In the last few weeks, as some businesses prepare (prematurely in my opinion) to force everyone back into the office, there have been a lot of surveys revealing that Black and Brown people are less than thrilled about this move. One survey showed that 97% of Black people would rather remain at home. In another story, Black people have changed jobs rather than go back.
The only thing that surprises me about that is the tone of surprise in some of the articles. I no longer work in an office - I haven’t done for years - and I never want to go back. Those who are newer to the work from home life feel the same way, especially if they’re Black.
Of course, there are many who have grown accustomed to the flexibility work from home gives you. As a woman, no longer do you need to accept side-eye when leaving work to take your child to the pediatrician; when you work from home you can do that AND deliver on that big project. You’re free to manage your time, and as long as you meet your deadlines, nobody cares what hours you actually spend at work.
But working from home is particularly important for Black and Brown people for another reason: cutting down on their experiences of racism. Honestly, it’s worth it.
If you think about it - and I know I’ve said this before - the minute you step out of your door as a Black person, you deal with the white gaze, with white perceptions of what a Black person is. People can huddle away from you in the elevator in your own building, and once you get out the door, you have to cope with the journey to work, which can also be fraught.
Within the office, there are the microaggressions and microinvalidations that poison your mental equilibrium bit by bit. Is it worse for people to dismiss you or demean you because of racist assumptions? It’s hard to tell. Most Black people experience both, and office life can be brutal if you’re living in this skin.
Sure, you can still be ignored or invalidated in a Zoom meeting, but many say that it happens less. When you’re at home, you don’t need to code switch in the same way, and it’s easier to be closer to the person that you actually are. (Not your full self, of course, because that would probably still be too Black for many of your white colleagues.)
Here’s another situation where working from home is better for Black people. We’re living in a time when hundreds of Black people are still getting killed by the police. When this happens, as a Black person you often have to rein in your feelings of anger and despair, and make your white colleagues feel good, too. When working from home, you can take the time to express those feelings fully, without the judgement that would happen in the office.
These are only a few situations, but I hope you see why 97% of Black people would rather continue to work from home. If they ARE forced back to the office, white colleagues can help by not adding to the problem (no microaggressions, microinvalidations, bias or expectations of emotional labor), and by actively interrupting that racism when you see it. In other words, make your allyship active.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.