The Truth About Inaction
In my work experience, I’ve learned that most Black folks don’t want to make a formal complaint about someone who’s White. Despite not making formal complaints about mistreatment, African Americans will complain to other minority family, friends, and coworkers because we know they will understand our predicament at work. So, we complain to those who are like us and, then, we do nothing!
Doing nothing about an issue isn’t inaction. It’s the exact opposite! Specifically, when we do nothing about mistreatment from White coworkers or supervisors, it’s an active way for us to ensure that:
--We don’t have to fear a negative reaction against us from our supervisor, manager, Human Resources staff, etc. based on our grievance;
--We don’t look like a cry-baby or whiner;
--We don’t look like we’re “playing the race card”;
--We don’t make ourselves more of a target;
--We don’t piss off whoever is already tormenting us;
--We don’t end up having our tormentor forming a group alliance against us that is even more vicious than the attacks coming from a lone perpetrator;
--We don’t look like a troublemaker, like we have a chip on our shoulder, are hypersensitive, are angry, are defensive or that we have no respect for authority, (by reporting a White coworker);
--We don’t hurt our chances to get a fair performance evaluation and salary increase (connected to the troublemaker issue); and that
--We don’t end up in trouble because someone in authority believes that we, and not our tormentor, are the real problem.
So, inaction is a major tool for African Americans at work. For Blacks, the expectation that we will be ignored or marginalized or that we will suffer retaliation at the hands of Whites did not die after the so-called end of the Civil Rights Movement. The fear of retaliation is a strong driving force behind African American inaction, even today. I’ve felt the pressures and have heard coworkers say that a person shouldn’t, “start the White people up!”
So, I know why there is often marked hesitation at the very idea of reporting a White person in the workplace. I have heard all of the reasons listed above as the justification not to do anything about mistreatment, even illegal mistreatment, at work. I’ve had these reasons creep into my own psyche.
Unfortunately, it’s a rational fear to have. Blacks know this fear is legitimate because we’ve seen what happens to outspoken African Americans at work. We’ve heard the name-calling and have seen how this type of Black person has become a target at work, has been isolated, has received poor performance evaluations and salary increases (justified by allegations they have a “bad attitude”), and has been passed over for opportunities. These “types” of African Americans may even have been laid off for false reasons (lack of work) or fired for false reasons (insubordination). Point blank, it’s often safer to stay quiet because it can be career suicide to be labeled as the “militant” at your job.
But, the reality is…they can’t lynch you! If that’s what it takes to get the courage to report mistreatment, then remind yourself of that every day. This is not the day of physical lynchings! Yes, people on your job can make life difficult for you, but that’s a burden and challenge our ancestors faced, head on, every day. The fight for equal rights is a fight that still needs to be fought.
We can make a difference. But, we can’t change a damn thing if we suffer in silence!