Monday, August 28, 2006


Shut up about the fact that you’re “playing the game!” If you choose to get involved in office intrigue (a.k.a. playing the game), understand confidentiality. There’s nothing worse than someone who is playing politics, yet they won’t shut up about their every maneuver. If you choose to engage in office shenanigans, be discreet. Don’t talk about what you and so-and-so are up to. Know the real strength of your allies. Don’t get suckered into an allegiance/game with someone whose power turns out to be only in their head. Decide what your goals are and what you want to achieve. More importantly, know what rules govern the game you think you’re playing. Even more importantly, know under what circumstances the House will win. WARNING: The deck is always stacked in the House’s favor. If you don’t control the game, you control nothing.

Protection Against Retaliation

If you file an internal complaint at your company alleging that you are the victim of harassment or retaliation, your employer is supposed to inform staff that it will not accept you being subjected to any mistreatment, while your complaint is being investigated. In addition, any employment decisions that are made, after you file a complaint, should be reviewed by your employer in order to ensure that the decisions are not a disguise for continued punishment. For instance, if you complain about harassment from your supervisor and your supervisor transfers you to an office that is isolated (a long and out-of-the-way commute, etc.), your employer should analyze the transfer and should reverse the supervisor’s decision, if it is determined that you were transferred based on your supervisor’s need for revenge.

The EEOC specifically says:

An employer should make clear that it will not tolerate adverse treatment of employees because they report harassment or provide information related to such complaints. An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure will not be effective without such an assurance.

Management should undertake whatever measures are necessary to ensure that retaliation does not occur. For example, when management investigates a complaint of harassment, the official who interview s the parties and witnesses should remind these individuals about the prohibition against retaliation.
Management also should scrutinize employment decisions affecting the complainant and witnesses during and after the investigation to ensure that such decisions are not based on retaliatory motives.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

IMDiversity Job Search

The IMDiversity Career Center web site has a search feature that allows you to look for employment opportunities at companies that have been identified as "diversity sensitive." There is also a feature on the site that allows people to post their resumes. Check it out! The link is:

Build a True Support Network!

If you have been a target of racially-based discrimination, harassment or retaliation, I know what your life has been like:

People have tried to make you think you’re crazy. They have made you doubt yourself. They have tried to confuse you—challenging your memory of events. You have probably been sold a bill of goods that has convinced you that you’ve overreacted, that you’re sensitive, and that you’ve misunderstood the English language. You may now believe that you’ve jumped to conclusions. You may have been convinced that you are truly unaccountable for your actions and behavior.

In fact, you now may believe that…


Facing race issues at work is often a battle that minority employees end up fighting alone. And, while it is possible to rely on your personal strength to see yourself through trying times, it is very difficult to do so. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

That’s why it is so important to establish a true network of friends and family who are willing to assist you or lend you their ear, while you are fighting race-related obstacles at work.

It’s vital that you have someone who is willing to listen to you and who can provide you with objective perspective on what’s taking place on your job. For instance, they may be able to tell you that you’re tripping—that you’ve gone too far with your conspiracy theories and have jumped into a deep abyss of paranoia. Or, they may tell you that your problem is greater than you perceive and that you may have a problem with your company (as a whole) rather than just with a coworker or supervisor.

Finding people who are willing to keep you sane and to help you stay strong can be hard. Initially, people are engrossed in your horror stories of workplace racism, but that wears off when you are calling them on the phone each night or if that’s all you speak about over dinner.

But, you will have true supporters, who don’t care how focused you may become about workplace racism. They want to be there for you. So, it’s up to you to find champions, who will support you as you fight your cause at work. Just one true friend can make all the difference in lifting your spirits, coming up with strategies, and staying sane.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Black Victim of Racial "Code Words" Fired for Complaining

According to an August 20, 2006 article in the Houston Chronicle a White, Los Gatos, California medical clinic supervisor, used racial code words to intimidate a Black file clerk. In the EEOC complaint, the victim alleges that one of the code words used against her was the infamous “n” word—spelled backwards. The Black worker was fired after complaining about coded racial slurs.

The article also discusses how racial discrimination is becoming more subtle these days. But, most African Americans already know that.

The link is:

Watch What You Put In Email

Just the other day, we discussed how employees should be careful about working with personal files and information at work. Some readers verified that Information Technology departments do, in fact, track worker activities through the monitoring of email, key strokes, web pages viewed, etc. On August 17, 2006, Stephen Barr wrote a piece for the Washington Post called What You Say in Email. The article discusses how email tracking, by employers, has led to employee firings and legal problems.

Click the link to read the full text.


Proof your work. If you haven’t had adequate time to check a document/assignment before handing it off to a coworker or supervisor, ask for a brief time extension. Thirty minutes to an hour can make all the difference in improving the quality of your work. If it will take more than an hour to proof an assignment, say so! Explain the time requirements (all of the things you need to check) and ask for more review time. Handing over work prematurely can lead to serious problems with your reputation. You cannot afford to give people ammunition, when you are Working While Black.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Whites Excel Because They Demand Kudos For Everything They Do!

It can be argued that Whites excel in the workplace, not only because of race-related bias, but because White workers often demand an audience/applause for everything they do in the workplace. It often does not matter whether or not a White person is simply doing a function of their job and has not undertaken any extreme measures to complete an assignment or task. The fact of the matter is that White workers are their own champions. When they do something, they will go tell it from the mountains!

If White workers:

--Stay in the office late to get something done;
--Arrive at work early to get something done;
--Work over the weekend;
--Work at home to get a head start on a project or to get something done;
--Do a little Internet research on a topic;
--Make simple/silly suggestions (such as printing handouts on colored paper);

They will make sure that everyone in their department knows about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard White coworkers, at formal or informal meetings, announce that they worked over the weekend (there is a big emphasis on this if the weather was nice), added a news aggregator to their computer desktop to have client-related articles brought to their attention, or subscribed to a particular magazine that relates to a client’s area of specialization.

And, what’s more interesting is that these White workers often receive applause and attention for doing their damn jobs. Maybe I’m just not easily impressed. But, none of the things listed above automatically qualifies someone for an employee of the year nod. Sometimes you have to work late or go to the office early. Doing this a couple of times is often not worth mention. However, an extreme commitment in this area (overtime) would be worth noting. But, there is a caveat...if you are coming in early or working late because you procrastinate/can't manage your time, you shouldn't look for applause. But, I've seen White workers allow assignments to sit on the edge of their desks for weeks, and they still got applause when they worked late to make up for the time they intentionally squandered.

Black workers often listen to White workers bragging about themselves and think,” Big freaking deal!”

And, that’s often the problem with Black workers. We are not as desperate for attention as we need to be. This is likely because most of us know that no one on the job truly cares what we do. Or, should I say, they just want our small chunks of work done to their specifications. They don’t give a damn if we work late, show up early, exceed the requirements of what was asked, saved a baby from a fire, etc. Black workers often are still perceived as just another Negro in the workplace. Otherworldly contributions, by African American employees, are an unspoken bonus for the company that will not be redeemable during performance evaluation time or when salary increases are being discussed.

On the flip side, Whites who demand attention will be rewarded with a department or company-wide email detailing their “heroics,” a bonus, a great job review, and/or a special salary increase.


