I’ve been paying attention to a series of posts on LinkedIn outlining real experiences a Black person has had in the workplace. And I’ve also talked to some of my friends about their experiences. The one thing all the incidents have in common is that the Black person was the only people of their hue, and that they got little to no support from their white colleagues and bosses.
Take the case of the Black person who was being bullied by a white male colleague. The first time they raised it, it was clear that their other white colleagues knew the bully was an issue, but didn’t plan to do anything about it, because it didn’t affect them personally. In fact, the Black person’s white bosses wanted to move them to a different part of the organization, away from the role they loved, rather than deal with it. They refused, and the bullying went on.
When the issue was raised again, there was a bit more acknowledgment that the bullying might be an issue. It was suggested that the Black person go to HR, but they refused, because they’d been down that road before, and had seen what happened to other colleagues when they did. There’s nothing like reporting racism, bullying, sexism or another ism to turn a Black person from “office pet to office threat” in double quick time.
Black people have been on this not so merry-go-round many times: HR will make a note of their complaint, but suddenly their formerly exemplary record is tarnished because their performance has become a problem. They might be denied a raise or an opportunity, or put back on probation. It’s what the Brits call constructive dismissal - creating conditions where Black people feel they have no choice but to leave. They might even be fired. The only thing that has changed is that the Black person spoke up.
Would-be allies, this is one of the reasons why your sole Black colleague suddenly ups and leaves. They probably can’t take it any more, and have to go somewhere where they can enjoy a halcyon period before the cycle starts all over again.
If you want to be an ally to your Black colleagues, the very FIRST thing you can do is believe them when they report racism, bullying or a micro-aggression. Believe them without question. Believe them like you would believe yourself.
The second thing is to check your automatic response to support the white guy. It’s ingrained into all of us, even those who look like me, because of long years of enslavement, colonialism, and discrimination. Even if you feel a justification coming to your lips, hold it back, because if you let it out, that Black colleague will never trust you again.
And the third thing is to interrupt your white colleague’s bad behavior and advocate for your Black colleague. In other words, let your allyship be more than just words.
Even with that, your Black colleague may still choose to leave. If they’ve been working for decades, they’ve probably lost count of how many times they’ve faced this situation. They’re mentally and emotionally exhausted, and they may not be able to take any more. As an ally, you need to be aware of what they may be going through, and stop it in its tracks before you lose their talent.
Have you seen this happen where you’ve worked? How did you handle it?
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.