Never Tolerate Any Level of Race-Based Character Assassination!
I’ll give you an example of how race-based character assassination can come back to haunt you and destroy your career. I worked for an employer where several White women that had problems working with certain Black women. The Black women they had problems with had three things in common:
1) The Black women were all brown-skin to dark-skin in complexion;
2) The Black women weren’t intimidated by these women, as many other women at the company were (other women would tense up, when they saw this clique, etc.); and
3) The Black women weren’t afraid to say “no” to these women (e.g., refusing to do impossible tasks caused by impossible deadlines because of last minute requests, refusing to drop other priority assignments in order to complete a routine request, refusing to pass along their threats to other workers, not tolerating blatant disrespect and threats, refusing to allow the women to blame them for problems caused by the group/not tolerating becoming a scapegoat, etc.)
Any Black woman that fit these criteria was immediately greeted with a chorus of stereotypes from the White women:
-- She’s angry
-- She’s defensive
-- She’s mean
-- She’s rude
-- She’s moody
The White women would use any combination of these racially-based stereotypes that would help turn other staff against these women as well. For instance, if one of these women sat on an important project until the last minute and the client asked for an update, the women would hurriedly try to figure out everyone that needed to pitch in to help them meet the deadline. They would never admit to being behind schedule. So, they would “crack the whip” and make their incompetence everyone else’s problem. So, they might barge into several people’s office throwing around their perceived weight and using the fear they’d built up to their advantage.
Then, let’s say they get to a Black, female worker that met the criteria above. And, they DEMAND (not ask) for her to do x-y and z by the early afternoon. And, let’s say x-y and z would take until close of business the next day to be done correctly and to be reviewed. Well, they wouldn’t have any of that. If these White women asked for something in 2 hours, they’d better have it in 2 hours—or threats to a person’s job security would fly fast and furious. Now, let’s say the Black woman refused to do take on the task because of the parameters of the assignment—she was being set up for failure—and would be the scapegoat for the failure.
Well, they’d accuse the Black woman of not doing her job, would make job threats, etc. And, if the Black woman stuck to her guns and said, “You can’t have that in 2 hours because of [reason]…,” forget it! These White women would go on the war path. The war path led right to character assassination.
Before you knew it, they’d go around the office talking to other high-level staff about how the Black woman was “difficult to work with.” And, from what I heard, they would pose it as a question, such as “Don’t you think she’s difficult to work with?” They wanted to get a consensus opinion. And, they’d tell other staff that the Black woman was moody and they didn’t know what to expect, when dealing with the Black woman. Or, they’d say that the Black woman wasn’t a team player, had a chip on her shoulder/was defensive, was unprofessional, etc.
They’d never admit that they were making unfair demands, had threatened to report the Black woman to HR, etc. These White women would take their falsehoods and hold them until the Black woman’s performance evaluation. That’s when all the race-based stereotypes would be regurgitated. At no point would any of the Black women’s supervisors ask about an incident reported by these women. No! The White supervisors and managers would just document the false claims as if they were written on the Holy Grail! The real payoff was that it would impact the Black woman’s yearly salary increase and decrease her promotion opportunities. Talk about retaliation!
The Black woman would have discussions with their White supervisors, where the supervisors would admit not having the same feelings about the Black worker as this group of women. However, because of the status of the White women, the negative comments from these women would have to remain in the Black woman’s record. No matter what!
And, sometimes, the brainwashing of other staff would actually take hold. Suddenly, a Black woman that worked at the company for years might be called “defensive” or “difficult” by other staff—all while behaving the same way she’d always behaved. It didn’t matter if the Black woman had great relationships around the company. One-by-one, slowly, but surely, you could sometimes see the poisoning was working. This was especially true of those workers that were scared of the women. They’d take on their viewpoints in order to try to fit in with them. There was another perk…if someone else was a temporary target, it meant they were not!
So, based on my experiences, I challenge you to truly fight back against race-based character assassination. Here are some tips:
Tip #1: Have a zero tolerance policy for anyone attempting to slander your name and/or falsely assassinate your character.
Tip #2: Address misrepresentations and character assassination. Don’t run from the issue of slandering in the workplace. You only get one name and damage to your reputation can permanently hurt your career opportunities and pay raises with your employer. It can also impact your overall treatment by management and coworkers that may be swayed by the character assassination.
Tip#3: Don’t be defensive. Instead, address any issues head on, including what may have lead to the individual’s false characterization of you. If you believe that some prior incident may have sparked someone’s false perceptions about you, clear it up. If something you did was taken out of context or misunderstood, explain your intentions and clarify the cause of the confusion.
Tip #4: Clear up any misrepresentations about your character by responding with facts. If the person has slandered your character/made accusations about your character in an email or memo to you, respond—in writing! Don’t get into name-calling or write an emotional response. Just present the facts and list any witnesses who can provide input about the circumstances surrounding the incident or slandering taking place. Copy HR and your supervisor on the email and request intervention to clear up the incident and find the facts. If the person has copied others in the email, decide whether you should respond to all or just to the sender—with a copy of your response to HR and your supervisor. You don’t want to be accused of starting an email war. But, you shouldn’t let it slide. Further, your company may have a policy in place regarding email etiquette. Try not to violate the rules. If you don’t reply to all, be sure to speak to the other individuals personally regarding the false attacks on your character. Don’t let the impression remain that the person making accusations is right about you.
Tip #5: Document everything. If a person is routinely assassinating your character, document every incident you find out about and make a witness list that can corroborate that the person is making major efforts to tarnish and destroy your reputation.
Tip #6: Don’t allow someone to paint you as “sensitive” for caring about the remarks being spread around the company. Your family name is priceless. It may not mean much to those you work with, but it should mean everything to you. You were born with that name and regardless of what kind of life you’ve lead (whether you come from poverty, abuse, etc.) NO ONE has a right to tarnish your name with false statements about who you are and what you represent. The name you have is the name that you carry to your grave. Wear your name with pride. Don’t let anyone get away with character assassination.
Tip #7: Talk to your supervisor and HR. Present any documentation you have about patterns of behavior meant to destroy your reputation, name witnesses, etc. Demand that the person and their accusations be addressed. Request a meeting with HR, your supervisor, and the perpetrator, to clear the air. See if the person is willing to repeat any false claims in front of HR and your supervisor or if they will deny it.
Tip#8: Ask for corrective action against the perpetrator, once it is proven they have been slandering you around the office. Do not let this slide. Demand to know what consequences await the individual.
Have pride in yourself and your name. Your name and reputation are your most basic assets. You take them every where you go. Don’t let anyone tarnish your reputation. Character assassination and intentional misrepresentations can destroy your chances to be promoted and/or may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.