“Post-racial America is a theoretical environment in which the United States is free from racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice.”
A little over two years ago, I sat on a conference call with human resources. The IT company I was working with, at the time, had been previously acquired by a bigger corporation. The bigger corporation was in another state, which you have probably deducted was not MY state. Thus, to deal with my pressing HR issue, I had to go to the conference room at the front of our office, and place a call to the HR rep at an assigned time.
If the situation had been different, say I was calling HR to discuss new hire paperwork, benefits, or tuition reimbursement, maybe this situation would have weighed on me better. However, this was unfortunately not the case. Instead of discussing the randomness of mundane HR procedures, I was searching for clarity on actual human resources – white staff members in my office who did not think I deserved to be in the room with them.
This phone call, was the ending to a horrible span of days, that pressed into weeks where I was made to feel inadequate, uneducated, and unequal. I did not scream at anyone. I did not belittle anyone. I was not the villain in a melodrama that simply had it coming. I was simply being punished because I was trying to do a GOOD job. This was a quick about-face for me. I was in the middle of my second year on this job, after leaving a VERY RACIALLY CHARGED hospital environment. As a Masters of Public Health student, I had started to gain some of my confidence back and was happy that I had a year to reflect on my previous job, and build something great at this company. I was ready to contribute and provide input for improvement to make this company soar.
Unlike my last racially charged job, this group of coworkers was very chatty and seemingly good natured. We all talked about our kids, television shows, and random day to day things – a HUGE SHIFT from my previous job where African American workers had to sneak off to lunch because our supervisor got nervous when she saw us chatting in groups.
Looking back (and even in the moment), there were inklings when my new coworkers got a little too comfortable around me and let certain racial phrases slip out like a conversation about healthcare: “I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about other black folks who drain the system.” I would do my PBS public education moment and gently correct their misconceptions about race, religion, etc. and then conduct what I thought was REAL dialogue. The conversations usually ended on a good note after a period of time, everyone smiled, and we all went to lunch together. I was happy in my environment and thinking about what retiring from this company would look like.
Fast forward to about a year into my time at this company, and the takeover by the remote group escalates and with that our boss needs people to step up and take on my responsibility. I was ready! Some of the confidence that was sucked from me during my last job, had returned. I had ideas that I thought would be impactful and I ran them by my boss and my team and initially it seemed like everyone was on board.
As I started to get praise and just tried to seriously manage my projects, everyone changed. I would walk in and people would abruptly stop talking. Or, there were incidents where I was sitting in my desk in our shared workspace while my white counterparts opening talked about me – like high school on crack! This was a breaking point. I was confused and trying to rise above and finally went to my supervisor for an intervention.
My supervisor had what I would refer to as an OPRAH meeting (exploring our feelings and other kumbaya moves). It began with people not talking but after I blatantly asked “what changed” I met cold eyes that I no longer recognized with being friends. They questioned my background to walk-in and do anything with their department (even after my supervisor explained that this was work that needed to be done and everyone knew it). I was told I was a brown-noser and someone stepping on toes. These words within themselves did not shake me much but the looks and tones said plenty. This was not about the new kid making folks feel threatened; this seemed to be race based.
Later, my race theory was confirmed. My company used an inner office communications messenger (i.e. outlook messenger, yahoo messenger) to chat with our peers. One of my antagonizers sent a message to me by accident: I don’t understand why we hire her kind.
Hmm. Did they mean: Smart girls. Health scientists. Skinny girls. Brown people – I think this was the winner.
Back in the conference room, on the day I sat in a conference room to speak to HR, I recounted all of this via phone, as I tried to hold back tears. I had cried a lot during that month. I was in disbelief that people could treat me this way for trying to do my job. I was in disbelief that they could be so open and bold about it. See I was talking to HR about this after I explained to my boss that I thought it was racism and she tried to explain to me that she didn’t think it was but wanted me to talk to HR. HR listened to everything with a “woo woo woo” and a kind ear. Then HR told me it wasn’t racism it was jealously.
For HR and for you now, I will define racism:
* The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. •prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
And then I gave a definition of jealously:
* An unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has. Or an unhappy or angry feeling caused by the belief that someone you love (such as your husband or wife) likes or is liked by someone else.
So I asked, “Couldn’t racism be a type of jealousy?” HR responded, ‘Well, yes BUT in your situation, even with the paperwork I had picked up from the picture where someone had printed out the messenger conversation, this was probably not racism.’ She then gave me some tips on communicating with my coworkers and told me to ring her back anytime I just wanted to chat.
This turn of events took placed in 2014. Not 1955. Not 1961. Not 1970. This took place during what many people will claim, was a post-racial America. Keep in mind that during this time of workplace harassment, my daughter also had an up close and personal experience with racism. While walking to the library, with a group of her charter school friends, they were called a NIGGER by a group of white high school boys driving past them.
It was in this moment where I cried for the final time. I cried for my daughter. I cried for myself. I cried because it was 2014 and we were still dealing with racist bull crap in this country.
I talked to my daughter about the realities of the world. I told her the myth of the post racial America was just a myth. It was something you tell your kids or yourself so that you can sleep better. It’s like a fairytale. It’s like Cinderella. It’s like the fairy godmother coming in and making all things better and the happily ever after.
But our reality was that even after the civil rights movement and the glimpses of racial reconciliation that my daughter saw attending her suburban schools and suburban camps, some people would still judge us because of our skin. Because we were brown people we could never be smart, we could never have valuable ideas, and we could never be equal.
I also told my daughter that even when she grew up she would still be bullied and probably face sexism (but that’s a whole ‘nother post). But overall on that day, I told her that there was no post-racial America. A post-racial society is just a myth. It is not true and sadly if you open your eyes and your ears this is immediately affirmed for you (even now).
I moved on from that company but not from that experience.
I take that experience with me every day and as a result of it, I feel as if it has impacted my future workplace interactions. I am always on guard and waiting for the next racial shoe to drop. And I am not alone. I have a group of black girls that I mentor and we share similar traumatic tales.
It shouldn’t have to be this way. However, when I read the comment sections of blogs and articles at times when we should be coming together to figure out why black lives still don’t matter and why senseless acts of violence are happening to People Of Color (POC), my stomach always turns by those who spew their hate or those who feel POC should be silent because race is no longer an issue in America and we are just stirring a pot of nonsense.
Racism is still here and we need non-POCs to listen and truly engage in the conversation to make this country great again.
No politician can do that for us.
Now, what are WE going do about it?