Ask for training. There’s a Black Factor game that’s played in the workplace that results in African Americans being surprised to learn that they cannot be promoted because of some “specialization” that is required before they can advance to the next level of work. However, the key to this game is that White management will have made sure that they did not tell the Black worker about this hurdle. At least, they will not mention this “requirement” until the end of the review period is near—when nothing can be done to meet this criterion in time to meet eligibility standards.

Tip #1: Early into your review year, find out about the requirements for the next level of work to which you would like to advance.

Tip #2: Find out about any relevant training courses that can demonstrate you’ve got what it takes for the next level of work and request to participate in the training.

NOTE: If the company says that you can’t attend the training, find out the reason for the denial. See if the reasoning passes the sniff test when compared to other staff who have been allowed training opportunities. If something seems fishy, talk to your supervisor, the head of your department or appeal to Human Resources. If you still can’t get approval for the class, consider paying for the training as an out-of-pocket expense.

If your supervisor/employer is refusing you relevant training, you may also want to consider employment opportunities outside of your department/company. If an employer is intentionally pigeon-holing you by stifling your career opportunities, it may be time to move on…when the time is right to make that move!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Speaker Declares that Whites Must Release the Stress Hormone, Cortisol, to Work With Blacks!

Lehman Brothers was hit with a discrimination lawsuit, in July 2006, based on an employee’s contention that she lost her job because she complained about offensive remarks made at work.

Karen McDermott, aVP, complained to her superior about racist comments made by a speaker during a leadership-training event on May 18th. The offending comment made by the unidentified speaker was: "White people release the stress hormone, Cortisol, whenever they work with black people." After complaining to HR, Ms. McDermott was told not to “align herself” with another Black employee who they labeled as “negative.” Yes, they completely ignored the issue.

After refusing to back down about her complaint, Ms. McDermott lost her six-figure job within one month. She filed a suit alleging discrimination.



If White people have to release the stress hormone, Cortisol, when they have to deal with Blacks at work, what hormone are we releasing to deal with them everyday? Surely, we are producing some hormone, that is working overtime, in order to deal with racism and ignornace!

Did Massa need Cortisol when he was sneaking into the slave quarters at night? Oh, that’s right. Rape rendered the need to release Cortisol unnecessary!

Oral Warnings Don't Necessarily Provide Your Employer With Legal Cover

According to the EEOC, an oral warning or reprimand is appropriate only if misconduct (e.g., harassment) was isolated and minor. If an employer relies on oral warnings or reprimands to correct harassment, it will have difficulty proving that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct such misconduct. (Source:

In other words, don’t let promises from your employer, regarding someone being written up or “spoken to” about misconduct guide your decisions as to whether or not your employer is providing ample protections for you under the law. If you have been the victim of substantial and pervasive misconduct, the punishment of the offending individual should be more significant. For instance, it may be more appropriate that the individual be demoted, transferred, etc. Only you know the severity of your situation, but you should demand whatever punishment fits the crimes committed against you.

Additionally, your employer’s response to misconduct should be immediate. If your employer does not immediately correct pervasive misconduct, they are opening themselves up to legal jeopardy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I dare you to go to work and tell a White person an emphatic “no” to their next request. If you’re not adventurous enough to say “no,” just say, “Sorry, I can’t help you.” Watch their eyes glaze over and their jaw set. You might as well have smacked the White person in the face. See, I’ve been there and I’ve experienced this more than once. You tell a White person “no,” and it looks like you zapped the person with a stun gun. It’s really just ridiculous.

Whites can take “no” from another White person (even if they don’t like that response), but some Whites just get down right indignant when they get the same answer from a Black person.

So, go ahead. Tell a White coworker the word “no!”

Once you say “no,” notice how you are immediately on the receiving end of a look that screams, “Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t say no to me.” Yes, it’s almost like they think they own you. You are supposed to drop whatever you are doing because they have asked you to do something else. This perception, that you should drop everything, will even sometimes come from White people who are junior to you. So, what do you do?

When I have to tell a coworker “no” to a request, I always provided a reason why I’ve given that response. I’ll make suggestions, if I have ideas on who else might be able to assist them or I will tell them where they can go to get help.

But, here’s the thing. A White person will get mad at a Black person for denying a request, even if that White person has:

--made a last minute request because they failed to properly manage their work;
--made a last minute request because they chose to let an assignment sit on their desk until the last minute;
--made a last minute request because they preferred that someone else do the work, but when that person wasn’t able to do it, they decided to settle on another coworker;
--failed to properly manage the expectations of clients by intentionally promising work before it can realistically be done by anyone in the office (in an attempt to impress the client with a quick turnaround time);
--failed to properly manage the expectations of clients, by not explaining processes and timing/scheduling of work.

Yes, sometimes things happen and you have to impose upon a coworker. However, mismanagement of work, people, and projects often causes more problems than any spur of the moment issues.

Despite any reasons why someone’s request is imposing upon a Black person performing their duties, we are supposed to drop everything. Because, there is often an innate feeling that Black workers don’t have anything better to do. Everything we work on is assumed to be so marginal that it can be dropped at any given time. And, that’s why “no” doesn’t go over well when those two letters fall over the full lips of a brother or a sister on the job.

Regardless of why something can’t be done (even if it is known ahead of time that a task is nearly impossible to complete), a Black person is supposed to bend over backwards and try to make it work anyway. Why? Because we have been asked and because we are often perceived to be darn near owned by the company and its employees (of a certain race). Or, so some people think!

And, that’s the kicker. Because of “perceptions,” there is a palpable anger that develops when a White worker has been told “no” by a Black coworker. That anger often turns into a power struggle. To gain dominance, and out of anger, a White worker will often report a Black person to their supervisor and will now refer to the Black person as being:

--not a team player

The power struggle is designed to make sure that Black person relearns who is in charge. It’s the ultimate double-standard. Black workers often don’t have the basic right to say “no” without it being construed as having to do with a so-called attitude, instead it of just being about business.

We are believed incapable of appreciating the “big picture,” company protocol, deadlines/prioritizing work, ethics requirements, and/or fiscal responsibility (e.g., not performing unnecessary or redundant work, etc.).

At far too many companies, many African Americans don’t believe they have a right to disagree and take a contrary position to a White person because they fear it will make them appear to be confrontational. Remember the series of posts on racist labels and stereotypes in the workplace? And, that means we fall right into the hands of those who wish to prevent us from excelling at work. We remain silent. We let people take advantage of us and our fears of labels and retaliation. And, we often cow-tow to the will of nearly every White person who engages us, regardless of whether or not they are in our chain-of-command, in our department, etc.

It’s the plantation, y’all. Except this time, they don’t have us working out in the sun. Those jobs are for the immigrants. Or, should I say illegal aliens. No, make that Mexicans.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An Open Letter to Mr. CEO of America

Dear Mr. CEO of America:

I grew up in a household where my parents were proud of their heritage, talked about Black history, and instilled a sense of pride in children that the world might overlook and undervalue. It has never taken any epiphany for me to celebrate my blackness. I have always loved who I am and I have always given thanks to my ancestors. I am proud.

Yes, African Americans are descended from slaves, Mr. CEO of America. But, shame would never corrupt that absolutely hurtful past. Shame is not an appropriate sentiment. Yes, I know it would suit you better if my people averted our eyes in your presence and spoke in hushed tones to avoid your ire. But, you are not a God and your workplace is not a holy institution.

