Racism in the workplace is alive and kicking

Microagressions… A concept I’ve been thinking about more and more in the past few weeks. Then it slapped me in the face on Thursday 17th October. Two of my colleagues were preparing for a film screening we were putting on in celebration of black history month when a more senior member of staff came over and rudely asked whether they had nothing better to do with their time. She then said “if they didn’t have enough work she’d gladly give them some” and that’s when it hit me, racism in the workplace is alive and kicking.

What I’ve come to realise, particularly in work settings, is that racism is so subtle and covert but despite this, there’s no denying it’s existence. For those of you who don’t know, a microagression is defined as an “indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group”. So, when someone tells you “you’re pretty for a black girl” MICROAGRESSION. Or asks you if “you can twerk” MICROAGRESSION. Or asks “why isn’t there a White History Month?” MICROAGRESSION. Some microagressions are even more subtle than these and can leave you wondering whether you’re just reading into things too much or overplaying the race card. Ultimately, whether intentional or not, microagressions are still a form of discrimination and need to be addressed.

Living in a mostly white area, I’ve become very accustomed to all sorts of ignorance. So much so that it’s truly become a norm for me. Generally, when something happens I brush it aside and get on with my day. But as I write this blog post, I have to ask myself, is that the best way to handle these situations? Is being “the bigger person” and tolerating ignorance the best way to invoke change? I doubt it. Since turning 25, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and one thing I’ve decided is that I will no longer tolerate crap. I will speak my mind and share my opinions, with confidence, regardless of who you are. When better to apply this decision than in situations that make me feel uncomfortable? For so long, I’ve been a people pleaser at work but enough is enough, why should we please other people to the detriment of our own comfort and dare I even say our own sanity?

This is not to say we need to pick a fight with every person that looks at us funny. The importance of knowing which battles to fight is crucial in our war against microagressions. In all honesty, I doubt calling someone out on what they’ve said (eight times out of ten) will even lead to a heated confrontation and a heated confrontation is not the intention behind calling someone out. The purpose of calling someone out is to mostly educate especially if their act was unintentional discrimination.

Work… the breeding ground for microagressions, the playground for supposedly innocuous conversations, the “champions” for diversity and inclusion. Will racism ever really end? Or will it just become more covert? Covert or not, one thing I know is that I will be more overt about where I stand on matters particularly in the workplace. It may seem like a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re the only black person in your team but I think in everything we do, we need to ask ourselves this… what legacy are we leaving behind? In 25 years’ time, when my children are working will they have to fight the same battles I’m fighting? Will they have to grit their teeth and politely laugh at the same stupid questions I laugh at? By choosing to speak up more now, I hope the answer is no… they won’t.

Paula M

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