Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Racism Easily Partners With Business, Personal, and Social Issues in the Workplace

In this blog, I’ve repeatedly referred to an African American friend and coworker, who ended up as the target of race-based retaliation by our employers because she approached a White manager to discuss racially insensitive comments. What started out as a calm discussion about being racially sensitive and mindful of how stereotypes can impact subordinates in the workplace, turned into the White manager becoming a sobbing mess and making wild accusations about things that were never said during the conversation. For instance, stating she was called a “racist,” which never happened.

Although this incident occurred about 7 years ago, it still amazes me how that discussion became the basis of illegal actions by many managers, directors, and executives—all who knew better than to break the law by engaging in such violations of Federal statutes. But, racial animosity can be blinding, especially when combined with business, personal, and social concerns. A racist may be protected by a coworker, manager, director, HR staff, or executives for a number of reasons, including:

(1) A person engaged in racially offensive/illegal behavior finds a “soul mate,” another racist who is willing to put their own job and reputation on the line to keep the racist’s job safe and who may aid in targeting a complaining employee with abuse;

(2) A belief that the company will avoid any legal or financial jeopardy if there is a cover-up about a racially-based incident and pressure is applied to a complaining employee in order to silence them or run them out of their job;

(3) Friendships/cliques jump into action to protect one of their own by executing a plan to protect the guilty party, while possibly targeting the complaining employee through slander, harassment, retaliation, etc;

(4) Departmental loyalties may work to protect the guilty party, even if they have a reputation of causing racial strife in their department or throughout the workplace;

(5) A desire to advance or show company loyalty may prompt an employee to bear false witness against a complaining employee;

(6) Some employees simply like to stir up trouble or assist in troublemaking, without any thought of reward/benefit;

(7) Executing a vendetta against a complaining/targeted employee by assisting in their race-based mistreatment. The vendetta could be rooted in jealousy, an inability to bully or dominate the complaining employee or out of a sense of competition with the complaining employee;

(8) Financial reward, promotions or other benefits may be offered by management to anyone willing to bear false witness against a complaining employee. Of course, this collusion is done in secret and can be hard to prove/uncover; and

(9) A high-powered protector makes it clear to other staff (including high-level staff) that they are not to get involved in the incident, especially by coming to the aid of the complaining employee.

Racism may be the catalyst that provokes an incident at work, but other business, personal or social needs may combine with racism to increase the magnitude of the event—and the scope of illegality.

In the case I described at the beginning of this post, my friend and coworker watched as the director of their department (White) came to the aid of her buddy (lunch buddy, happy hour buddy, shoe shopping buddy, etc.), even though the White manager had made racially offensive remarks. The director didn’t care that many Black subordinates complained about what was said. All she cared about was that her friend was upset. She informed the Black manager (my friend) that “you made her cry.” And, that made this director very upset. She didn’t care about Black workers being upset. Her White friend cried and it was going to be war—and it was! She was willing to put everything on the line to cover up, assist with, and perpetuate workplace racism.

This director brought all of the resources of the company down on the head of this Black manager. All for a friend, who was DEAD WRONG!! This director abused the authority given to her by her employers and she manipulated and abused her authority over departmental staff to turn them against the Black manager. Even more troublesome, our employers decided it was a great business decision to protect this director, who’d clearly violated Federal statues. Therefore, they had to also support the White manager, whose racist words and actions were the catalyst for the entire episode.

The Black manager was stripped of her staff, given menial tasks, told to wear a head-scarf to clean up around the office, was asked to serve clients—waitress style at an in-house meeting, was physically bumped in hallways by White staff, etc.

I provided testimony about what I witnessed and became the victim of retaliation as well. This includes post-employment retaliation. I was called by an Acting Director (White, foreign born), who passed along my former employer’s threats to me. This is how far some companies, who desire to protect their racists and false reputations, will go to silence complaining employees.

A racist simply couldn’t survive on his or her own. A racist needs public assistance! In many cases, the racist receives assistance from friends/allies, self-serving coworkers, troublemakers, and one or more persons in authority within the company. That is the only possible way a racist can maintain their job and status on the job.

