Monday, September 20, 2010

Tough Reality About Racism in the Workplace

Although this post is about what I call the concept of "White privelege," let's not forget that other minority groups AND Blacks, themselves, are equally capable of having biases against Blacks and of engaging in workplace behavior that may violate Federal statutes/employment laws. Having said that, this post is about White on Black realities in the workplace.


You only have to talk to Black workers to realize how many of us feel that our careers are often intentionally stifled by those we work with. Sometimes I wonder exactly how many African Americans have been held back, railroaded, and marginalized simply because of our race. I think the answer is far more people than we will ever know. I mean, how do you calculate the number of White managers or supervisors that have not promoted Black staff or given Black staff the same consideration and benefits that White workers routinely receive?

Some Whites would probably say, “That’s sounds like a cop out. Maybe some Blacks just don’t work hard to get what they want.” But, that’s what I expect someone to say when they are the beneficiary of White privilege.

White privilege is the polar opposite of The Black Factor. White privilege is a positive. The Black Factor is a negative. And, much of what goes on in corporate America has to do with these shallow and inappropriate ways of handling issues, evaluating people, examining situations, and making decisions.

White privilege allows you to believe that anyone who hasn’t achieved a certain level of success didn’t do so because they had no desire to succeed and, therefore, really didn’t try hard enough. White privilege allows you to tell someone, with a straight face, that all they have to do is work harder and longer hours than anyone else and that everything else will fall into place. White privilege allows you to not be truthful to yourself or others about the reality of preferential treatment.

Preferential treatment comes from those in power to those they designate as recipients of that power. Far too often, those recipients typically don’t come with a Black face. People choose to associate with those that are like themselves or those who they believe will “fit in.” In corporate America, when all things are equal, nothing is ever equal. So, when someone’s up for a promotion and a White manager has to choose between a White employee and an African American employee, and all things are equal regarding qualifications, years of experience, technical expertise, etc., many White managers are going to select the White employee for the promotion. They’d have to fight human nature, and any personal biases they may have or stereotypes they believe, in order to do the opposite.

Some White people don’t seem to get or want to accept the reality that there are different sets of rules for different people. But that’s the privilege of White privilege. White privilege allows you to believe that everyone has an equal shot to succeed in this country, despite this country’s horrid racial history and current social and economic issues that impact minorities living in America today.

White privilege allows you to become the judge, jury, and, should you choose it, the executioner, of others. White privilege allows you to provide conflicting reasons for your words and actions and to expect that others will accept the contradictions without question. White privilege is the ultimate privilege, hence bliss, because it is the cornerstone that keeps your world afloat—this belief that you are innately superior to everyone around you.

I’ll give you an example of White privilege in action. I’ve worked in Human Resources on a couple of jobs. More than once, I’ve been told that we were placing employment ads, but only as legality. If I received any applications or resumes, I was told to place them in a file with a copy of the employment ad and to tuck them away in a file cabinet. No one was going to be interviewed because someone had already been picked for the position. And, it was usually a friend or the friend of a friend of someone currently working at the company. Yes, they were always White. These people had the job before walking in the door. The interview was a mere formality. Repeat this in how many workplaces and tell me how many other applicants ever had a crack at employment?

It must be nice to have a system rally around your effort to find gainful employment. Most of us wouldn’t know anything about that. Nevertheless, many Americans actually question why affirmative action has been needed in America. They can brag about the system hooking them up, in one breath, and then argue that African Americans and other minorities should have to earn their way into the system, in the next breath. This is despite the free pass that many of them have used and despite systematic racism and other social factors.

For African Americans, hard work, experience, intelligence and other factors don’t automatically translate into success. The Black Factor prevents many African Americans from becoming mid-level managers, executives or even entrepreneurs. People pretend there’s no such thing as White privilege and preferential treatment. But, we all know—deep down—that lots of things people receive (from jobs to qualifying for home and business loans) were acquired because they just happened to be the right color or class.