My people survived the beatings, rapes, murders, forced labor…everything you could throw at us. We’ve come far based on strength, perseverance, forgiveness, and love. If you want to talk about a people having “testicular fortitude,” look no further than the faces of the survivors of the Black holocaust. Why should we defer to you, Mr. CEO of America? Why should we continue to let you demoralize us, underrate us, underpay us, and treat us like the dregs of society?

Your people have been running a good game on us. I’ll admit it. Willie Lynch knew what he was doing—knew how to screw with our heads. Hell, he even knew how to make us screw with the heads of our own offspring. Many of us are as your ancestors had desired. We’s good Negroes! Only too happy to smile.

But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much pride or shame or disgust or glee a Black person has about themselves and their race. Nothing changes the fact that you seem to think you’re running a plantation and that “certain” folks under your employ are your slaves.

Yes, Mr. CEO of America, Massa’s folks can be seen toiling beside us colored folks in the workplace. But, Whites often don’t work under the same conditions or with the same standards and expectations as Black employees. So, don’t try to run that game. You know you look out for your peeps! And, the benefits you give to the half-retarded, socially dysfunctional White boy, who has worked beside a person of color and taken credit for the Black person’s work, is often far in excess of what that so-called minority will ever receive from you. You’ve been doing us wrong!

I’ll be honest. Your “cousin” got me good, Mr. CEO of America. Your boy went hard core! He did his thing. And, I had to leave my job. My blood pressure went right through the roof and my hair was falling out.

Your boy changed me, Mr. CEO of America. He attacked my character, work performance, and job security. For me, my reputation is something that I don’t play around with. So, to be maligned and slandered through a corporate spin machine and to be turned into an object of hate, ridicule, and scapegoating was enough to send me over the edge. The hardest thing for me to cope with was being falsely depicted as a caricature of BLACK RAGE based on someone else’s racist whims.

But, that’s the game that was played with my livelihood and my reputation. Just like a slave on a plantation, my name was devalued, I had no say in my future, I had no opportunity to provide a defense, and I was to have done to me what others saw as fit punishment. My whipping wasn’t physical, although the psychological abuse surely led to the scarring of my soul.

I have learned a level of hatred for another race of people that I never imagined could be a part of my persona. That hatred goes against the way I was raised and the fabric of my being.

I am fighting for the return of who I was. But, I also am fighting the corporation that thought I would avert my eyes and step to the side, so they could pass. Yes, your boy is going down, Mr. CEO of America. I am not a good nig_er! He got the wrong one. He thought he could give me an unheard of mid-year review, 9 months into the review year. He told me that everyone hated me, but he knew better than to put it in writing. He told me I wasn’t doing my job, when I was jugging multiple projects. He put a halt to the promotion that was promised to me. But, he should’ve asked somebody! I will fight. Did you hear me? He got the wrong one!

I am fighting until my last breath. And, the devil will get the loser. Somebody’s going “downstairs” when this all said and done. And, while I fight your boy, and all those who are like the two of you, I will be a productive member of my community. I’m going to write about you and your racist counterparts because people like you represent a plague. And, just like the plague wiped out masses in Europe, I’m going to work to eradicate you! I’m going to put you on display!

The strength of my people will be your demise. The spotlight on your reality will bring you down…in time. My people are patient. We’ll take you on…one person at a time. We will get stronger and we will challenge you. We will learn to track information and to compile evidence that will show you for what you really are. We will learn to demand the same pay you give your folks. The silence you’ve grown used to will not be golden much longer.

The clock is ticking…Mr. CEO of America. The Black Factor will work to make sure that your time runs out!

Wishing I Could Wish You Well (But, I Can’t),

S. Mary Wills

PepsiCo Has a New Flavor!

August 14, 2006--PepsiCo's commitment to diversity was demonstrated this morning when it announced that Indra Nooyi, president and CFO, will replace Reinemund as CEO Oct. 1. In doing so, Nooyi will become the first woman and the first CEO of color in the company's history. The native of India also will be the first female CEO of color for a Fortune 100 company. For more information, check out


Turn your computer so that it does not face your office door. Turn your monitor to an angle or turn your desk so that only the back or the side of your computer can be seen from your office door. Remember, when you are working under The Black Factor you are usually being watched! Besides, if you work with confidential information, people tend to walk a bit slower and stare a bit longer when they can see your computer screen. I’ve worked on budgets that required me to input salary information for all levels of staff, so trust me on this one—turn your screen around. Turning your screen around also stops people from noticing when you’re playing solitaire on your computer. You know, on your lunch break! If you wear glasses, remember that your screen can be seen as a reflection on your lenses, so look away from your computer when someone is in your office.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I've just added a feature that will allow you to receive short email notifications, when there are updates to the blog. With the email, you will get a snippet on each article that has been posted and you can click through to the posts you want to read. Sign up using the form on the left side of the blog, just under the "About Me" section. Thanks for supporting the blog! Sign up!!

Labels and Stereotypes - The Excuses: I'm/He's/She's Having a Bad Day!

Coworkers, supervisors and managers will use every excuse imaginable, when they are called out about inappropriate comments they’ve made to Black staff. Today’s excuse is…

I’m/He’s/She’s Having a Bad Day!

This excuse is clear acknowledgement from a person that they’ve behaved in a way that was inappropriate or they’ve made comments that were completely out of line. This excuse also makes it clear that the offending person doesn’t have a legitimate reason for what they’ve said or done. God forbid White workers, supervisors or managers just apologize and accept responsibility for their words and actions. But, no…they’ll tell a Black worker that they were just having a “bad day.” So, it was the “day’s” fault, not theirs.

Minority staff are often told that we “need be accountable.” But, the same standard often isn’t required of White members of the workforce. White staff are allowed to explain why something was said or done. Black workers have to defend what they say and do, never really being allowed to get to the root cause of why things may have transpired a certain way. We’re too busy using our deflector rings to boomerang attacks against our credibility back to the appropriate target(s). But, the boomerang never really works as intended because it’s hard to score points against an individual who has the presumption of innocence.

Because of this advantage (being allowed to speak and being assumed right/innocent), White workers often have an opportunity to come up with all sorts of lies and excuses that will justify their actions. The catch-all defense, “I’m having a bad day,” is a great umbrella alibi to explain away inappropriate behavior. I’ve heard this excuse being used by White supervisors and staff who:

· blamed staff for problems they actually caused;
· threw papers at staff;
· yelled and cursed at staff;
· got caught slandering a Black worker to other staff;
· had temper tantrums and stormed around the department/office;
· pointed a finger in someone’s face; and
· made inappropriate/offensive comments to staff.

Yes, they were just having a “bad day.” You know, I’m still trying to find “Bad Day” on a calendar—any calendar. There has to be some obscure holiday that proclaims that all can be forgiven in its name, if you simply acknowledge the day. Maybe, “bad day” isn’t so much a holiday as it is a God! I can just see the images of White workers chanting in their offices…

In the name of “Bad Day” I invoke the spirits to remove the memory of me calling the secretary a “monkey.”

It’s funny though. African Americans don’t have bad days. We just aren’t allowed. It doesn’t matter if a loved one is hospitalized, if we just ended a long-term relationship, if we’re being followed by a stalker, etc. Nothing is supposed to have an impact on a Black person’s behavior at work and nothing is an excuse for perceived ill behavior. But, for White folks…it’s just a bad day.

