The Right Way to "Talk Back" At Work
Only you can decide if you prefer to remain quiet, rather than speak out against abuse. Just keep in mind that silence won’t change anything. A person, who is capable of violating Federal statutes (read: breaking the laws) prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace, is probably not going to wake up one morning and decide that they’re wrong and should cease this behavior.
In fact, it’s more likely that they will escalate their behavior. If they’ve been getting away with potentially illegal behavior and their target hasn’t spoken out, they will have the impression that they can get away with anything. If this person has authority over you, it’s not that hard to imagine your illegal mistreatment continuing or escalating. So, instead of “just” never putting you up for a promotion, this person may decide to accuse you of fake performance deficiencies, demote you, suspend you, place you on probation, etc.
There is a huge risk in remaining silent!
Part of the issue is that many Blacks are afraid to speak up at work. Part of that is connected to our history in this country. After emancipation, Blacks still had no rights. We could be lynched for being in the wrong area, looking at a White person the wrong way, not stepping aside, when a White person was walking by, etc. We began to train ourselves to be deferential to White people because we could pay with our lives, if we were deemed to have offended a White person (truly or falsely). As a result, there are many Blacks who are still intimidated by Whites and who are afraid to be perceived as being contrary or difficult because they may become a target.
On top of that, Blacks have many stereotypes related to our so-called negative attitude. For instance, we are supposed to be angry, defensive, hostile, rude, unprofessional/ghetto, loud, and to have large chips on our shoulders. We’re never supposed to be able to take constructive criticism because someone with a bad attitude is incapable of having any kind of reasonable discussion.
All of this feeds into a fear of being perceived as talking back to White folks, if the need arises to make a complaint or challenge/confront any issue at work. Many of us feel that if we say anything, we are going to be bombarded with many of the criticisms I just mentioned. If you “talk back,” you will be called defensive and/or hostile. If you “talk back,” you will be called angry and/or rude. If you “talk back,” then you just can’t take constructive criticism.
For many Blacks, it seems easier to remain silent…to just suck things up. But, despite consistent pressure on Blacks to remain silent (even from other Blacks who consider speaking out against abuse to be tantamount to “troublemaking”), we have a right to be heard!
Instead of thinking of speaking up as “talking back,” start thinking about it as protecting your interests. For instance:
--Not allowing someone to falsely accuse you of missing deadlines or making costly errors on an assignments protects your interests because it makes it hard or impossible for false claims to appear in your performance evaluation, can prevent you from being written up or placed on probation, can prevent your termination, etc.
--Documenting and reporting harassment, including a hostile work environment, can protect your interests by providing the evidence you may later need to prove that you have been subjected to potentially illegal mistreatment at work;
--Documenting your verbal and written communications about being passed over for a promotion, while less qualified staff were promoted protects your interests because the documentation shows that there is a potential issue with equitable evaluation of skills, education, and tenure and that you voiced your concerns to management; and
--Documenting solutions you’ve offered to stop abuse and/or to rectify harm caused by abuse protects your interests because it shows that you aren’t simply a “whiner” or “cry baby” and that you offered a way to resolve problems in-house.
Remember, you are your first line of defense. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns about issues. You have a right to protect your interests. As long as you are expressing concerns in a professional manner and you are making complaints in good faith, there shouldn’t be an issue.