It’s been a hellish couple of weeks. From the COVID-19 chaos to the global protests around systemic racism and trying to support/uplift marginalized communities at time – there’s a lot going on all at once. Brands, visible people and celebrities have been urged to use their platform. Some have succeeded and others are learning the way that insincere statements won’t fly anymore. However, the subsequent fumbling led to a discussion around racism in the workplace. This month, Janine Jellars shared a tweet that really encompassed how many BPOC in creative industries have felt for a long time.
You see, big established brands have been sharing #BlackLivesMatter solidarity content but don’t do the work at home. Hiring black professionals but making sure they don’t ever reach senior levels or just brushing away serious work environment concerns. I saw plenty of people share their experiences and it was the first time I’ve really had this discussion openly online. It’s been alluded to on my own timeline, but most of the time black and brown women won’t share their experiences because they’re under surveillance. From stalking your socials to monitoring your comms – it’s all there. You’ll tweet one thing and companies will try to get you fired.
The racism young black and brown women face can take years off your life – and traumatize you from ever going into full-time employment again. It’s even harder to share your story, because who the hell knows who’s watching and willing to fire you with ease?
(Speaking about black/brown women here mainly as this relates to my own life but these experiences extend to LGBTQIA+, disabled BPOC)
Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups.Wikipedia
Dealing with derogatory covertly racist comments
Being the only black or brown person in the room can signal some very strange behaviour in the workplace. As a white person, you really should not be commenting on anyone’s hair, accent, background or racial identity. You’ll encounter people who will ask about your accent and how you don’t sound [insert racial group here] or allude to stereotypes about your race. I’ve been asked in an office full of colleagues whether my accent changed when I’m drunk. Asking uncomfortable questions about your hair type along with mimicking blaccents badly to show just how much time they don’t spend around black people. If you wouldn’t talk to a fellow white person like that, don’t try it with black and brown folks.
Fetishizing and sexual harassment
Another horrible aspect of the workplace is being harassed, put under a microscope and dealing with unwanted advances. There’s nothing quite as unnerving as dealing a higher up who clearly enjoys making flirty, gross comments or touching co-workers inappropriately. The assumption is that black and brown women are just “by nature” promiscuous and easy to sleep with. Yes, sexual racism exists. I saw how dark-skinned black women were being treated way way way differently and how their space was violated constantly.
Gaslighting and calling women difficult when they speak up
Silence is violence. I can’t count how many times I’ve been called difficult when I choose to speak up. Black women will make a point and be called “aggressive” for sharing valid concerns. It helps no one if you’re silent while it’s happening or wait for a black/brown woman to state the obvious when a bigoted statement is made. You can’t be an ally and pick when the time suits you to talk. I don’t have that liberty. Don’t get me started on how your skillset will be challenged and you’ll have to jump through hoops to prove you actually know what you’re doing. I’ve got six years of experience and was disparagingly told how to do my job (from editing pictures to how to come up with content) by someone who’d never done close to half the work I have on my portfolio. My work was not up to standard and yet somehow the processes I implemented remained in place long after I left.
You’ll be experiencing out loud classism, racism, ableism and be told to share the exact point/statement said so people can “do better”. They don’t and they never will. The result is that you feel like you’re living in a dream world where nothing is real – gaslighting anyone?
The cognitive dissonance on how multiple people I’ve encountered (because this hasn’t been an isolated incident) can claim to care about others but refuse to acknowledge their outright detrimental behaviour? The audacity.
Black lives can’t only matter for a social post or when you want to appeal to potential clients. They can’t matter when you don’t promote BPOC to higher positions. And it sure af doesn’t matter when you make the work environment a living hell for them too.
Thank you to all the black women who shared their stories. You made me feel seen and heard. I hope we’re able to heal. Everyone else?