Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should You Step Out On That Ledge?

When it comes to fighting racism and discrimination, Black people are really good at talking ourselves down from the ledge. I refer to it as a ledge because to make a claim of workplace racism requires a great deal of courage and the ability to risk putting yourself out there, on a limb, to be judged and/or torn apart based on your complaint.

When it comes to making racially-based allegations against a White person, many in the so-called mainstream society will call you names like a “race baiter” or will say that you’re “playing the race card.” But, you shouldn’t be held hostage because of labels or change your thoughts or actions based on racially-based name calling.

Here’s the fact. If you’re Black, then you’ve obviously been Black your entire life. You know when you’re experiencing racism. It’s that simple. You know racism when you encounter it as an adult, just as you knew it when you first encountered it as a child. As a child, you knew a certain comment or action had something to do with your color or race and you didn’t need anyone to tell you. You just knew in your gut that something was wrong and it made you feel confused, angry, and possibly afraid. That’s why you went home and told your parents about it and that’s when you got “the talk” about American society and racism.

When it comes to racism, especially at work where you’re entitled to earn a livelihood, trust your instincts and don’t allow those, who you know are abusing your rights, to get away with doing so simply because they threw around a few names.

Too many Blacks have learned to rationalize racist actions as having some other motivation. Any other motivation, besides racism, allows us to do absolutely nothing about what’s happening to us! However, there are still some battles that need to be fought, still some mentalities that need to be challenged, and still some policies and practices that demand change.

Racism hurts! That’s the point of it. It’s meant to be active and not passive like “simple” prejudice.

That’s why people, consciously and subconsciously, use racism as a tool to oppress and degrade others. Racism has psychological, emotional, financial, and even physical repercussions for those who are repeatedly subjected to its effects. Racism can paralyze lives, temporarily and permanently. It’s that powerful.

That’s why feigned ignorance to racism in the workplace--or anywhere else--seems to be as blissful as the cliché suggests. But, pretending something isn’t happening for the reasons it’s actually happening (racism) doesn’t lessen the negative impact of the offense. If you think you’re fighting racially-based obstacles on the job:

 Take a step back from the situation and try to look at the situation from other perspectives. Are any of the issues, which you perceive as race-based, possibly caused by other legitimate reasons? Write down the basis for your position of on-the-job racism. You should list specific examples of inequitable treatment, a racially-hostile environment, etc. You can’t just make a claim of racism. You have to be able to back it up with details (directives, quotes from staff and managers, emails, memos, etc.)

 Talk to other staff. Find out if other minority staff share your perspective. Start taking notes. Try to determine how significant the suspected problem on your job may be. Decide if the group will address any perceived problem. If not, decide if you will individually tackle the issue with the appropriate members of management and/or HR.

 Come up with possible solutions for any problems you’ve identified. It’s always better to have a suggestion for making things better, even when coming up with these ideas is not necessarily your responsibility. When it comes to something as important as earning a living and your work environment, think of things that can improve your situation. This includes asking if the company will provide sensitivity/diversity training, send out a reminder regarding the policy on harassment, conduct an investigation into the pattern behavior of a particular coworker, etc.


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