Oh, why didn’t you just say so? Fuhgetaboutit! I really wasn’t too offended by the “tar baby” comment anyway!

That wraps up the racist labels and stereotypes, as well as the excuses used by the perpetrators. If you’ve got some stereotypes or excuses to share, post them in this thread or send an email to!


If "the game" isn’t for you, don’t try to play it. Being strategic and competitive is one thing, being ruthless is another thing. Unless you are cutthroat and unconscionable, don’t get involved in office intrigue and politics.

Tip #1: If people want to talk, just listen or tell the person you do not want to hear about the issue. If you open your mouth, you’re an active participant. Work hard and mind your business!

Tip #2: Now for the catch! While you don’t want to get involved in intrigue, you don’t want to be stupid. Always write down sensitive information and store it in a secure place, off the work site. You never know when another person’s scandal could save your career by providing you with leverage against an individual or against the company, as a whole.

What is a Tangible Employment Action?

Most Black people are not referred to as a “nig_er” in today’s American workplace. Yes, this vicious name-calling does still happen. But, people are savvy these days and have gained an understanding that they need to go deep, deep, deep undercover when they want to get their racism on. Because of how covert racism has become, it’s become harder to prove there are disparities on a job. It’s also difficult to prove active racism, an offensive work environment, discrimination, racially-based harassment or retaliation.

So, how do you set about proving there are issues on your job? Well, think of tangible employment actions. According to the EEOC, a tangible employment action is a significant and negative change in your employment status. Unfulfilled threats do not qualify.

Tangible employment actions include:

--hiring and firing;
--promotion and failure to promote;
--undesirable reassignment;
--a decision causing a significant change in your benefits;
--salary decisions/changes; and
--work assignments.

Always think about tangible employment actions when you make a decision to complain (internally or externally). You must show the professional impact of employment decisions on your career. For instance, a tangible employment action could be shown in an employee who was scheduled for a promotion, until major components of their job were stripped out of their daily responsibilities—without cause. As a result of this employment decision, this person was deemed unqualified for the promotion (which was likely the motive for the employment decision). That’s just one example.

Remember--always show the impact!!

It doesn’t matter if you keep your salary, title or benefits. If an employment decision represents a significant change in your employment status, it may qualify as a tangible employment action. Source:

Friday, August 11, 2006

Labels and Stereotypes - The Excuses: I Misspoke!

As promised, the next employer excuse we will examine is…

I Misspoke

When a person uses the “I misspoke” defense, they are admitting that something inappropriate or offensive was said, but now (that they’ve been called out on it) they want to give an African American the rated-PG/legal version of what they meant.

This defense is all about someone knowing they crossed a line and wanting to sanitize their comments, so that an African American doesn’t report them to corporate authorities, such as supervisors, managers or Human Resources.

Or, if an African American has already reported an incident, the “I misspoke” line will help dilute the power of the speaker’s words—or so they think. Of course, this reworking, massaging, and manipulation of the English language (as well as the rewriting of history) is done in the hopes that another White person will let the perpetrator off the hook by agreeing to an explanation that may clearly be illogical considering the situation that transpired.

When it comes down to it, Black workers are assumed to be so intellectually inferior that we will fall for any lame explanation provided on any workplace matter. When Black “stupidity” is not the dominating thought, the masses may hope that Black cowardice is what rules the moment. Nothing makes a company feel more protected and secure than the ability to rely on the African American fear of workplace retaliation.

Some Whites always want to accuse Blacks of playing the “race card.” But, little do they know that most Black workers let almost every incident, worth reporting, go unreported for fear of making waves, looking like a trouble maker, appearing to be a cry baby or setting themselves up to be the victim of a retaliation plot. So, shut up about the “race card” because you don’t know how good you’ve really got it going. This is especially true at work, where people are afraid of losing their livelihood and being unable to support themselves and their families. It’s often safer and easier to remain silent. And, that fear is what workplace miscreants, like racists and other idiots rely on.

Tomorrow’s workplace excuse is…I’m/He’s/She’s Having a Bad Day

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Dear Readers: Don’t you love when a White person at work says something offensive to you, but shields themselves by using quotes or referencing other information that has been stated by someone who is a minority?

That just makes it all okay, doesn’t it? Not! Black people are not a homogenous race. You can always find someone Black who will swear up and down that there is no racism or will say things that would seem to contradict the arguments presented by “most” Blacks. Every person is entitled to their point of view. But, some Whites, when it is convenient to them, will take the speech of a Black person and will quote from that person as if they are repeating what they heard at the Burning Bush!

An anonymous reader has shared her experience at a meeting. For the life of me, I can’t understand how Bill Cosby’s positions on the African American community seemed appropriate for a work-related meeting, but he was quoted—according the reader. Here’s the email I received.

Hello Mary:

I went to a meeting where the presenter was discussing how to get along with all personalities in project management. One of the personalities discussed was the person who says things that need to be said. The example she used at the time was Bill Cosby and what he said about poor people and how that was something that needed to be said. During question and answer I told her that I had been offended by her reference since I was a single mother and had gone through bad times at different periods of my life. Her response was I had misunderstood her reference. At the end of the presentation she recieved thunderous claps from the majority white audience and a black woman walked up to me and told me that maybe I needed to go to the minority version of the meeting, an asian walked up to me and started talking to me about being the only woman at her job and in her graduating class, and a white woman came up and apologized to me. I am so grateful for your post because since this incident I've been feeling as if I had the problem.

From the blogger: YOU DO NOT HAVE THE PROBLEM! That’s part of the game. People will make you feel like you are sensitive and are overreacting to things they have said that they know may have crossed a line or may have intended to have crossed a line. Anonymous, I’d like to hear back from you as to whether this presenter was an in-house worker or was brought in to give this presentation from an outside organization. Readers, what are your thoughts on this?


Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Cari Dominguez announced Monday she will step down, effective Aug. 31. I'll keep you posted on her replacement and what it means for the future of EEOC.


I received this email anonymously: I went on an IT interview for a major company, nationally and internationally known. The hourly rate in the lower tier of my profession is $40 hr. I was offered $20 dollars an hour. I refused the position.

From the blogger: Smart move! I don't know under what conditions it's appropriate to take half the salary you are able to command based on your profession. They didn't even offer you the minimum for the position. That's just hard core! What about our other readers? Please post your experiences with salary inequities or other disparities you’ve experienced at work. Or, send an email to

Labels and Stereotypes - The Excuses: He/She Really Isn't Like That!

Yes, the next line of defense (following telling a Black worker that something offensive wasn’t meant “like that” and that Blacks shouldn’t “take something that way”) is telling an African American that someone who said something offensive…

Really Isn’t Like That

This one is a favorite of mine, especially when one White person—who wasn’t even around when an incident took place—is using this defensive tactic to provide an on-site character reference for another White worker. It’s really a joy when the “defender” is the presumed neutral head of a department or a supervisor.

Boy, I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear that someone who treats you with total disrespect “really isn’t like that.” And, members of management will make this declaration as if a Black worker is supposed to say, “Oops! My bad. If you think the person is cool, you must be absolutely right. I guess the problem is me!”

So, a Black worker makes a complaint and has to sit in a meeting and endure such defensive comments (from management) as:

· “He/She really isn’t like that.”
· “You probably just misunderstood.”
· “Maybe he/she misspoke.”
· “It’s just simple miscommunication.”
· “He/She really is sweet/ a sweetheart.”

