Monday, November 01, 2010

Labels and Stereotypes Decoded - The Sequel!

At the conclusion of yesterday’s post (on labels and stereotypes in the workplace) we looked at the common criticism of Black employees that we are “angry and defensive.” As promised, today’s African American label and stereotype is…

You Can’t Take Constructive Criticism

When it comes to African Americans, there are so many cases when the issue has absolutely nothing to do with an ability or inability to take constructive criticism. Like being called angry and defensive, it is all about being able to legitimately apply a label that will easily convey that an African American has a bad attitude. The beauty of it is, accusing someone of not being able to take constructive criticism takes the race related edge off of personality-based comments. When you’re a solid employee and you’re accused of not being able to take criticism, there are so many other factors that may be at play:

· You spoke up to a White person – The easiest and most common way to get this can’t take criticism label is to speak up to a person who does not think you are in a position to demand to be treated respectfully, give input on assignments, make decisions, pass judgment or critique any aspect of the project you are working or to give constructive criticism to those you are working with. The person doesn’t appreciate your contribution to a conversation because you touched a sore spot that they have. While they may have been hypersensitive to your comments, you are the one who will actually get the label. Now, you will be considered to be a person who has extreme reactions to helpful advice and routine communication with other staff. You will be told that people feel they have to walk on egg-shells around you or perhaps that people don’t know how to approach you because of fear of how you will react. You will be painted with cartoon-like brush strokes as having a chip—or a Wild E Coyote-sized anvil—on your shoulder.

· Jealousy – you’re doing a good job and someone wants to knock you down a peg. Since they can’t trash your work, they’ll go after your personality. Painting an African American as unable to take criticism/being sensitive is an easily acceptable comment to make to management that will be remembered during the performance review period.

· Job Threat - you’re doing a good job and someone wants to knock you down a peg because you are perceived as a direct threat to their job. They don’t want you to start getting the same assignments they receive and they certainly don’t want you to have the same title and similar income. Out of competitiveness, they decide to play hardball with you and your reputation. They will take comments you make, blow them out of proportion, and ensure that you are stuck with labels that will haunt you.

· Fear – A person’s racially-based fears can easily morph into allegations of all sorts of negative behavior on a Black employee's part. Two women I had problems with at my last job, both White, are the same two women who were obvious racists. One person had issues working with other African American women—she even gave us all the same labels, but she’s put a different twist on them. She called me “angry and defensive,” another woman “moody,” and a third woman was “not nice” and “snooty.” She made sure to talk to all 3 of our supervisors or directors about our "bad attitudes." We each had to participate in a meeting, solely based on her word. We also heard her critiques at our yearly performance reviews.

The second racist on my job told me about how she came from a racist Mormon family. She assured me that she “wasn’t like that.” Yet, despite her protest, she always spelled and provided definitions for simple words as she spoke to me. And, she didn’t do this to anyone else in our department. Oh, that’s right. I was the only African American in the department, so she didn’t have a chance to be tutor to anyone else. Both of these women, whom I had to address about their negative behaviors, spoke to my supervisor with false allegations and labels. They, obviously, never shared their own offensive behaviors and stereotyping.

The problem with being labeled as unable to take constructive criticism is it’s hard to defend yourself, without making the label seem appropriate. Don’t forget, you can’t take constructive criticism so any attempt to explain a misperception or outright lie about your character will just reinforce the trap that’s been laid out for you. Racism is a trip, y'all!!

Tomorrow’s post will examine the label and stereotype…

You’re Not a Team Player!



Blogger cijlove said...

i enjoyed this post. i was wondering if you had any articles or journals that covered this issue, particularly misperceived "attitudes" of african american workers. i am dealing with a similar issue at work and would like to present an article to my superiors. thank you!

8:56 PM  

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