I haven’t always felt safe in different workplaces I’ve been in, especially as a Black woman.
I’ve often felt that at any moment, for the slightest error or mistake, I could be talked down to, infantilized, and in some cases threatened to be fired for different things I’ve seen and watched my White and or non-Black colleagues get away with without any consequences. I’ve worked in a handful of environments where I was either the only or one of very few people of color in the room, being heavily outnumbered by a majority of mainly White or non-Black groups and unfortunately experienced far too many accounts of microaggressions, racism, unfair treatment, and different attacks on my character based off of different racial stereotypes and assumptions.
I’m not making any of this up or exaggerating or imagining things, although I’ve repeatedly been told by different people I’ve worked with who don’t look like me, “Please try not to take things too personally.” But the thing is, when it comes to race, it is personal. And in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the growing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, what I want to know from different employers, businesses, and companies, big and small, is what will you do to keep your Black employees safe in light of all that is happening?
Are you listening to their concerns? Are you even thinking about their mental and physical health? Are you following up with incidents sent to your HR departments? It is long overdue. Too many workplaces have neglected to hold those in different positions of power, leadership, and influential workplace roles accountable for their poor decisions and actions regarding the well-being of their Black employees.
The amount of trauma I’ve endured and remained silent about has been difficult. Being reprimanded for the times I’ve stood up for myself, even when I’ve been afraid to, has been difficult. Listening to shared stories from some of my Black colleagues who never reported different situations that should have been reported has been concerning. And experiencing different colleagues get away with comments, insults, and bad behavior has been difficult, too.
I’ll never forget any of the thoughtless comments that have been made about the way I’ve worn my natural hair, or the time a manager insisted my attire was inappropriate because of my figure, or the time I was threatened with disciplinary action and even termination after standing up for myself for things other colleagues who didn’t look like me were getting away with. And plenty more. None of this is okay.
So where do we all go from here? For those in charge, I have some questions.
Are you all educating yourself about how you interact with your minority groups in the workplace, especially those who are Black?
Are you being genuine when issues or complaints are brought your way from these groups? Or are you being dismissive?
Are you treating all of your employees equally and hiring and promoting them fairly? Or are you concealing your biases and pretending to go along with the various non-discrimination points just for show in your company handbooks?
Do the Black employees in your place of business feel seen, heard, and valued? Or are they being mishandled, bullied, or threatened with termination if they address concerns and have only ever wanted to be treated with respect?
It’s never too late to make some changes.