Essence Magazine's November 2010 issue addresses an unfortunately common problem in a lot of workplaces: Racism. In its article, "Is Your Boss a Racist?", Ms. Michelle Burford spells out the top items to consider when wondering how to fight back when you don't know what to do (or how to do it). In this blog post, I am going to bulletpoint and summarize some of the major points of the article:
- If you are encountering racism in your workplace, do not feel alone or believe your situation is unique. According to Burford, "more than 30,000 race-based charges at work were filed last year." Can you imagine how many weren't filed? A lot of people suffer in silence, afraid of losing their jobs or suffering an adverse reaction at work. But don't for one moment believe that you have to be stuck in such a terrible situation. I have excerpted below some of Burford's tips:
-Keep Impeccable Records: "Stacey Gray, a New York City employment attorney in private practice, says, 'One way to assess if your boss is being a jerk or discriminatory is to document everything. Employees should note who, what, when, where and how - and that will help answer why. Keep a daily journal listing objective and relevant facts, but not on company letterhead, e-mail or electronic devices.'" My thoughts: This is fantastic advice. If by chance you do file a complaint, you want to actually have as much documented information and evidence as possible. Memory-based information is useful, but written documentation is even better.
-Seek Feedback: "'Review the facts with a trusted source - a friend, career coach or mentor,' says certified coach Cheryl Palmer, founder of Call to Career in Silver Spring, Maryland.'" As Burford notes, you should ask whether you have enough of a case to take your claim to human resources. In addition, "read the employee manual to learn the company protocol." My thoughts: This is great advice. As the article later notes, human resources is not on your side. They exist to protect the company, so you should have everything well documented and make sure you seek feedback before heading to HR.
-Address the Abuser: As Burford notes, you should not believe that you cannot address a co-worker who uses a racial slight. In my opinion, there are plenty of people who think such slights are amusing and believe they can get away with it because (1) they may believe that you won't say anything because you don't want to suffer adverse reaction or (2) you probably don't want to be perceived as an "overly sensitive minority." But don't back down. As Burford notes, tell them, in a calmly matter: "Your comment is inappropriate. Let's keep our relationship on a professional level." Some bullies will back down (especially if they didn't know that it was offensive in the first place).
-Know When to Exit: In the article, Attorney Gray notes that you should feel comfortable leaving the workplace "when you have enough money to continue your livelihood." In addition, she notes that "if you've properly documented the facts, use that to negotiate a severance agreement." Furthermore, you should consider the company's culture: "Is this an isolated incident or is racism either explicitly or implicitly encouraged?" As the article notes, "if it is the latter, analyze how soon you could land another job. If you need to stay for a season, use the time to sharpen your skills."
My overall thoughts:
You should never feel as though you must suffer in silence when you encounter discrimination. You have a protected right to earn income without dealing with discrimination, so don't be afraid to exercise that right. As Burford's article notes, you have plenty of options when you are placed in such an uncomfortable situation. You have the right to fight, or you can walk away if you believe that is a better (and affordable) option for you. In my opinion, there is no amount of money in the world worth that sort of daily frustration and emotional pain.
By: Cafe Belle's Barista//Excerpts from "Is Your Boss A Racist?", by Michelle Burford (Essence Magazine, November 2010 Issue)