Exposure of crises among Blacks has skyrocketed, and the racial divide is clearly showcased in the consistent not guilty verdicts in police shooting cases, violence at campaign rallies, and the impact of media coverage —due in part to smartphones and social media.
The Black community is mortified. Feelings of hurt, anger, and hatred are widespread and can affect employees in the workplace. Employers have incorporated bereavement and grief support into their employee assistance programs (EAP) for the loss of family members, close friends, and even pets.
However, many Blacks feel they don’t receive enough support for racially charged issues. White coworkers can be left feeling unsure of what to say or do to provide comfort and avoid confrontation. Here’s what our White coworkers can do to be an ally without stirring the pot.
Acknowledge the issues
Failure to acknowledge racism in America is one of the biggest fire-starters in social commentary at work. Many Blacks feel their White coworkers simply can’t relate because they’ve never experienced the social injustices firsthand. Pretending that they “get it” because they have Black friends, mixed children, or grew up in a Black neighborhood in an attempt to minimize the issue will really get coworkers’ blood boiling. We’re receptive to questions from Whites and won’t attack them when they’re genuinely seeking information about situations they don’t understand. Don’t deny the nationwide racial tension, violence, and mistreatment simply because it makes people uncomfortable. If you care, help us cope and find solutions. Making excuses or victim-blaming widens the gap among races.
Don’t ask us to let it go
You let go of a job, a friend, a significant other, or an old pair of shoes — not something that is relentlessly beating down your door, day after day. The worst thing you can do is ask Black people to let go of our disgust with a justice system that’s unfair and a protection service that kills our people. In our minds, if you’re not asked to forget attacks against Whites, we shouldn’t be asked to forget the tragedies we feel are exterminating Black males at an alarming rate. It’s not that we’re expecting you to singlehandedly fix the problem, just don’t straddle the fence. Don’t scream for equality in the break room with us, and play golf with the oppressors on the weekends. That’s not how it works.
Understand that we don’t feel free
Yes, on paper it says we’re free. Understand that if a Black man and a White man are doing the exact same thing within their rights via the law, there may be totally different outcomes based on race. There’s this thing called privilege that is available to any White person at their leisure. Privilege is present in the workplace with promotions and salaries, and in the community with opportunities to go about one’s business without being followed, harassed, or injured. It’s different for us. The freedom to mind your business is something most Blacks experience very minimally. We can’t proudly and safely exercise our legal rights without fear of harm or reprimand. We also can’t freely speak against the institutions that deny us when they also employ us. Imagine that stress. Not that it’s the kryptonite, but using that privilege to contribute to actual changes would be helpful.
In addition to EAPs, employers should provide cultural sensitivity training as part of diversity education. Do some research on your own if you feel your employer’s program is watered down and protects the company more than it protects the employee. Understanding how different races handle certain situations could help prevent offensive comments, inappropriate questions, and lack of acknowledgment of social issues. If you’re not calling someone out for racist or insensitive comments, it sends the message that you condone it.
Let us be emotional
Rage, defeat, terror, and mourning are all emotions kindred to Black people during adversities. The fear of being under attack can affect you in the workplace and at home. We fear for our jobs. We’re afraid for our families, and we’re petrified about the lack of protection. We’ve watched horrifying footage month after month of our people being killed, and it’s hard to function. Each person of each race is not the same and we get it. That’s why we’d rather have your sincere emotional support versus pandering. Continued anger is fueled by Black censorship, cultural appropriation, and total disregard for our lives. Mutual respect is crucial now more than ever.
Racism and racial tension are alive and well. A cultural divide at work can be detrimental to an employee’s well-being if emotions and conflict aren’t handled properly. To see any change and mutual understanding among coworkers of all races will take some time, but we must never ignore the role we play in making a difference.
Ashley Watkins, of Write Step Resumes, LLC, helps job seekers and career changers write their career dreams into reality one step at a time. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or via www.WriteStepResumes.com for resume help, interview prep, career tips, and motivational quotes.
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