The Hard Conversation of Race in the Workplace: Striving to be Anti-Racist
I hate talking about race at the workplace. I do not even want to utter the word “Black” even though I know I am. I don’t even want to mention (and I whisper) the word “racism.” The accepted term is “microaggression.” This term makes people more comfortable in debating what is racist act or not. We can have this conversation about race without actually making anyone think that they are a racist or perpetuating a racist policy. So, “microaggression” is the term, and “racist” is not.
Then, we witnessed one after the other Black woman and Black man being killed by cops that was just “a shame” in many eyes, but the dialogue was “what did he/she do.” At work, I don’t even want to have this conversation on police brutality, until one day, a meeting on understanding microaggression led to a conversation on how Blacks do not always see the police as a point of refuge. Then, one lady said, “everyone has been stopped by the cops,” as she giggled because “everyone has a fear of being stopped.” For once, I spoke up in a wavering voice, and explained that “this is not funny.” I looked her in the eye, and I explained that “I drive with a purchase receipt in the car because as a recent college graduate, I had the cops follow me home for a week to have a spotlight on my car to look in my car for hours every night. Years later, I had a police officer who told me that I didn’t produce a purchase receipt then it will be towed. He didn’t run the VIN to see that it was registered in my name. Even in a different car, as a professor on campus, the sheriff stopped me to just have a list of the people who drive my car. My husband doesn’t even drive the luxury car anymore because he is pulled over on a monthly basis and the car is searched each time.” With a tear in my eye, “this is not funny to me. It is my life. My husband’s life. My kid’s lives.”
She was quiet. Then, she attempted to defend herself by saying that “I didn’t mean it to be disrespectful.” I stopped listening because, really, what is the point? The facilitator went to a break. Cool. This is why I don’t like to talk about race at work. I rather ignore it.
Then, finally people woke up, and the Black Lives Matter movement hit mainstream. Like, now all of a sudden, Black Lives Matter. I was watching the protests, as I was watching Season Two of The Good Fight, and this is exactly the point. Do you really want to talk about race at work? Once you start, then you will realize that you may be a racist and perpetuating racist policies. The very people who do not see color are in fact seeing so much color that is strangely missing from the workplace. Why? Because you don’t hire Black people. In fact, you hire the token, and then expect them to just deal with being on this island alone in the workplace. This token Black person doesn’t talk about race, just like me. Yet, we see race and we see the racist policies, but we are so tired that we use our intellect to fight off racist policies as much as we can.
Yet, this Black Lives Matter protest is finally causing a revolution, and it is forcing us to replace the word “microaggression” with “racist.” So, let me ask, how are you, and even I, moving to become an anti-racist?