What’s my point?

Give up?

Never! That’s what the racist wants. So, don’t give them that victory.

The point is that it’s not always about you. It’s often about other people’s bullshit and baggage. The Black Factor is their issue. It’s an issue people force on you…another standard they hold you to. It’s tempting to wonder what you’re doing wrong. It’s tempting to think that other people are inherently superior to you, that they’re always smarter than you are.

But, it’s important to remember that everything people receive, they didn’t always earn. They didn’t necessarily get “it” because they were smarter than you or more talented than you. They didn’t necessarily get something because they played the game better than you.

Sometimes people are just lucky, sometimes they had that hook-up, and sometimes they were the “right” color. Regardless of whatever lines are fed to you about some shortcoming on your part, keep working hard, find ways to improve, and keep striving to do better—for you!

Don’t internalize other people’s bullshit.

Don’t beat yourself up.

You’re not inferior.

Control what is within your power to control.

Fight for what you’ve earned and...

Don’t give it away by giving people ammunition to use against you!


Blogger Fighter said...

Excellent article.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done! well done!

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Workplace Sexism said...

Great post! Been reading a lot about discrimination in the workplace. Thanks for the info here!

7:11 AM  
Anonymous black man discriminated at work said...

Thanks so much for this article. As a black man, I have been dealing with racism in the workplace my whole adult life. Keep up the good work.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Coley said...

I'm so sick of hearing I have strong personality, and I'm defensive because I refuse to cook meanwhile the white ppl can be themselves...and it's just charged to "well u kno how Carol is" type shit. ..smh

4:58 PM  
Blogger Coley said...

I meant *coon

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the supportive article. I'm so tired of the favoritism and they tell me I'm not being equitable or fair. It's easy to internalize what they say and how they feel about me. It's comforting to know that I'm not alone but I don't want anyone to have to endure this.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your article. It is spot on with how racism can make you feel. Recently, I began to feel this way at my job. I watched a brand new teacher come in the door and was instantly treated like a golden child (by whites and blacks alike!). Even though my qualifications outweighed hers and I had more experience, I saw her given great opportunities while I was treated like the stepchild.

I truly began to question what I was doing wrong and began trying to "retool" myself (ex: learning how to present myself better, etc.). I was team leader at work, but I often felt her resistance. She would often go over my head to our department chair to question me and go out of her way to try to impress administration, especially when she was in my presence. It felt like she was silently begging: "Choose me, not her." I allowed her actions to cause me to doubt myself in my weaker moments. However, I began to realize that a person who is truly superior does not need to be handed benefits. Cheating, which is what the white privilege system is, is an admission that the white "privilegee" cannot compete and win when on equal footing with the non-white. When I look at it from this angle, my sanity is preserved.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were just talking about this issue with my friend yesterday he works in corporate America and he has seen it where jobs are posted just for the sake to meet legal requirements,but my question is isn't that an illegal practice can't they be arrested for that I am a African with a BA Economics and MBA Marketing and am still jobless doing part time work and contracts and each time I go for interviews I get offered jobs that are for people who have a high school diploma,my qualifications are totally invisible to them just because I am black.......... I have double jeopardy not only am I black am African too,the last place I worked was really racist all the managers were white and although some blacks had worked there 7 or 8 years they were still regular employees.....racism is well and alive in corporate america the only way to get through it is by starting our own black enterprises and supporting black businesses......I heard someone say once Jews and Indians make sure that if they want to buy something they buy from each other,he went on to claim that a dollar from a Jew operates 18 times within their group before it goes out of their circle.......But I still keep on grinding some of my relatives have totally given up on corporate america and work in Hospitals and Nursing Homes.....and they are well educated with professional certifications and degrees.... .their argument is I will make money as quickly as possible and invest back in Africa and retire in Africa..........seen one too many do that....

5:45 AM  

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