Getting Comfortable with being Uncomfortable in the Workplace

Yesterday someone shared a link to a video from the Late Night with Seth Meyers show. It is a conversation between Meyers and a Black woman writer on his show, Amber Ruffin. In the clip, the two are talking about last weekend’s Alt-Right/Neo-Nazi/White Supremacy event in Charlottesville, Virginia. Amber is explaining to Seth that Black people are TIIIIIIEEED (tired, and the extra emphasis is mostly mine) of racism and need a “safe space” where we can be free to feel whatever it is that we feel about racism.

Check out the clip:

I thought this was genius! In fact, so much so, that I wanted to share it on LinkedIn, which I am CLEAR, is not a site that people believe should be used to express “political” opinions. A great friend of mine reminded me of this and strongly advised against it. I heeded her advice. However, my rationale for wanting to share it on LinkedIn is that this is not a “political” issue for people who look like me. What some may see as a matter of personal politics, I see as a matter of my humanity and ultimately, my safety.  It is a privilege not afforded to everyone to be able to leave your identity outside of the office door. These are conversations that we SHOULD be having in a place in which we spend more than half of our waking hours. I thought that by sharing on LinkedIn, managers would understand the need to have these conversations in the workplace. White people must begin to understand that Black people need a place where they can be surrounded by positive images of Blackness in order to refill and restore what the world tries to strip from us daily.

My colleagues must begin to understand that I NEED the Angela Davis poster that is pinned to my wall to remind me of my strength when a colleague blatantly says that poor, urban (Black) students (i.e. me as a youth) don’t deserve nice things. They must begin to understand that I NEED the red, black, and green colored printout of the continent of Africa next to my computer screen. It is to remind me of my roots when another colleague talks about her German heritage and how her great grandfather immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. It is to take my mind away from the fact that for me to join the conversation is to talk about the Middle Passage or the fact that I can’t trace my heritage through my last name because Lord knows there is nothing Irish about me. They must begin to understand that it is not a slight to them when me and my fellow Black sisters and brothers get together to have private pow wows in the conference room or back hallway because we are processing the latest police killing of an unarmed Black man (or woman, or child) while they are discussing weekend plans or their concert tickets for that night.

While it may not be feasible to have a “room” in the office that is a safe space, it is important for department heads and organizational leaders to recognize that Black people cannot and should not be expected to leave their identities at the door, especially in these turbulent times. Unfortunately, America is not and has not ever been our safe space.

In light of that, we MUST talk about race in the workplace in a deliberate and meaningful way because we do it everyday anyway in micro-aggressions and cultural miscommunications that leave people feeling confused, violated, and misunderstood. It is all of our responsibility to address racism head on and we can do so by following the words of the great Angela Y. Davis who said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

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