May 24, 2023

Here’s Why This Black Tech Professional Created A Fake PA Named Matt

34-year-old Jamira Burley, a Strategic Initiatives Lead at Apple, has come up with a truly inventive way to navigate her career. For the past ten years, Burley has been operating with a secret weapon—a fictional personal assistant named Matt.

Creating Matt

Burley told the Business Insider that it all started when she received an email assuming that a male assistant managed her contact email. But, instead of correcting the assumption, she decided to roll with it and embraced the persona of Matt.

“Having “Matt” on my side — a person who could be a white man — made me feel more confident,” explained Burley. “Talking through a man’s voice helped me be able to ask for things I never would’ve asked for as myself.”

In a LinkedIn post, Burley explained that she grew up in poverty and constantly battled feelings of being an imposter and shame. But, the support of her mentors and her desire to contribute to her family financially pushed her to create Matt.

Matt helped me get into more rooms

Burley noticed that people take her more seriously and treat her with more respect when Matt is involved. She also found it easier to say no as Matt than as herself. She has since gone on to have an incredibly successful career, even becoming a Black Enterprise 40 Under 40 2022 honoree.

Now, Burley understands that assuming the identity of a white man, she’s essentially playing into a system that privileges certain identities. “I try to remind myself that to change the rules of the game, you have to get yourself into the room first. Matt helped me get into more rooms.”

Taking To TikTok

Burley’s TikTok about her fake assistant went viral, striking a chord with people on the platform.

“By posting [the video], I realized that many more women than I thought do the same thing I’ve done. And it’s not just women or women of color who do this — it’s disabled people or people who are a part of any minority group.”

“I did this in the 90s as a small company to seem bigger. it 100% is worth it! Phil was my other name,” commented TikTiok user ElleninFrance.

“My assistant is also named Matt! bc Matt’s not a doormat (and I am)” wrote another user, Jandra Sutton.

While several commented that they were inspired to create their own fake personal assistants, others were saddened that such actions were even necessary.

For example, user PheonixTheDream wrote “This sounds so unfair and emotionally exhausting,” while Lovecori commented, “Amazing the things that women have to do to make it work for us. Even in 2023.”

Inspired by a real Matt

Interestingly, the fictional assistant, Matt, is actually inspired by a high school friend named Matthew Zaccagni.

“He never seemed surprised when things worked out. As a white man, he moved through the world with a confidence that it seemed like he was almost born into.”

“I wanted to emulate it, so I did. He doesn’t know that I’ve been using him as inspiration for my fake assistant’s persona for more than a decade, and he won’t know until he reads this. But I think he’ll think it’s funny.”

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Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)