Navigating Hard Times & Blackness in the Workplace

Another child shot by police. An innocent woman killed in her home. The election of a bigoted, hateful candidate.

When White America tells us that they don’t value our lives or view us as equals, but we still have to face them at work, how do we cope? We still have to support our families and provide for ourselves, but there is an emotional cost to account for.

In many work environments, I have been the only Black woman, and those around me were either vocal about their opposing views, or remained silent regarding police brutality, discriminating legislation, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and blatant misogyny. The silence is more menacing because it is tacit approval .

How do we navigate the minefield of workplace aggressions and microaggressions ?

First, and most important, take care of yourself.

Next, decide if it is worth it to you to spend time and energy educating your co-workers. Consult company guidelines or HR first! You are not responsible for educating your peers and you do not bear the responsibility of being the spokesperson for all people of color, LGBT or women. However, if you choose, you can share your unique perspective and experiences on current events. For many of your co-workers, you might be their only access to someone who is “different”. Use these water cooler conversations to put a human face on your struggles. Offer concrete tasks to draw them into allyship, such as organizing a vigil after a police shooting or an open forum to engage with the communities affected.  Discuss what steps your organization can take to support marginalized communities.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to engage in conversation about current events with your coworkers, you can deflect and redirect. If someone asks “How does this make you feel?” because you identify with a marginalized community, you can deflect. Make it about them instead, “I’m actually interested in your views on the matter. How do you feel?”. If someone  makes an offensive comment, hold them accountable by asking, “What did you mean by that”. Most people don’t expect to have to explain their ill-intended jokes, and explaining it forces them, and those listening, to interrogate their meaning.

Finally, be the change you want to see in the world. The daily aggressions and microaggressions can really take a toll on your psyche. You have the power to take a negative experience and let it propel you in a positive direction: volunteer, organize and advocate. Speak with your actions, showing everyone around you that these causes are worth time and attention. Even if it doesn’t persuade anyone, you have the satisfaction of making a difference in the world.