We hope the allies who were willing to be loud for us in the streets and with blacked out images on social media will also be loud for us in the workplace.
In the Canadian context, the mindset is to look at our neighbours to the south and pat ourselves on the backs for having fewer bullet ridden-bodies on our streets, when we should instead be fighting for a country where there is no tolerance for racism and no one’s reality is made more difficult because of the colour of their skin.
Every black person working in a predominantly white environment has stories of experiences that literally could never happen to their white counterparts. This is also racism. No matter how much a company may talk about inclusion and diversity, it is hard to trust HR and I&D departments that lack representation and a track record of action, so many black people strive to avoid them at all costs.
“Keep your head down.”
“Face your front.”
“Don’t ruffle any feathers.”
“Don’t rock the boat.”
These are common refrains in the conversations we have behind closed doors.
We are often subject to the ignorance, insensitivity and stereotyping of the people we work with, without any fair recourse. We are often expected to educate them without acknowledgement of the emotional burden that brings. We are often afraid of how speaking our truth may cause offence or discord, draw attention to us that may harm our careers or contribute to a negative view of other black people.
Am I too loud?
Do I smile enough?
Is this hairstyle “professional”?
If I assert my opinion or speak up will I be seen as intimidating or angry?
Can I win if it’s my word against their tears?
Many of us choose to behave in ways that ensure we are seen as “laid back” and “agreeable” even through the microaggressions that may fill our days, the experiences we have the we cannot prove because they are a product of implicit bias, and the clear moments where our presence in an organization is attributed to being a diversity hire.
Many of us choose to shrink ourselves in response and to be less visible, less likely to make a big deal of our accomplishments, less build a high profile in the workplace. It is impossible to tell the opportunities for professional progress that may have been lost this way. It is impossible to know the extent of the erosion to black economic prosperity from these cumulative losses. Then add to that the impact on one’s mental health of always having to let things go and spending much of the day not getting to be oneself.
Black people shouldn’t have to see standing up for themselves as risking their jobs, or see being themselves as limiting their careers, but that is the current reality for many of us.
There are things that need to be said in the workplace, and lessons that need to be taught in our organization that would be much better received and much safer for black employees if they were coming from allies.
Mita is a Calgary-based wordsmith with a passion for music. When she’s not busy being communications professional, you can find her collapsed on her sofa or working to create spaces where people of the Diaspora can have fun and connect. Her pen in mightier than a sword.