Who's Really Being "Hostile" In the Workplace?
Scenario #2: A white employee approaches a Black employee and calls the Black employee by the wrong name. Both employees have worked at the company for over a year and they’ve previously worked on the same projects. The Black worker tells the white worker, “I’m not sure what the problem is. But, you seem to have a problem remembering my name—even though we’ve been introduced several times and have worked together before. My name is [NAME], not [WRONG NAME]. Please call me by my name.” The White worker leaves the encounter and reports to the Black employee’s White supervisor that the Black employee is rude, intimidating, and unapproachable.
Scenario #3: A white worker approaches a Black employee that prepares budgets. Per guidelines, all budgets that are being sent to clients must be submitted to the Black employee 2 days in advance. These procedures were recommended and approved by the Director of the department. Yet, this particular White worker chronically brings budgets to the Black employee and demands to receive the budget back in 2-4 hours. The White employee says, “But, I already promised the client they would have the budget emailed to them by the time they came back from lunch.” The Black employee says, “You should have asked me—first—if it was possible to get a budget to your client before you guaranteed the client they would receive an official budget from us. I’m working on a priority right now on a multi-million dollar contract for a major client. I couldn’t possibly get you a budget before COB tomorrow, at the earliest. I’m sorry, but I’ve explained the procedures to you before. You really have to carefully manage client expectations.” The White worker leaves the encounter and reports to the Black employee’s White supervisor that the Black worker is rude, unhelpful, isn’t a team player, is unconcerned with serving the best interests of the client, can’t prioritize his/her work, and that the Black employee tried to tell them [the White person] how to do their job.
In all 3 scenarios, the Black workers are not asked about their encounters with the white workers. Yet, the Black employees are called into their supervisors’ offices and are soundly criticized for allegedly having a negative attitude, not being team/client oriented, and for having “communication issues.”
The Black workers try to explain the encounters and are told by their supervisors, “You’re being defensive. I’m just trying to give you constructive criticism.” Each Black worker may say, “I’m not being defensive. Someone made accusations that aren’t true. I’m just trying to share my perspective on what happened.” Each White manager says something about the Black employee being sensitive and informs the Black worker that the White employee has already explained what happened. The supervisors instruct the Black employees to be “more helpful in the future.”
At no point do the White supervisors say that:
--It was improper for a coworker to ask a mid-level manager to perform work that was several job levels below the Black worker’s job function (Scenario 1);
--It is offensive to be repeatedly called by the wrong name by someone who is quite familiar with you and who doesn’t have a problem remembering anyone else’s name (Scenario 2); or
--It is improper for an employee to routinely disregard established protocol and procedures for requesting work from other staff through procedures that were recommended and approved by the head of the department;
In all 3 scenarios, the white employees thought it was reasonable to criticize the Black workers, when the white workers are the ones who should own the outcomes of these scenarios. In all 3 scenarios, the white employees made wild conclusions, complete with race-based labels, and reported their Black coworkers. In all 3 scenarios, these incidents were cited on the Black employee’s performance review as examples of areas for improvement. And, we wonder why America’s workplaces seem filled with one race-based issue after another? Really?
These 3 scenarios represent just how easy it is for Black workers to receive false labels about their attitudes and job performance. At issue, is that Black workers are often forced to work with White employees that choose to be unaccountable for their own behaviors and job performance. For instance, a Black worker may be called unhelpful, difficult to work with, rude or mean if they refuse to render assistance to a same-level white coworker that sat on an assignment until the last minute or simply forgot the work was on their desk until the day the assignment was due.
A major problem in the workplace is that, when dealing with Black workers, some whites feel they can totally disregard social norms and standard business etiquette/protocol, can ignore procedures and policies, and feel they can dictate the work day of their Black coworkers—at that very minute and without authority to do so. I can’t tell you how many Black workers complain about feeling they have 7 supervisors at work, when speaking about the number of white coworkers they encounter that behave as if they have authority over the Black person and can tell them to stop and start assignments at the drop of dime.
Unfortunately, for a Black employee to tell these sorts of White workers that they have crossed a line, that you can’t render assistance to them (for a legitimate reason), or to tell these people that you have a name—and only one name that you respond to, can cause serious problems for Blacks on the job. These types of White people only want to hear one word from their Black coworkers and that word is “yes.” Yes, I’ll drop everything. Yes, you don’t have to call me by my name. Yes, I’ll do junior level work for you. Yes, yes, yes…
If some White workers held the same mirrors on themselves that they often flash on their Black coworkers, they would be shocked to see how they have falsely portrayed a fellow team member, how they have created issues that can haunt a coworker, how they have been unfair or premature with their judgments or how they having been working with double-standards. Or, if there is true and thoughtfully racist intent, they could be happy with their achievements for the day! In either case, far too many Black workers have to spend too many portions of the day fighting wild accusations and fighting for the basic respect White workers expect and demand. Think about it…
If a White worker is the one who is refusing to call a Black worker by their rightful name, is trying to force them to do junior level work, is trying to force them to shuffle their workday—without authority to do so…who’s really being hostile, rude, and difficult to work with? And, who isn’t a team player?