Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You Only Really Know Yourself, So Don't Make Assumptions About What Other People Will Do!

If you're the victim of racial discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation at work, you should be careful about making assumptions about the trustworthiness of your coworkers. Don't assume that you can or can't trust someone based on their race/color, speech/behavior, level of afrocentricity or any other superficial factors. People have all sorts of reasons for engaging in certain actions and these motivations may supercede any of the other factors. That's why you need to be really careful, when sharing your issues in the workplace and details about your next steps.

For instance, I had Black coworkers who loved to talk about "keeping it real" and being outspoken. They also loved talk about "those White people" being this, that or the other. But, as soon as their Black manager and close coworker got into trouble, they all pretended not to have seen or heard anything that supported her statements. They were all show and no blow. She was left to fend for herself by the so-call "real" ones. Some of these same folks ended up making false claims against her at the prompting of their White director and other higher-ups at the company.

I've seen how lunch buddies and after work hang out buddies can suddenly be swamped with meetings and conflicting appointments, as soon as they realized that another Black coworker was dealing with race-based issues. Their only concern was putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the target of the attacks. They too knew nothing about anything--even when they were witnesses. They too began to whisper about confidential information they were told about by the victim of abuse.

I had a Black manager, who collected afrocentric plates, pictures, books, etc. (and displayed them all over her office), who would dime a Black suborindate out in a heartbeat. To ease her conscience, she would feed the Black worker bits and pieces of information, but would go right back to working in the company's interest of getting rid of the offending employee. Specifically, she would encourage the victim to "find another job because it's just not worth it." I always wondered what reward she got for towing the company line.

My point is, you have to be very careful about revealing your innermost thoughts and details of your intentions, if you've become a target of any kind at work. Lots of people talk a good game, lots of people are fairweather friends, and lots of people have a secret agenda (getting in good with management, getting a bonus or financial reward, getting a promotion, etc.).

Don't talk about looking for a lawyer, obtaining a lawyer, filing a complaint (internally or externally) or providing any information, which would increase the likelihood of you becoming a bigger target at work.

I've watched Black coworkers, I've known for years, laugh about getting out-of-cycle pay increases and/or bonuses and saying they know they got it for their stance against a Black coworker. To see how they could take joy in falsely contributing to someone else's misery was one of the biggest shocks of my life. I knew people behaved that way, but I'd always hoped that no one in my inner circle could possible engage in such behavior AND enjoy it. But, you never really know a person. You can never bet your life that someone will be truthful or have your back.

Don't make judgements based on a person's color (e.g., a darker person would "get it" and could relate and could be trusted in a race-based crisis), speech/behavior (e.g., assuming you can or can't trust a Black coworker because you think they speak or act "White") or based on a person's level of afrocentricity (e.g., they wear an afro/braids/dreadlocs, have african artwork, calendars, etc. in their office, and/or frequently talk about issues of importance to African-Americans).

In the workplace, it's always smart to have a healthy dose of paranoia. Never forget it. Keep looking over your shoulder. Take it from a person who's had their office rummaged through by staff looking for evidence against a close friend and who's had a coworker brag about going through her supervisor's office at the end of each work day to collect evidence for the company. You never know what someone will do to get ahead.

Whenever possible, confide in friends and family outside the job.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thank God for this site, I wish I would have found out about it sooner. I have had the unfortunate and shocking experience of having co-workers turn their backs on me and treat me as though I was an alien. Sadly, I considered some of these people to be friends, spending a considerable amount of time together outside of work. Yet, I found out that these supposed friends were talking about me, laughing and contributing to the negative statements that subsequently tainted my image at the office. This is a prominent law enforcement agency, so beware, it can happen to anyone, anywhere. Always watch your back!

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I would have read this site sooner. It's amazing how many people talk big until it really comes down to it. They add fuel to your fire, you think "We'll take this supervisor down together with all the evidence we have!" And when the day comes to speak up, they are nowhere to be found, leaving you standing there all alone and becoming a target for retaliation.

I am light skinned, I had three darker skinned co-workers who claimed racism until I needed them to back me up regarding disciplinary action and I found myself standing alone and eventually being terminated.

Like you said, you have to watch your back with each and every co-worker. Very few of them will stand by you when stuff really goes down.

9:42 PM  

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