Because racism is often combined with these other factors, many employers try to knowingly morph racist behavior and actions into personal/social issues between workers. That is how many companies will attempt to dilute allegations of racism. In fact, my former employer added a line into the anti-harassment section of their personnel manual, which stated that personal or social issues were not discriminatory (harassment and retaliation fall under discrimination codes). Then, when they responded to the investigatory agency checking into my complaint, they claimed I had a personal/social issue with my supervisor not connected or reflecting a racial matter.

Racism is not one-dimensional. Racism anywhere is a complex matter. Racism often combines with other factors and companies will use many tactics to fight allegations of racism. Therefore, you must be mindful to avoid the bait and switch. Don’t get into lengthy discussions about these tangential factors. Focus on whatever race-based issue prompted you to complain. Don’t fall for any tactics designed to cause the perception that you’ve acknowledged you have a personal or social issue.

I will have more on this subject tomorrow.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Dreadlocs7 said...

As usual, great blog!

In 2007 and moving forward to 2008, it is still far too easy for organizations to practice acts that violate Title VII. In any organization where discrimination exists, it tends to occur in at least 3 stages, and in these stages lie the crux of employment discrimination and racism. The first stage is endemic, in that the discriminatory acts are initially confined to a particular manager or managers, department or area. The second stage is pandemic – the manager(s) who violate Title VII, turn other managers and staff against the complaining employee. The third stage, and no doubt the most harmful, is systemic – the Human Resources Department and all other systems in place that are supposedly designed to protect the complaining employee turns the tables and makes the complaining employee the villain. It's like a revolving door that revolves in the shape of a circle, but only after first going through a maze of humiliation.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Just doing it. said...

I am currently involved in a lawsuit against the largest sporting goods company for this very issue. I reported the behavior and each and every time it was reported, I became the target of some erroneous lie that the manager and Human Resources charged as performance issues. My Manger was allowing employees to skip breaks and lunches to go home early and using company time to do daycare visits. That is if you were white. They were allowed to do what ever they wanted and performances was poor. When I brought my concerns to Our Employee Relations Rep. He stated “Maybe he (the manger)feels there were certain team members he felt was his equal”.
I have copies of documents that I forward to my personal email and printed originals at work and would take home because I knew what was going to happen. I was eventually fired by a African American Manager that they “selected” for the position instead of posting which never happened before. This person wasn’t the smartest and I have documented that she to lied about all the issues she claimed she terminated me for. It turns out I have evidence that “white employees” are the persons responsible for the errors. It amazes me that no matter how much evidence I presented to disprove the lies, No one would alter or change the corrective actions nor the termination. I am often asked by other African American co workers was it worth it. I have to say adamantly absolutely. They feel if I had just sat down and stop complaining I would still have my job. They could be correct. But if our fathers and mothers of years ago just sat we would still be in slavery. I know there are many others . During one of our African American Network meetings many voiced there experiences and concerns, but the organization does nothing.. I may not be able to encourage the rest to make a stand for themselves. I had to make one for me.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous If I only knew what I know now... said...

I am always amazed that when I believe that I am the only one going through a major racial issue in my life there is always someone else going through the same thing. I really feel relieved that now I realize just what the HR dept was trying to do when they tried to immediately paint my dept as being dysfunctional rather than racist. They were really working to unravel any possible EEOC case that may be coming their way down the pipeline. They were planning in my ignorance. What is really disgusting is that now I believe that this is just a game that most companies play in order to undermine complainants. First, the ethics line is really used as a vehicle to get the complainer to feel comfortable then once they know who they are they begin strategically undermining them.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous A New Day said...

I am always amazed that when I believe that I am the only one going through a major racial issue in my life there is always someone else going through the same thing. I really feel relieved that now I realize just what the HR dept was trying to do when they tried to immediately paint my dept as being dysfunctional rather than racist. They were really working to unravel any possible EEOC case that may be coming their way down the pipeline. They were planning in my ignorance. What is really disgusting is that now I believe that this is just a game that most companies play in order to undermine complainants. First, the ethics line is really used as a vehicle to get the complainer to feel comfortable then once they know who they are they begin strategically undermining them.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always amazed that when I believe that I am the only one going through a major racial issue in my life there is always someone else going through the same thing. I really feel relieved that now I realize just what the HR dept was trying to do when they tried to immediately paint my dept as being dysfunctional rather than racist. They were really working to unravel any possible EEOC case that may be coming their way down the pipeline. They were planning in my ignorance. What is really disgusting is that now I believe that this is just a game that most companies play in order to undermine complainants. First, the ethics line is really used as a vehicle to get the complainer to feel comfortable then once they know who they are they begin strategically undermining them.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous A new Day said...

