Racism is probably one of the most difficult subjects to discuss in the workplace. Emotions run high in this topic area, and, while many people believe that the days of overt, outright racial injustice are gone, nothing could be further from the truth. Racism rears its ugly head in so many ways these days, from biased treatment to microaggressions. Dealing with racism and racial tensions at work is a tricky matter. This deeply embedded and challenging issue cannot be dealt with in one quick blog post, but if you are experiencing racism at work, consider the following strategies:
Ask the question: This is probably one of the most effective ways to combat racist comments. Unfortunately, racism is so ingrained in American culture that a lot of people are not even aware when they’re making racist comments. If you find yourself in this situation, you can simply ask, “what do you mean?” This forces the person making the comment to consider what they are saying and takes the onus off of you to respond to their comment.
Do not dismiss your feelings or experience: If you think that someone’s behavior or comments were racist in nature, then you are probably correct. All too often, those who are experiencing the racism are told that they are too sensitive or that they are overreacting. One of the insidious aspects of racism is the constant negating of people of color and their experiences. Do not allow anyone to make you feel like your experiences are not valid or important.
Find safe spaces to talk: One of the ugliest aspects of racism is its ability to make you feel isolated and alone. Do not allow yourself to sit with all the negative emotions that come out of a racist encounter. Find someone who understands what you are going through and will support you. Be mindful who you choose because you don’t need to speak to anyone who is going to invalidate or try to minimize your experience.
Stay calm: While this can be incredibly difficult to do, it is important to manage your emotions and remain in control of the situation. All too often, any demonstration of anger or rage on your part will only distract from the person perpetuating the racist comment or behavior. Staying calm will also allow you to stay empowered even in this unjust situation.
Speak up: Educating others about racism is exhausting, and yet it can be a vehicle for change. While you are under no obligation to teach others, it may be empowering for you to inform your colleagues about how their comments or behaviors are affecting you and the work environment.
Request training: There are numerous professionals and organizations that provide professional development training in cultural diversity and equity for companies. You can suggest that your company consider this option as a way to create a healthier and more congenial work environment.
Keep a journal: Sometimes, after you have tried numerous strategies, there will be a colleague or boss who continues to bombard you with microaggressions or make racist jokes or discriminate against you. When you see a pattern and when your attempts to address the issue does not seem to make a difference in their behavior, it is time to start documenting what is happening. Do this quietly and privately because you may need to use this information in the future.
Report to HR: While no one wants to be in this position, there comes a time when this may be your only option. This course of action will likely cause backlash, so you have to understand this and prepare for the stigma, hostility, and other negative consequences that may result from your report. That said, you have the right to protect yourself, and if you find you have no other options, then seek guidance from your HR Manager.
– Cynthia Santiago, empowerment coach and founder of Latina Wellness