In our love and acclamation of diversity and multiculturalism in the workplace, an elephant, in the room needs to be addressed.
Have you ever experienced someone rubbing and patting your hair like you’re an animal? Giving you menial work because they assume that’s all you can do? Been on the receiving end of patronizing compliments? Stalking you around the office? Shown bigoted or offensive imagery because you “get it?”Have you brought a concern to HR, only to be victim blamed because it's “their word against mine?” Have you been outright gaslighted by your supervisors and colleagues? If you answered yes to any of these questions and have experienced any of the negative emotions associated with the incidents, then you are one step closer to realizing what African-Americans in the workplace feel every day.
This is known as workplace racial harassment. “Racial harassment is defined as a person or group repeatedly using discriminatory remarks, behaviors, or practices to show racial intolerance against a co-worker or their color, descent, culture, language, or religion” (Prevention Violence, 2018). Some specific examples of racial intolerance in the work place listed on the site are: making jokes, insinuations, humiliating comments, or racially oriented remarks. Criticizing and being intolerant in regard to the victim’s differences: his or her accent, clothing, hairdo, customs and beliefs. Acting disgusted or showing contempt in the victim’s presence. Stereotyping the victim with subordinate tasks or case-loads. Trying to hinder or stop the victim’s chances for a promotion. (Prevention Violence, 2018)
The impact of racial intolerance in the work place is huge and includes decreased productivity, feelings of hurt and humiliation, and possible legal litigation. We know that this is an issue and you might be asking “what can we do about it?” The natural inclination would be to tackle the incident as soon as it is reported. However, because of how racial harassment works in a discriminatory workplace, victims may not feel comfortable reporting such incidents with a supervisor. Often anti-black stereotypes of the angry black man and woman are feared to be invoked. This can lead to further frustration or outrage which again they might choose to suppress. This creates a cyclic bottled feeling which exacerbates the situation.
When it comes to solutions to racial harassment, African-Americans have historically experienced racial harassment not only in the workplace, but throughout our society as a whole. It is a widely accepted fact that discrimination against African-Americans based on the notion of race in America is a foundational piece of our society. African-Americans have not only dealt with this antagonism historically, with extraordinary patience, but have always offered solutions to the issues. Racial discrimination is something they live daily, making them experts on navigating it.
Workplace discrimination and harassment is debilitating and wrong, not to mention illegal. To prevent it you must ensure that there are anti-racist policies and practices in place and being implemented in your workplace. One thing an organization can do is create a racial equity committee. This committee would be tasked to ensure the creation and proper implementation of internal and external anti-racist company policies. If in doubt, have a genuine open conversation with all staff about potential problems and listen to them and the solutions that come from the people of color employed at your organization.