I’ve been blogging about how the White media has been speculating about Sen. Barack Obama’s relationship with Black voters. It’s been:
--Is he Black enough?
--Is he too educated to appeal to Blacks?
--Will Blacks abandon their loyalty to the Clintons for him?
--Will Blacks vote for him simply because he’s Black?
--Blacks shouldn’t vote for him simply because he’s Black because it will show how far the country has come.
It boils down to White analysis of Black relationships, which is not something that’s confined to politics. In many workplaces around the country, there is also speculation about Black on Black relationships. There is often analysis of Black on Black relationships. And, there’s sometimes interference in Black on Black relationships...particularly if one of the Blacks involved is a supervisor or manager.
I’ve heard many complaints from Black managers about having their authority and decisions questioned by White counterparts based on how their relationship with Black subordinates and staff is perceived by Whites.
For instance, when Black managers have Black subordinates, they report feeling pressured to have a distant relationship with their workers and to be strict with them. Specifically, they’ve felt that Whites perceived they would be easy on staff, let them goof off, allow the quality of work to slip, and would allow a party atmosphere in the workplace out of need to show same race preferential treatment or loyalty. They felt that Whites were just waiting for anything that showed they “favored” Black staff. They also spoke about a feeling of having White staff watch them. By “watch” I am referring to a sense of heightened surveillance of Black managers. I can give you three examples of heightened scrutiny based on race:
(1) I’ve spoken to a Black manager, who was assigned to an office where certain staff (read: Black and Hispanic) were being pigeonholed into performing work that should have been shared with their White counterparts. The White counterparts did not like these assignments, which needed to be performed on a daily basis. Because they didn’t have to do this work, they were free to tackle cases and other duties that significantly improved their performance charts and went a long way in securing them a superior performance evaluation, compared to their minority counterparts. As a result, all of the bonuses for this classification of employees were going to White staff.
This Black manager came in and saw the unfair process and its impact on that classification of employees. She completely revamped the process, so that everyone was performing these duties—as they should based on their job description. Immediately, the White subordinates complained to a White director that she was showing preferential treatment to minorities based on race. But, the issue was that she was balancing out inequity that was established on racial lines, by the former White manager. When Whites didn’t have to perform this work because they complained and had the work removed from their list of duties, it was all good. When the workplace became fair, there was a problem.
The White director immediately sided with the White staff and called the Black manager into a meeting. He asked why she changed the procedure and told her it looked biased because it seemed to favor the Black and Hispanic employees and would hamper the productivity of the other (White) staff, who were excelling.
She explained that it was unfair and potentially illegal to have only Black and Hispanics performing the most mundane portions of their job descriptions, while freeing their White counterparts to do the more significant work, which they all were supposed to be performing. She reminded him of the unfair impact on performance evaluations and bonuses. And, she reminded him that their office was scheduled to be audited on an employee-by-employee basis. Productivity was going to be examined and, if it was found that the office—as a whole—wasn’t pulling its weight, the office might be closed! By freeing up everyone’s time, so that everyone could tackle cases, everyone was able to contribute to the overall productivity in the office. As a result, all of their jobs would be more secure. Finally, she again reminded the director that her decision was the only fair decision to make and she made it within her authority as manager of all those employees.
The White director looked at her for a moment and said, “You’re right. I didn’t think about it that way.” The procedure stayed in place, but those White subordinates began making false claims against this manager out of a desire to retaliate against her because they were forced to do assignments they thought were beneath them.
What struck me the most about this is how easily the White director was lured into questioning fairness. No one was being asked to do anything they weren't supposed to be doing. He should have immediately recognized that there was NO ISSUE!!
(2) I’ve mentioned before that my good friend was a manager at our former place of employment. She was responsible for supervising many staff. At first, her subordinates were both Black and White. Eventually, they were all Black. It wasn’t until her staff were all Black that Whites in the department (including the director) began to raise the issue with the Black manager that she needed to appear “impartial” with her staff.
The problem was that, at the time, all of her staff were Black. She was encouraging her staff to learn new skills and seek out training opportunities, as she always did. And, she was really pushing for them to gain the confidence, skills, and experience needed to improve their job performance and to advance within the company. This caused problems because there were same-level White workers that were already being promised promotions. Since she no longer had White subordinates at that point, any promotions in her section would involve a Black person.
It was at that point that this Black manager was perceived as being a “segregationst” and that she was accused of a lack of “impartiality.” In fact, this Black manager was told that she was perceived as having an inability to “differentiate” between her level and the level of her Black staff. She was accused of being “too friendly” with her staff, possibly because she didn’t intimidate them and they were comfortable speaking to her and working with her.
This manager was instructed to avoid going to lunch with her Black subordinates because it increased the perceptions among staff (White) that she was engaging in favoritism and couldn’t distinguish her management level. This was despite the fact that every White manager in her department and around the company (including in my department) often went to lunch with their White subordinates. Even more telling, some of them engaged in after work activities with their subordinates. But, there was no warning for anyone except this Black manager because the assumption was that Whites would be so-called “impartial” with their staff.
