ISSUES IN THE WORKPLACE: THE FIGHT TO WRITE
This stereotype is even believed in cases were Black workers do not speak in broken English or ebonics. Yes, I’m referring to Blacks that don’t sound “ghetto.” Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for Whites in the workplace to assume that Blacks can’t write technical reports, write for an academic/educated audience or write even the most basic written documentation that will be forwarded to clients.
The perception that Blacks lack a mastery of the English language is very prevalent in the workplace. In cases where Blacks are given writing assignments (normally after a lengthy period of time and an ample amount of “begging”) numerous people are likely to review our writing for errors.
If our reviewers are unable to make many negative critiques about our writing, a Black writer may be asked who assisted him/her in preparing the assignment, as if a Black person could not work on a writing assignment without outside assistance.
I think there are a number of reasons for the assumption that Blacks cannot write well and that Blacks are not given writing assignments:
-- Blatant racism and stereotyping regarding language skills (Blacks are forced to work with a lot of racist m.f.’ers, who think we will communicate in an “ignorant,” “defensive” or otherwise offensive manner);
-- An assumption that Blacks have received little or an inferior education as compared to White workers (even for Black college graduates); and
-- To pigeon-hole Black workers in lower level jobs by decreasing the level of threat that Black workers pose to White workers (You are more likely to remain as labor and are less likely to move into a “thinking position,” if you are doing manual or lower level assignments that do not require so-called “brain power” and a mastery of higher level skills.).
Without dealing with issues I’ve heard from other Black workers, here’s just a snippet of what I’ve encountered, regarding writing assignments:
-- A White mid-level manager, who’d never looked at one of my writing samples, REQUIRED me to take an outside technical writing course in order to work on a project that was starting in a couple of months. I had to take the class or not get the opportunity to write. So, I took the class and received flowery compliments on my writing. How is possible to compliment a person on improving, when you don’t know the baseline? This White manager had never read my writing, so how did she know my writing improved? It was just blatant racism. She assumed that I wrote to her satisfaction because of the writing course, which was not the case.
-- After repeatedly trying to get writing assignments, I was told that I had to “wait until next year” in order to write on a technical proposal. I was asked compile the back end pieces of the proposal (case studies, product shots, and charts), so I could “see how everyone else wrote” and “learn from it.”
-- I was asked to do some writing for a technical proposal on alternative medical treatments. I completed my assignment and turned it in to my supervisor. Other staff and managers had also completed assignments, which were being compiled by my supervisor. My supervisor comes to my office to criticize my writing, handing me a paper with red ballpoint pen edits all over the place. I looked at the document, confused. “This isn’t mine,” I said. Dumbfounded, my supervisor still tried to insist the document was mine. I described the section I wrote to my supervisor. She went through her folder and asked, “This is yours?” It was. She said, “This is excellent.” Her mouth couldn’t open any wider in shock. And, then, she told me that she thought my writing was done by the Co-Director of our department, a Vice President making six-figures. It was that good. After that, I was routinely subjected to offensive comments about being “really articulate.”
-- I created written procedures for a number of complex tasks and rewrote every job description in my company’s personnel manual (more than 75 different jobs). I was asked, “Who helped you with this?” I wanted to say, “Your mother!” That question is completely insulting. It was just some darn procedures and job descriptions, which have a lot of boilerplate language.
I could go on and on. The point is, for Black workers, obtaining writing assignments is often an arduous task. We often find ourselves being put on the back burner with promises that we will get a writing assignment or substantial writing assignments “when the time is right.” Sometimes, that time never comes. Yet, we Black workers often find ourselves criticized, come performance review time, for not taking on more challenging work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I want you to do some real writing.” This comment was made despite my multiple attempts to volunteer on several projects, only to be told the project was “completely staffed.” I was never given any assignments by the people criticizing me for not utilizing those skills. It’s a catch-22, y’all!
The Black Factor will continue to highlight some of the issues that Black workers are forced to contend with.