The more racial overtones there are to what was said or done to a Black person, the longer the list of quotes becomes in the person’s defense. This excuse is all about making the Black worker look like they’re overreacting and does nothing to address the behavior of the person who offended them. After being told someone “really isn’t like that” everything is supposed to be water under the bridge. You see, what the Black person feels is irrelevant—even though offensive behavior is supposed to be considered from the “victim’s” perspective and not from the perspective of the offender.

The truth is, when it comes to harassment of any kind, a person’s intent is irrelevant. The impact to the victim is the main concern. Yet, a Black worker’s feelings will often be marginalized at every turn for complaining about mistreatment or misconduct by a White person. This is likely due to the many stereotypes about Blacks being sensitive, hypersensitive, having chips on our shoulders, being angry, defensive or any of the other labels previously discussed in this chain of posts.

The reality is that far too many Whites in the workplace feel they need to validate the feelings of Blacks workers as if our statements or perceptions are completely lacking any merit unless we are agreed with by the White corporate status quo. If our “feelings” or perceptions are not validated by management, the African American is assumed, and often is accused, of being the problem or trying to cause a workplace problem.

If He/She really isn’t like that, the Black worker must be “like that” (read: a problem employee).

The next defense will be…I Misspoke!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Labels and Stereotypes - The Excuses: Don't Take It That Way!

Yesterday, we looked at one of the employer mind-games that are used to make Black employees believe that they are totally misreading a situation. Yes, the first excuse amounted to acknowledging that someone said "something," but it wasn't really what they meant. While, some employers choose to pretend they misspoke, others will put the blame squarely on the backs of African American workers. If you’ve been working in corporate America for any length of time and you’ve had to confront something offensive that was said to you, you’ve probably heard this line before…

Don’t Take It That Way!

I don’t know what it means for the rest of the world’s population, but when a Black worker is told not to take something “that way,” it means that person is being accused of being way too sensitive, is letting their emotions get the best of them, and blowing things way out of proportion.

Apparently, the problem starts and ends with the recipient of the information (read: the Black worker), instead of the issue being blamed on the person who was doing the talking.

When a Black worker is told not to take something offensive “that way,” it means that no one at the company plans on apologizing for any offense that has been caused. In fact, the person taking things “that way” is going to watch as their reaction is spotlighted as the only issue that requires management to step in and offer a solution. Not only will the African American be told they shouldn’t take things “that way,” but they may also hear other critiques, such as that they “can’t take criticism,” they are “way too literal,” etc.

The problem will be laughed off and the African American will be made to feel as if they have essentially been forgiven for being offended by something a coworker has said—that was offensive. It’s the Jedi Mind Trick at its best!

The next corporate defense line will be included in tomorrow’s post. It’s more of the same. You know, that Blacks are unable to process information correctly. If you’ve heard the line about I/He/She/We Not Really Meaning It Like That, then you’ve likely heard the other defense…

He/She Really Isn’t Like That

LEGAL BRIEFS: Blacks Fired for Reporting Harassment and Discrimination

EEOC v. AE Sweeney Masonry, Inc.No. 1:05-CV-02577-RBD (D. Md. March 31, 2006)

In this EEOC complaint, the Baltimore District Office alleged that defendant, a small masonry company doing business in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, racially harassed black employees; discriminated against a charging party (CP) in the terms and conditions of his employment based on race (black); and terminated him and another CP in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment. The Complainants were defendant's only black employees. Both CPs experienced a racially hostile work environment, consisting of frequent racial epithets, slurs, comments, and jokes by white supervisors and coworkers. Defendant also subjected one CP (the forklift operator) to less favorable terms and conditions of employment than whites by not assigning him a helper. Both men complained to management about the racial insults, but to no avail. Defendant terminated them within a few days of one another in June 2004, ostensibly for absenteeism.

The Philadelphia District Office resolved this case through a 4-year consent decree. The two CPs will equally share $60,000 in compensatory damages. Defendant will provide each CP with an unconditional written offer of reinstatement into the position he held at the time of discharge with retroactive seniority, at the current pay rate, and with all benefits. Defendant will make two job offers to each CP. Should either man decline the reinstatement offers, defendant is required to provide him with a positive letter of reference agreed upon with EEOC.



Be prompt for meetings and take thorough notes. Make it a habit not to show up late for meetings. People are always watching to see who shows up for meetings and they always notice what time they arrived. We all know the stereotype about Black folks running on CP Time (colored people time, for those who don't know).

Tip #1: If that's how you get down, showing up late for previously set appointments, confine that behavior to your personal time. Maybe your friends don't mind waiting for you to show up, but coworkers and supervisors will mind waiting! Don't let petty behavior contribute to someone giving you a bad reputation by allowing people to have ammunition against you that can be blown completely out of proportion and that can impact your final year-end review.

Tip #2: Make sure you know what action items discussed in the meeting relate to you and that you have a plan for getting the work done.

Tip #3: If your assignments call on you to work with staff in other departments, bring them into the loop as soon as possible, so that everyone knows what the expectations are, what their responsibilities are, and when their assignment is due. People like it when others have respect for their jobs and their time!

Monday, August 07, 2006


Learn the standards of performance and the expectations for staff at the next job level/title higher than you are currently working. Most companies expect that you will have performed some of the work that is part of a more advanced position. Your employer wants to see, over time, that you have demonstrated a strong likelihood to not only perform the work, but to succeed and excel at your new job. This is especially true for African Americans. There is normally a higher standard required to get promoted when you are Black.

Tip #1: Find out what work is being done by staff at the next highest level to you or in the position you want to move into.

Tip #2: Find ways to incorporate those skills into your current job. If it’s feasible and if some tasks overlap with your current job, ask for new assignments and more challenging work that will let you build the justification for receiving a promotion.

Tip #3: Try to exceed the expectations for every assignment. Make it difficult for someone to use work and a lack of experience as a reason not to promote you. But, don’t be surprised if your employer stills comes up with “reasonable cause” to stifle your career.

Tip #4: Find yourself a mentor. If your company doesn’t assign mentors, identify someone you enjoy working with and whom you respect. Ask this person for guidance on working towards your promotion. They might even be able to recommend that you move into a new position, which could increase your chances of moving up in the company.

Labels and Stereotypes - Translated: The Excuses

As promised, this chain of posts is going from examining racist labels and stereotypes in the workplace, to taking a probing look at some of the excuses coworkers, supervisors or employers use to justify “miscommunication” about some of these issues. The first employer alibi we're looking at is…

I/He/She/We Didn’t Mean It That Way

This form of denial just means that a coworker, supervisor or employer (as a whole) has decided to paint a Black employee as being sensitive or as misunderstanding something that was said to them.

You see, even though most African Americans don’t speak Swahili or some other African language, African Americans—for whom English is our native tongue—somehow have a problem that causes us to routinely “misunderstand” negative things that have been said to us and about us. We can repeat what was said and how it was said—using exact quotes—however, what was said to us is…

not what I/he/she/we meant to say!

What’s funny is, when someone is being disrespectful, they are normally very clear about it. They want another person to know how much contempt and vitriol they have for that individual. And, that is exactly what they convey in their language. Yet, after confronting someone about racist stereotyping and labeling, Black workers are often told that everything was just a simple misunderstanding—on their part!

What I/He/She/We really meant was…and then we get the 180 degree different version of what was said.

Tomorrow’s employer alibi will be…

Don’t Take It That Way

SUPERVISOR HARASSMENT: Who Qualifies As Your Supervisor?

Harassment by a coworker is bad enough, but sometimes workplace harassment is instigated by a supervisor or someone in an employee’s supervisory chain of command. I think it’s important for African American workers to know that other employee’s may qualify as their supervisor, based on the role they play in assigning and monitoring employee workloads. Therefore, harassment by what may seem to be a coworker, may actually qualify as harassment committed by a supervisor, if that is the role the employee was serving—even temporarily. According to the EEOC:

An employer is subject to vicarious liability for unlawful harassment if the harassment was committed by a “supervisor” with immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee. Thus it is critical to determine whether the person who engaged in unlawful harassment had supervisory authority over the complainant.

An individual who is authorized to direct another employee’s day-to-day activities qualifies as his or her supervisor even if that individual does not have authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions (e.g., hiring, firing, demotion, transfer, etc.). Such an individual’s ability to commit harassment is enhanced by his or her authority to increase the employee’s workload or assign undesirable tasks, and hence it is appropriate to consider such a person a “supervisor” when determining whether the employer is vicariously liable.

An individual who is temporarily authorized to direct another employee’s daily work activities qualifies as his or her “supervisor” during that time period. Accordingly, the employer would be subject to vicarious liability if that individual commits unlawful harassment of a subordinate while serving as his or her supervisor.

Someone who merely relays other officials’ instructions regarding work assignments and reports back to those officials does not have true supervisory authority. Furthermore, someone who directs only a limited number of tasks or assignments would not qualify as a “supervisor.”

In some cases, an employer may be subject to vicarious liability for harassment by a supervisor who does not have actual authority over the employee. Such a result is appropriate if the employee reasonably believed that the harasser had such power. The employee might have such a belief because, for example, the chains of command are unclear. Alternatively, the employee might reasonably believe that a harasser with broad delegated powers has the ability to significantly influence employment decisions affecting him or her even if the harasser is outside the employee’s chain of command. Source:

Saturday, August 05, 2006


NOTE: The reader, Ayo, has changed the original names . Her submission starts here:

I applied for a senior position in a similar industry in my field of expertise. I emailed the required documents and received a call approximately two days later. We scheduled an appointment for a face-to-face interview.

I researched the company prior to the interview by visiting their website. I reviewed the company’s mission statement, current client list, and key staff bios. By reviewing the bios, it seemed that there was one person of color in a senior role named Donna. Donna had been with the company for several years.

I arrived to the location 15 minutes early. Mr. Alexander spoke to me about the companies’ culture. He noted that they considered themselves a liberal company. He mentioned that a few people left because they were not receiving the mentoring they desired. He went on to say that, the position I was applying for was open because the person decided to leave and start her own company after being denied a partnership. According to Mr. Alexander, neither management nor he felt that she was ready. As he spoke about this person, I recalled reading some of the same attributes in her bio. You guessed it, it was Donna, the one person who I believed was an African American woman.

Mr. Alexander told me that they usually asked potential employees to take a test. However, in my case he did not think the test was appropriate because I would probably miss some of the nuisances since the subject area was new. He also did not believe that it was a fair assessment of my skill set because the task primarily measured one’s analytical skills. He mentioned that they had been thinking of revising the test, he would to discuss this further with management. In the next breath, he said that maybe it would be a good idea for me to take the test, just to find out how I would do.

Mr. Alexander called a few days later to ask if I could take the test that same day. I was told that the test would take approximately 3 hours to complete. According to Mr. Alexander, the purpose of the test was to gauge my writing skills, determine how well I could get the story of the data, and organize my analysis and thoughts by non-researchers. He wanted to know what time I would be leaving work, and could take the test at home. I am sure that he really did not want me to take the test at work because he probably thought that I would get help from a coworker. I suggested that he email me the test the next morning and I would take the test from home. He agreed.

I took the test the next morning. I did not hear from Mr. Alexander for about one week. I assumed they had found another candidate. When he called, he told me that he had been busy, but he would talk to me soon. He also told me that he had received stronger quantitative responses.

The next conversation was very interesting. Mr. Alexander told me that I wrote the memo exactly how they would, and that is was great. He also said that I could save them a lot of money; because they normally hire contractors to do the job that, I would be hired to perform. He noted that we had not discussed salary. He asked me what I was looking for. I asked him, “What do you have in mind?”

He then announced that the position would no longer be a senior position, because I missed some of the nuisances involved with the subject area, but that he felt that they could teach me these things quickly. He then offered me approximately $20,000 less then what I was currently earning. When I told him my current salary, he said, “Even our really good senior people do not make that type of money because we are a private organization.”

Mr. Alexander said that it would be nice if he had a video of my work to show to the other staff– something that was not part of the original requirement. He said that he would see what they could do. I told him that I was looking for an increase in salary and responsibility. He ended by suggesting that I stay at my current place of employment. I responded by letting him know that I would be more than willing to work as a contractor. The interviewer was surprised by this response and said that he would keep that in mind.

Brief Analysis of Ayo's Submission About Her Job Interview

There are some things that I want to make sure did not go unnoticed by The Black Factor blog readers regarding Ayo’s job interview:

--The interviewer made a point to discuss the company “culture” with Ayo and to note that they considered themselves “liberal.” However, there was only one Black employee at this company. She was the only so-called minority working there. Do you think the employer would have discussed a diverse culture, if the applicant were White? No, he would not have done this because the information would have been deemed irrelevant and/or inappropriate;

--The interviewer stated that previous employees had resigned because they had not received the mentoring they desired. Who makes a statement like this to a prospective employee? Wouldn’t believing that they would not receive proper and appropriate support, guidance, and/or training discourage individuals from considering employment with a company? Clearly, the interviewer was sending signals to Ayo regarding the true company culture;

--The interviewer inappropriately mentioned that Ayo was being considered for a position that was only vacant because the person who resigned was denied an opportunity to advance. This reinforced the previous comments about lack of mentoring. So, not only did the interviewer tell Ayo that she wouldn’t receive any mentoring, if she desired it, he was also letting her know that she wouldn’t advance within the company;

--Most importantly, the person who left (the job Ayo was applying for) was the only minority worker at the company;

--Ayo was asked to take a test outside of her area of specialization, to ensure that she would not qualify as the appropriate candidate for the position;

--The interviewer set up conditions that would result in Ayo taking the test at home and not at work, during business hours. If Ayo were to take the test at the interviewer’s job site, she would be taking the test during standard hours of business operations (9 am – 5 pm);

--Ayo was interviewed for one job, but was offered another job that was far more junior to the position she applied for;

--Ayo was not told that she didn’t have great skills. In fact, Ayo was told that there was a lot of work she was qualified to perform. In fact, the interviewer bragged that Ayo would “save us a lot of money.” In other words, Ayo was told—to her face—that she was going to intentionally be underpaid for her value and contributions to this potential employer;

--Ayo was offered a $20,000 pay cut to take this job. Surely, no one reading this would argue that a White candidate would have been offered such a paltry salary;

--Like Warner Wolf, the legendary New York Sportcaster, the interviewer wanted to “go the the videotape!” Yes, the interviewer desired a videotape showing Ayo doing her job. Do you think he would want a videotape from prospective White employees? I doubt it. It would have been assumed that a White prospective employee was qualified, even before a reference check! More importantly, the ad and requirements for this position did not mention that applicants should send a videotape, if they had one.

