In part 1 of ‘racism in the workplace is alive and kicking’ , Paula went into detail about a racist incident at work. I was going to call this an ‘unfortunate incident’, but will refer to it as a racist incident, because that’s what it was in my opinion – I said what I said.
Reading Paula’s post had me reflecting on my experiences at work, which have generally been good, or so I thought. Although I have never had to deal with overt racism at work, there’s been micro-aggressions here and there.
When Beyonce was due to perform in 2016 at the 02 in London, a colleague completely out the blue said to me ‘I bet you’re going to see Beyonce?” For some odd reason, she felt she had the psychic ability to know this. Since the album B-Day came out back in 2006 which I loved, I’m fairly indifferent about Beyonce. I asked her outright if she assumed I’d be seeing Beyonce because I was black. She stammered, turned red and feebly mumbled something about thinking I’d like her music. I told her I have nothing against Beyonce, but I’m not a die-hard fan. Others in the group giggled whilst I rolled my eyes and the topic was quickly changed. Microagression? Tick.
Back in June 2016, which now feels like a lifetime ago when the Brexit referendum result was announced with Leave winning the vote, a group of us were discussing the outcome of the vote with one of the executive directors of the firm. Completely out of the blue, one of the colleagues stated ‘Lola’s first question was will there still be Nandos?‘. I couldn’t believe she said something so crass in front of the executive director who leads our team. I thought back to when we’d all been joking about the Brexit result a couple of days back and discussing ridiculous comments we’d seen on social media about people needing visas to go abroad as soon as the result was announced and Nandos being closed down. For some odd reason, she felt the need to link the Nandos comment to me only and bring it up as a ‘joke’. We all know about the outdated stereotype regarding black people and chicken, and if you don’t you can read more about it in this article Let’s Talk “Knife Free” Chicken Boxes. I told her ‘no that’s not what I said’ but she just laughed’. Microaggression? Tick.
My 22 year old self brushed it off and didn’t want to make a scene in front of the executive director, but my current 25 year old self wouldn’t stand for it. If people want to behave like children at work and make ignorant comments, then I will treat them like the children they are and address the ignorance.
Which leads me to wonder if I constantly need to be mentally prepared for these sorts of incidents, so that when they do happen I’m not blustered and shocked, but have a direct response up my sleeve. It’s unfortunate to have to feel like I need to be on alert, but I’d rather be on guard than let these microaggressions slide.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I do find myself still walking on eggshells at times, particularly to avoid the ‘angry black woman’ trap. So what next? Well, my reflection left me feeling somewhat positive, although the incidents above are frustrating, since starting work in 2016 I’m happy there’s less than five incidents that I can recall. I’ve also come to realise that nipping things in the bud early is key, whichever space you’re in, once you make it clear you’re not on board for ‘race banter’ and will happily call people out for ignorant (this includes deliberately ignorant) comments, the incidents will decrease. As a result of speaking out, people may attempt to make you feel like a ‘killjoy with no sense of humour’ or someone ‘playing the race card‘, but don’t feel coerced into going along with ‘race banter’, unless you really do find someone consistently making you the butt of jokes, because you’re black, funny. If you do find this funny, I’d recommend doing some self-reflection and reading up on an earlier article I posted about self-hate issues within the black community.