concept of shade, the "dip" (or death drop), and of course, "You Betta Werk". When I use the word "werk", I'm basically saying "good job". Like, if your outfit is slammin', or your latest CD is really banging, I'll say "Yass, werk bish!". Well, not always just like that, but I think you get the idea. I'm thinking about that word in a different way today, though.
Once a month at American Public Media, there's a meeting for the People of Color Employee Resource Group (or the POC-ERG). March's POC-ERG meeting took place yesterday, and although it was my day off, I've decided that this is a group I need to be as involved in as possible, despite my very rarely being in the office when anyone else is around. The group has already gone to bat for me concerning company-wide issues I've faced, and I'm fully dedicated to working with them, even while off the clock.
When I arrived, there were ONLY black and brown people in the room. As a company organization, we have to be fully inclusive, and usually there are more "allies" in the room than actual POC, so you can understand my surprise. I quickly learned that a separate (but equal [sorry, had to put it in there lol]) allies meeting had been arranged, so that we could have a space to REALLY talk...and boy did we.
The main topic was hiring - how budgets can impact the diversity of a staff. While I completely understand and agree that people move faster and more efficiently when money is involved, I was compelled to offer my on-boarding story. Long story short, my (now) manager and her boss scheduled a lunch with me when I came to Minnesota for the first time to sub with the SPCO, kept me in mind when a position came open, invited me to apply, and here I am. It wasn't an increased "diversity budget" that compelled Julie to bring me on, but a desire to offer audiences a perspective they didn't have. That's the point of diversity, right? You know, making sure that as many perspectives are showcased and considered through the work an organization does? It's a shame that money has to be put in front of people's faces to hire diverse, but I'm glad that MY department is actively making efforts to not only hire diverse, but to let the diverse hires "werk". (No shade to any other departments - I can only speak for mine).
And that brings me back to my initial point. "You Betta Werk" is in the zeitgeist at this point. That bit of diversity on a mainstream network has enriched millions, not just because of visibility, but because of what someone put in a very visible position has done! I felt this need to really "werk" after I left that POC-ERG meeting, and even more this morning when I checked my email and saw messages from young black classical musicians trying to figure it all out. It's easy to fall into the idea that being that woman, or that black guy, in a room full of other people is enough, but we have to do so much more. Today, I'm making the effort to level up and really squeeze everything I can out of my job, my platform, and my "brand". Garrett McQueen isn't the black representative of classical music by any means, but I AM the representative of my values and perspective - I'm pushing myself to really share what I have to offer. Maybe I should find a sign or poster that says "You Betta Work", post it in my bathroom, and read it as a reminder that being visible isn't enough. You have to WERK to impact!
I'm not a drag queen, nor am I a guy who bends gender norms in what I wear, but like many gays, I've dabbled. Here's a photo from Halloween 2010: