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Racism Stories: Microaggressions at Work
by Kara Smith, M.A.
Kara Smith is one of my sister-friends from the FLOWLab - and a constant fount of wisdom. So when she said she had a story to share about an experience of microaggressions at work, I immediately knew I wanted to feature it in the “Racism Stories” section. Please read on to hear what happened to Kara, and how she recommends folx deal with similar experiences…
Microaggressions at Work
Before going back to work for myself, I was hired by a startup in growth mode. 3 months later it was bought by a venture capitalist and I became a W2 employee alongside 8 other contractors. This is the first time revisiting my experience in a racist workplace since leaving the company 2 years ago; writing this was difficult.
It's worth noting, I was the only Black person out of 11 people and the only boomer. The 10 white people included two wealthy men and 8 millennials. With my background and a M.A. in Media Studies and Digital Design, I had the highest level of education on the team.
As a user experience representative I interacted one-on-one with customers and was extremely good at it. I increased sales by more than 300% and designed the construct of their AI automated conversations, still in use today.
When George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, aggression from my coworkers increased exponentially.
The First Incident
The first major incident occurred during an online Christmas team gathering. The CEO had invited his investment partner to meet the team and "jokingly" introduced me as the “Walmart Shopper”. That stung.
After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, January 2021, my role changed completely. I was assigned a new counterpart who had recently been reprimanded for a drawing of a dog in a confederate soldier uniform behind her during a Zoom meeting.
During our first interaction, she said she had no interest in being friendly and only wanted to discuss compliance. Every ounce of my physiology told me I was not safe . A week later she published on the company’s blog. While addressing the importance of having a diverse workforce, she chose an image of a heavy-set black woman surrounded by her white teammates at a computer. Though I was not mentioned, the unflattering photo was clearly supposed to be me.
The following month was February and of course the CEO asked me to do a presentation for Black History month. I wanted to at least leave them with some information and open up some new awareness. One of my colleagues redid the illustrations in my presentation, then posted it on their website for future reference.
Subtle and Painful
Microaggressions are very subtle interactions. They're laced with gaslighting that leaves us questioning our own interpretations; there's always room for doubt. Intentional or not, people make excuses for their racist behavior. For me, this is the part that's unsettling, unsupportive and infuriating.
When I discussed the “just interested in compliance” that had occurred with my racist co-worker, my manager dismissed me instantly, saying I was rushing to conclusions–how she was shy.
I responded in writing why his handling of the situation was racially biased. I never received a reply, but 2-days later my manager conducted a mandatory HR meeting. He went over proper communication protocol to avoid litigation.
Two weeks after that, during our weekly scheduled call my manager threatened to "come to Arizona and straighten out some things." At this point, I was afraid for my life.
The Last Straw
The final straw was when I noticed the revenue from my sales being redirected to another employee. My manager denied it, even though I’d seen the back end with my own eyes.
I had had enough and requested a separation agreement, and was offered $9,500 in exchange for my silence.
How to Handle Microaggressions at Work
Here are some tips if this happens to you, though I hope it doesn’t:
1. Work through what’s important with someone you trust.
2. Get support (a coach, therapy) to better process what happened to you.
3. Find a spiritual connection for healing.
4. Start your own business! Choose a name; purchase your url before you register it.
5. Plan your exit strategy!
Regardless of their intention, their racism is not what dictated my actions. How I chose to interact made all the difference.
I recall having these 2 distinct thoughts in order of importance when making my plan.
1. Is this action going to keep me physically safe?
2. Is this action going to move me forward in my life and career?
Karma is Real!
Whether you pursue legal action or not, take comfort in the karmic energy of the universe. The depths of mental instability of someone exhibiting racist behavior does not get a pass because they're in charge.
Trust that their dysfunctionality radiates, wreaking havoc throughout their life. It's not isolated to their place of work. For every action, there is an equal, opposite reaction. You decide how to move forward. How you react is your superpower. It was definitely mine.
How did Kara’s experience resonate with you? What tips for dealing with microaggressions would you add? Please share your thoughts.
Struggling with microaggressions at work? Sign up for Kara’s self-directed course “Managing Microaggression at Work”.
Kara is a solopreneur, principal and founder of Lotus Lion Learning, She is a leadership and development coach, producer, project manager, and writer and content designer, with a background in film and video and more than 20-years of experience.
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.
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