When it was all said and done, this Black manager was stripped of her staff. Her staff were reassigned to work for White managers. They divided them up like splitting poker winnings! The Black manager had her assignments stripped from her and divided among these new managers AND her former subordinates, leaving her with no work and attacks on her employment.
Apparently, some Whites think that only other Whites have the ability to be fair, impartial, and unbiased with their staff. There is no expectation that there will be favoritism on such an egregious level that it must be monitored. This is sometimes an issue for Black managers. Whites show preferential treatment for each other all the time except it’s always justified, when they do it.
(3) I have personal experience with White interference in my relationship with a Black manager. When I was employed in the HR Department at the headquarters of a national bank, my Black supervisor gave me a great year-end performance evaluation because I had a great year. This was in regard to my productivity, professionalism, meeting or exceeding deadlines, being proactive, preparing procedures, working large amounts of overtime, etc.
When my supervisor submitted my review to our White VP, he was told point blank, “I don’t believe this.” He handed the evaluation back to my supervisor and told him to rewrite it “for real” and with more criticism of my job performance. At the time the White VP made this request, he’d only worked at our company for several months. He didn’t know me from Jack and knew nothing about my work effort and performance for the previous year. So, on what basis could he dispute my performance evaluation?
On nothing but race! I can be assured of this because this VP made racist jokes in the HR department, including outside the Director’s office door. I was the only one to tell him that he wasn’t funny and I found his jokes offensive. But, getting to my performance evaluation…
This same VP didn’t question the performance evaluation of a single White person in our office! But, he disputed mine and wanted my review rewritten because he thought my Black manager was trying to "hook me up."
What did my Black supervisor do? He asked me to sit down with him to write criticisms of myself to include in the revised review. He said we wouldn’t include anything “too bad” because it wasn’t true, but just enough to “satisfy him.”
I refused and said that I was going to resign. I started to write my resignation letter. My supervisor had an immediate change of heart and said he would stand up for me and stand by my review. Why?
I asked my supervisor if any part of my review wasn’t true. He said, “No.” I asked, “So, why would you change it.” Then, I came right out said, “If you were White and I was White, this would not be happening.” He said, “You’re right.” He refused to rewrite my review. So, this White VP rewrote it himself. Now, remember, he never worked with me. So, he rewrote it without specifics and made claims that I had the all-famous personality issues that many Black workers are falsely accused of. I was accused of missing deadlines, with no specifics. Other false claims were made. I was told that I should have “anticipated things” that had nothing to do with my job, my job level or anything within my authority. A review was submitted with no input from my immediate supervisor.
I contacted the HR director and challenged this review. The White VP stood by and engaged in more activity that was even more revealing of his racial animus toward me. The VP prepared a 10-question survey asking questions about me (my personality and work) and sent it around to several departments in our company. Talk about disparate treatment! Even White staff called to inform me that the survey was being circulated and to ask me what was going on. I couldn’t believe I was the target of a questionnaire whose sole purpose was to solicit negative commentary on my job performance and to slander me around the company.
But, it didn’t work. The questionnaire confirmed my original performance evaluation. The original evaluation was resubmitted and the fabricated review was stripped from my employee file. I never got an apology, not a bad deal since I don’t value insincere words.
But, the VP got one of his agendas established. He strained the relationship I had with my Black supervisor. From there on out, we both felt a bit of paranoia about our positive working relationship and felt that it was harder being congenial with each other. Once, when we were both ill, we were “jokingly” accused of making out in the parking garage. I guess Black men and women are so sexual that we are perceived as just not being able to keep our hands off each other. For a time, my supervisor was very stiff and uncomfortable around me because he felt his job as a manager would be in jeopardy because of the amount of attention my performance evaluation received around the company.
These are just three quick examples of how White pressure, perceptions, and interference can change how Blacks are able to interact with each other at work. In many ways, it is like being on a plantation. On the plantation, everything Blacks did—and even thought—was under the control and influence of Whites. Blacks were pitted against each other based on skin-colored, roles, etc. This was all the doing of the slave master (look up Willie Lynch).
We continue to face pressure and heightened scrutiny, when it comes to our working relationships. The same way the White media has expressed the fear that some Blacks will favor Senator Obama based on racial loyalties, some Whites in the workplace have those same fears.
And, unfortunately, some of these people will do anything in their power to act on those fears and to unduly influence the thoughts and actions of managers and workers. This goes a long way in perpetuating some of the many double-standards that Blacks deal with in the workplace, as well as in other venues.
A Black manager shouldn’t have to fear making positive employment decisions for a Black worker because it will be viewed as reverse racism or favoritism. A manager shouldn’t have to fear being stripped of their position because a racist is accusing them of reverse racism. White managers make decisions every day, which are accepted at face value. The same respect should be given to Black managers.
Finally, Blacks in the workplace should be able to work in a positive, peaceful, and productive atmosphere without White assumptions and interference in those relationships. Unfortunately, if Blacks aren’t acting like crabs in a barrel, some people just aren’t satisfied!
Labels: heightened scrutiny, hostile work environment, manager, racial dispartities, racist perceptions, standards, stereotypes