Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's "Fair" In the Workplace?

I don’t know what it is about some of us Black folks, but we have this amazing ability to forgive people that have done absolutely horrible things to us. I don’t just mean in recent history. I am also talking about historically. I am often still amazed at how Blacks—today—have been able to find a way to get along with the descendants of their enslavers—many of whom still share abhorrently racist views and attitudes about the capacity and basic humanity of our race. But, many Blacks still often manage to cope and overcome the institution and legacy of slavery and racism in America.

Perhaps at the root of our ability to be a fair and to forgive is that our people have gone through such extreme suffering on the plantations of America. Maybe that extreme suffering has translated into an almost hyper-compassion for anyone that we perceive as also suffering. Perhaps our ability to be fair and to forgive egregious horrors is due to experience with retaliation from the White majority. Post-slavery retaliation against Blacks, for fighting for and demanding basic human/civil rights still occurs today. It just happens more covertly.

Regardless of the reason for the Black ability be fair and to forgive, fairness and can ultimately lead to our continued battles against racism in the workplace. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to let someone take back a racial slur or repeated racial slurs that happen on the job. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to walk away from someone making racist comments and promoting stereotyping on the job. Sometimes, Blacks are too willing to ignore the actions of a racist coworker or supervisor—even when those actions are destroying our careers, promotion opportunities, and salary increases.

Here’s a scenario: A White, female worker makes a very racist comment to a Black female coworker about Black culture. This isn’t the first time the White worker has made this kind of negative comment. Well, the Black worker has finally had enough and confronts the White worker. The Black worker says she’s not going to tolerate the remarks anymore and that she’s going to management. So, the White worker begins crying and says that she didn’t realize the Black worker took the comments “like that.” She stresses that she was only joking and, when she wasn’t joking, she was truly just trying to get a better understanding of Black people. She swears that she’ll never make that kind of remark again. And…

Lo and behold…

The Black worker starts to soften. After all, the White worker is crying and she looks sincere enough. She seems truly apologetic. So, the Black worker lets things slide. She says she won’t go to management about the issue. She decides that she’s going to be fair. As a matter of fact, she’s going to be a true Christian. She’s going to give the White worker another chance. That would be fair. And…

Lo and behold…

The same white worker makes a similar comment to the Black woman—2 months later. It took some time. But, she went right back to old habits and her true nature.

Many Blacks like to pat ourselves on the backs and praise ourselves for being fair and for overlooking the negative behavior of the racists we work with. We’ll say, “Girl, I just ignore her. I don’t pay her any mind. That’s how she is.”

Some Black workers can be racially attacked on the job and then sit there and worry about complaining about the White worker because they don’t want to see anyone lose their job/be fired. Because far too many Black workers are often too busy thinking about being fair and extending an olive branch to someone to worry about their own career. I’ve heard people say, “I’d feel guilty, if she got fired!” Are you kidding me? If someone’s behavior warrants termination, let them have at it! Let them get the result they worked so hard for. Who are you to deny them their just reward? Who are you to condemn other Blacks to continue to work with an abomination?

But, no. Many Blacks will say we’re going to be the bigger person or a “Christian.” But, the reality is that the same White person that you extend forgiveness to after they “jokingly” calling you a monkey is the same White person that will make the comment again in the future. It’s the same White person that will feel they can escalate their offensive language.

The same White person that you extend forgiveness to and try to be fair with after they lie about your work ethic and job performance to your supervisor—strictly based on their racist instincts and not fact—is the same White person that will engage in this behavior in the future. If they don’t target YOU again…they will target another Black person or other minority.

The same White person that you extend forgiveness to and try to be fair with after they deny you a promotion—without basis and based on your race and not your job performance—is the same White person that will refuse to promote you next year. This same White person will also refuse to promote other Blacks or minorities.

Yet, far too many Blacks will continue to use the word “fair” to describe why we ignore racist behavior and actions in the workplace—even those that truly impact our careers in a negative manner.

When you extend forgiveness, you would and should expect that you are dealing with a person that is grateful to have received the opportunity to be forgiven. However, in the workplace, gratitude isn’t often the end result of letting someone remain unaccountable for their racist words and/or actions. Most people don’t learn a life lesson on the first try. Many people have to repeat their mistakes before they finally get it and make a behavioral change.

So, here are some questions about being fair with others in the workplace:

--How is it fair to continually overlook behavior that is hurting you, while it empowers your attacker?

--How is it fair to allow someone to engage in behavior that demoralizes you and makes you hate being in their company or going to work?

--What exactly are Blacks in the workplace seeking, when they are claiming they are only trying to be “fair” or “a bigger person” or a “Christian,” when they ignore or accept the fake apologies of on-the-job racists?

--Is the label “fair” simply a way to shirk the responsibility of following through with putting a stop to racist behavior at work?

--Is the label “fair” designed to avoid retaliation from the White worker in question or Whites at the company—as a whole?

--Is it fair to have false critiques placed in your employee review, simply because of your race? Is it fair to be denied a promotion simply because of your race? Etc.

Last, but not least…

When is it less important to be fair and more important to hang someone with the same rope they laid out for you?! The racist often takes advantage of a Black worker attempting to seek the higher ground. The racist often counts on not being confronted or challenged about their behavior. The racist is calculating. A racist will think about their chances of getting away with their behavior. That’s why they will often use covert language or tactics. I had a post, last year, where a White manager used a code word around a Black worker to refer to her a ni**er. So, yes, a lot of thought often goes into getting away with racism at work.

At some point, Black workers need to stop trying to be so damn fair and forgiving and need to start going on the offensive. Only by having a zero tolerance attitude for racist comments and behavior that creates a hostile or offensive work environment or negatively impacts our careers (e.g., promotions, etc.) will Blacks be able to confront racism and to truly provoke continued change in the our workplaces around the country.

By the way, you can be a Christian, while reporting a racist supervisor to Human Resources. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently! You can forgive and fight for your human/workplace rights at the same time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is exactly what happened at my job. I've learned my lesson. Playing fair is out the window after you are involved in a racist situation.

I wish I knew what I now know then.

THANKS SISTA for putting the truth out there!

"The same White person that you extend forgiveness to and try to be fair with after they lie about your work ethic and job performance to your supervisor—strictly based on their racist instincts and not fact—is the same White person that will engage in this behavior in the future. If they don’t target YOU again…they will target another Black person or other minority"

5:05 PM  

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