I am always amazed that when I believe that I am the only one going through a major racial issue in my life there is always someone else going through the same thing. I really feel relieved that now I realize just what the HR dept was trying to do when they tried to immediately paint my dept as being dysfunctional rather than racist. They were really working to unravel any possible EEOC case that may be coming their way down the pipeline. They were planning in my ignorance. What is really disgusting is that now I believe that this is just a game that most companies play in order to undermine complainants. First, the ethics line is really used as a vehicle to get the complainer to feel comfortable then once they know who they are they begin strategically undermining them.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always amazed that when I believe that I am the only one going through a major racial issue in my life there is always someone else going through the same thing. I really feel relieved that now I realize just what the HR dept was trying to do when they tried to immediately paint my dept as being dysfunctional rather than racist. They were really working to unravel any possible EEOC case that may be coming their way down the pipeline. They were planning in my ignorance. What is really disgusting is that now I believe that this is just a game that most companies play in order to undermine complainants. First, the ethics line is really used as a vehicle to get the complainer to feel comfortable then once they know who they are they begin strategically undermining them.

11:15 AM  
Blogger S. Mary Wills said...

There are so many deja vu comments in these posts that it is scary.

My coworker was told that she was working in a "dysfunctional" department, rather than dealing with racism. She received all sorts of assurances from HR that things were being investigated, would be changed, etc. and then HR would be complicit in creating documentation against her via performance deficiency memos containing fabricated allegations of problems. My coworker was also accused of problems caused by other workers. My coworker complained of inequitable behavior/treatment of Black and White staff and she became the target of mistreatment rather than disparities being corrected.

Just doing it...many Blacks, who take a stand, are asked if it was worth it. I am with you...ABSOLUTELY! I don't care how I've struggled since filing a complaint regarding racial injustice...I wouldn't have it any other way!

Don't let anyone encourage you to stop pursuing your lawsuit or to accept an unfair settlement. There will be pressure, but you have to do what you believe is right.

Please...if you'd like to write a post about how you've felt as you've dealt with these issues or if you've got some tips or strategies, please email me at blackonthejob@yahoo.com. I will post it on the site. Even if you want to discuss why it was worth it, it might help someone else who is on the fence or afraid of dealing with the issues. I'm sure it can reassure someone else with an investigation or litigation pending.

Complaining employees should never become the villain, but that's a defense strategy. Kill the messenger and ignore the message!

Thanks for writing. Keep reading.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my...I was reading these comments and even though I am a 20 year management veteran who is African-American, I could not articulate how the system works. It is just like what is written here. In fact, I am prevented from ever being promoted again at my job of 9 years because I filed a complanint with my local state agency. Every boss I have had since, reminds me, you have had "issues here." HR tells me it is all in my head, and stop personalizing things. I'm doomed, I am looking for work elsewhere, but the references I'm very concerned about.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post. I am a Canadian and I recently left my job for several reasons one being racial remarks that had been made. One from a secretary who said that in her previous job they made them work like "n" - sorry I can't say this word as it offends me greatly. I am a Caucasian but believe in complete equality for everyone. I approached my boss who simply said that it is just a "word" even after I expressed my total anger about it and only to overhear him twice say "I have nothing against black people but from my experience many tend to be lazy". I dislike people that are so petty like this. Now after leaving they are accusing me of slander and have turned a workplace issue into a personal vendetta.

I know what I know, saw what I saw and heard what I heard and my take on it is I have nothing to hide and if they decide to pursuit this into the courts so be it; I'd stick my hands in a fire when it comes to the truth; racism and bigotry must stop.

Thank you for letting me express myself.

9:09 AM  

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