I know many of us like to think of racism as the Boogey Man! But, the Boogey Man can be as real as the person sitting next to you.

Live in reality. Really analyze what is being said and done to you. Listen out for what is real and what is a pretext/excuse. Clearly, in Ayo’s case, there was an immediate effort—from the start—to ensure that she would not fit the parameters of the job that was open. Ayo applied for a significant position, but was offered a junior-level job instead. This behavior is commonplace, when the Black Factor determines how an organization is managed, including how hiring decisions are made.

Please post your comments on what happened to Ayo or on my analysis of the incident. Send an email to or post your personal experience with racism in the workplace.

Labels and Stereotypes - Translated: You're Being Difficult

As promised, the next racially-based label and stereotype we will examine is…

You’re Being Difficult

When a Black employee gets the “being difficult” label, one of four things is likely happening:

· The Black person is asking too many questions, which is resented; or

· The Black person is asking for/demanding something that a White person thinks they shouldn’t have or isn’t in the mood to provide them with at that time; or

· The Black person won’t take “no” for an answer to a request they’ve made of someone White (where there is no reasonable justification for receiving a negative response); or

· An African American refuses to tolerate unprofessional non-responsiveness or evasiveness from someone White.

“Being difficult” is often nothing more than a race-neutral way to let a Black worker know that they are stepping out of line and need to fall back in step with the way the company expects and demands they behave.

While, Blacks can’t be whipped in the workplace, like we were whipped in the fields during slavery, we can certainly be whipped/reprimanded/punished through negative implications about our personalities that can be used to justify mistreatment, abuse, and other illegal behaviors by employers and their agents.

Black employees are often told they are “being difficult” by the same employers who:

--tolerate White workers routinely making demands and threats about their work, work environment, etc.; and

--accept Whites shouting, yelling, and engaging in all manner of acting out in the office; and

--ignore Whites who regularly disrespect the chains of command, company protocol, written policies and practices, and rules and standards of professional ethics, etc.

Those behaviors would reasonably qualify someone as “being difficult,” in my estimation.

Well, that pretty much wraps up some of the most common labels I’ve heard used against Blacks in my years of employment. We’ve looked at:

--You’re angry and defensive
--You can’t take criticism
--You’re not a team player
--It looks/sounds like you’re having a party in here
--You’re unapproachable
--You’re too literal
--You’re being difficult

While many workers like to dish out these labels, many employers won’t stand behind these accusations when confronted by Black workers who are “brave enough” not to let a false label remain as the ruling perception about their workplace behavior. There are some common excuses and coverups that coworkers, supervisors, and companies will use with African Americans who confront these racist labels and stereotypes at work. So, the next post will look at one popular excuse for pretending a racist label wasn’t just that…

I/He/She/We Didn’t Mean It That Way

Friday, August 04, 2006

Reader Comment About Vicious, Dark-Spirited Blacks!

Dear Readers:

Here’s an email I received with an anonymous comment to July 18th's post on an EEOC case where racist graffiti and slurs were left on bathroom stalls…


The blogger wants to know what you think about this "perspective." Post your comments in this thread or send an email to

Labels and Stereotypes - Translated: You're Too Literal!

As promised, here’s our brief examination of the label...

You’re too Literal

When a White person tells an African American coworker or subordinate that they are being too literal, what they really should have said was that they forgot to provide the African American with the proper and complete instructions to complete work on a project.

Yes, that’s the easiest way for an African American to get this label. I can’t tell you how many complaints I’ve heard in my lifetime from Black coworkers who were essentially told that they couldn’t think through a work request. The greatest source of Black angst about being called “too literal” is that they received the label based on someone else’s shortcomings in project management or because of someone else’s poor communication skills.

African Americans I’ve spoken to, who received this label, felt they were being provided with project information in a piecemeal fashion. Any request to hold off work until all information was received from clients or managers was shot down. Therefore, there were bound to be issues with the completed project work. As a result, unnecessary errors occurred when full information/instructions were finally provided. The parameters of the project had changed, but the White project manager or supervisor would take no responsibility for ordering the work to be done without the need-to-know information.

Unfortunately, situations like this have led some Blacks to be labeled as being too literal and have caused them to be told that they should have “anticipated” what was needed, even when “what was needed” was not a logical offshoot of what they were asked to do.

Additionally, Blacks are often told they should “read between the lines,” when the real issue is that White coworkers or supervisors should feel the obligation to be clear and specific with their work requirements and requests.

Giving someone the label, you’re too literal, is often simply about a person’s lack of accountability. So, it’s easier to say that an African American should read minds like the Great Mancini.

The issue is never about a White person’s poor planning, poor communication skills, or mismanagement of work and people. Crap rolls down the hill. When it comes to explaining to a manager or client why something didn’t get done, whoever gave you the assignment can easily say that it was the Black subordinate’s fault. The Black worker was too literal and should have known to do work that was never requested!

The next racial label and stereotype will be…

You’re Being Difficult

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Send an email to or post your experience on this thread as a comment. If you send an email, keep it under 500 words.

Labels and Stereotypes - Translated: You're "Unapproachable"

As promised, today’s workplace label and stereotype is…

You’re “Unapproachable”

A hardworking Black person that has gotten this label at work probably doesn’t tell White coworkers their personal business, doesn’t try to ingratiate themselves with White staff, is uninterested in the social/professional cliques and so-called power plays of White employees, doesn’t stand around the water cooler chatting up White staff, sits quietly as they wait for meetings to start (before participating), and is likely perceived to be totally unimpressed by White coworkers who take absolute pride in the status they believe they have on the job.

The reality is that we each go to work to perform a job function. No one is paid to socialize, although it is okay to foster friendly relationships at work. But, for some people—regardless of race—they are simply uninterested in opening up to everyone on the job. I’ve said it before in another post…

Don’t share too much of your personal business at work. Far too many White people simply want to get in Black folks’ business. They want to know if we are from the “ghetto,” if we were raised by a single parent, if we are married or intend to get married, etc. And, guess what? Some people are very private. This includes Blacks. Not everyone wants to share their life story or stand around socializing when they should be working.

Hardworking Black people who have gotten the “unapproachable” label at work are often simply people who open up to others as they grow to trust them. They are not antisocial. They are not rude. They’re often friendly on projects, but they discuss work and not much else. Therefore, people just can’t figure them out!

Unfortunately, certain people in our society are far too desirous of the return to the era of smiling Black faces (normally of servitude). But, mammy and sambo are gone—or, they should be. Not every Black person is interested in expressing a high quotient of assimilation by spending large chunks of their workday trying to prove to Whites that they are acceptable. And, those are the Black folks who will normally get this label.

As a result, you’ve got African Americans being told they are “aloof,” “distant,” and “unapproachable.” And, they’re stuck with it—until they sufficiently smile in the faces of White staff or kiss enough White behind at work to show that they are “likeable.”

Yes, only an inhumane level of butt kissing will make anyone White reevaluate whether or not a Black person is actually as standoffish as they perceive.

But, the most interesting thing about a Black person being told they are “unapproachable” is that we also get the 180 degree label of being “overly sociable.” You know, a White person’s way of telling someone they talk too much. There doesn’t seem to be much grey area for Blacks. We either don’t talk enough or we allegedly talk too much!

The next label we will look at is…You’re Too Literal!!


If you're having race-related issues on the job, one of the main things you need to focus on is establishing corroboration of the events you are alleging are taking place on your job. What does that mean?

It means that you want to avoid a he said/she said incident on your job. So, here's what you can do:

-- Idenify witnesses!

Who heard or saw an incident that you are complaining about?
Who did you report abusive behavior or harassment to?
Who did you share stories of your abuse with?

-- Supporting documentation/physical evidence!

Present written evidence, charts, instructions, etc. that support/corroborate your versions of events.

Remember, your credibility is being judged. Prove your case!! Build a house (your case) on a sound foundation. This will help you prove harassment or other illegal behavior.


Keep track of deadlines and take deadlines seriously. If you anticipate that a deadline will be missed, notify your team leader and team members ASAP. Provide a full explanation for why you can’t meet the deadline and provide suggestions on how to get the work done on deadline. If you need help, ask for it. If you need to pass off the work to someone else (e.g., you’re being pulled from the project by a supervisor), inform your team of the shift in work ASAP so the work can keep moving and it is not sitting on your desk. It is up to you to make sure that the work is covered. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, Black folks can delegate work!!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


If you have found yourself in a situation where you have filed an internal or external grievance against your employer for a racially-based problem at work, here's something to consider...

Are various aspects of your employer's defense reasonable? Are various aspects of your employer's allegations against you plausible? It sounds simplisitic, but this is a big deal.

Really read through complaints made about you by your employer and ask yourself if a third party (read: a lawyer or investigator) will find inherent plausibility in your employer's arguments. Is what your employers are saying about you sound on its face?

Here's what I mean. In an effort to retaliate against me, for an issue I won't go into here, my employer accused me of being disliked by all of my coworkers. Yes, I mean every last one of them! However, just 9 months earlier, my employer gave me a written evaluation that stated I was a joy to work with, was pleasant, was well-liked, etc. So, instead of it being my word against my employer's word, my final year-end review showed there was no inherent plausbility to my employer's argument that every action taken against me had to do with the fact that I was intensely disliked and, therefore, was disruptive on my projects.

You need to read every sentence of important emails and documents and highlight what arguments/defenses are cleary implausible. This will help prove your case, may show that your employer is engaged in a coverup to hide the true motives behind their actions, and can be the key to establishing your credibility with any third party that becomes involved in your case.

Show how your case is plausible and truthful, while showing how your employer's defense and arguments are completely without basis and unreasonable.


Tip #1: If you must access personal or sensitive information at work, use a diskette or download a file from your Internet account. This is especially important if you are having issues at work and you are tracking information that supports your grievance against your supervisor, a coworker or your company, as a whole. Your supervisors and employers will be very interested in whether or not you can prove your case. Your coworkers or IT staff may be assigned to keep track of the documents on your computer and they may be asked to spy on you by pillaging through your office for any information that can show what you are up to.

When a coworker was suffering from racially-based retaliation, her office was routinely checked by one of her subordinates (who admitted to the behavior) and I noticed that items in my office (I was a key witness) had been moved around. My mouse would be in a different position, my chair was moved around, and papers on my desk had obviously been moved around.

Tip #2: If you are collecting information that supports your grievance/complaint about racial disparities (e.g., unequal pay among Black and White workers), racially based harassment, etc., keep your files out of the office. If you print or make a copy of a document that supports your claim, take the file home. Do not keep your grievance related files on the job.

If you absolutely have to access sensitive files at work, be sure to virus check your files before opening them. And remember, many companies now use tracking software. The software you access, Internet sites you view, and even the number of key strokes you make each day may be recorded by your company’s information technology team.

Labels and Stereotypes - Translated: It Sounds/Looks Like You're Having a Party in Here!

The last post of July, which continued our examination of workplace labels and stereotypes, dealt with the accusation against some Blacks that we are not team players. As promised, the next racist stereotype and label we will discuss is…

It Looks/Sounds like You’re Having a Party in Here

A Black person can be writing on a flip chart, sitting with handouts in their lap, have papers spread across the floor, and clearly be conversing about work, HOWEVER, if they are in a meeting with one or more other African Americans, someone White will inevitably say…

It looks or sounds like you’re having a party in here!

Apparently, if you’re in the office and you hear Black folks talking about budgets, conferences, proposals, reports, project specifics, work-related travel, etc., just go ahead and break out the latest CD by 50 Cent. ‘Cause the Negroes are fixin’ to party up in hiz-ere.

Conversely, when white workers are standing in the hallway or in someone’s office hootin’ and hollering about Desperate Housewives, Lost, Brad Pitt or some other celebrity…it’s all about business. It’s just teambuilding and the fostering of a collegial environment! Evidently, the longer Whites stand around chit-chatting and gossiping, the stronger the company becomes.

I’ll never forget being in a meeting, in my office (my nerve!), with an African American coworker. The door was open. My coworker was seated by the door. She was asking for my help on a budget for a conference. We were talking about what costs I would need, where she could track down the figures, what vendors could give her estimates, etc. She’d never had to pull together a budget before and I was walking her through the process.

I see a White coworker walking to my office door every 5 minutes and turning around with this pissed expression every time she saw this coworker still seated in my office. My meeting with this person lasted about 30 minutes. So, when it’s done, the White coworker comes back and asks me if I could keep my “personal conversations” relegated to my lunch hour because she was repeatedly trying to get my help.

Yes, she did.

If there was a caption over my head, it would have read, “Heifer, if you don’t get your butt up out of my office…” Instead, I simply informed my coworker that I was “discussing project work and I’m pretty sure you heard the conversation every time you came to my door.” What was her response?

“Oh, but you were laughing.”

So, I looked at her like she was crazy and asked what that meant. Her response?

“Well, it just seemed like you were having such a good time.”

So, I asked, “So, because I get along with my coworkers and my coworkers get along with me and we can work in a way that we have a pleasant and friendly environment, you think we’re having a personal conversation and aren’t doing work—even though you can hear the conversation?” She didn’t respond.

So, I asked “Well, what did you want?” And, she said, “It’s not important. I already had what I was looking for.” Yes, she did. After all that, and accusing me of having a good time, when I was actually working, which is a knock against my reputation, the “woman” found what she misplaced! Instead of being angry that she lost something in her own office, she wanted to pervert the issue into me being unavailable to help her and to use it as an opportunity to say that I was engaged in a long, non-work-related chit-chat/party.

This is the way the workplace game goes. This racist let her preconceived ideas dictate a false reality, which this same person later shared with my supervisor. I barely had much interaction with this person, but she just had to share, based on this one encounter, that I have too many chit-chats in my office. Of course, I was accused of being too conversational. “This is work.” “You need to focus.” All based on the word of one White woman making an accusation. I asked who else was accusing me of this behavior. Blank face…no response. I showed my supervisor the budget notes from the meeting…didn’t matter. A White woman had spoken and my supervisor had picked a side and she wasn’t going to change her mind.

This is a harsh reality for many Black workers. Congregating with other colored people will often bring all sorts of negative connotations that can hamper your career and impact your performance reviews.

The next label and stereotype we will examine is…

You’re “Unapproachable”
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