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What it’s like to face repeated racism at work

July 7, 2020, 12:46 PM UTC
Black woman at the office
Black woman at the office
Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The WNBA will honor Black women killed by police, Amy Cooper faces a criminal charge, and Black women talk about facing racism at work. Have a good Tuesday.

– When work doesn’t work. Last month, the Broadsheet covered an Essence survey that asked Black women where they were most likely to experience racism. Their overwhelming answer? The workplace.

In this Fortune piece, Emma did some digging to try to flesh out why workplaces are so often hotspots for racist behavior—and to share the experiences of Black women who’ve been the targets of that behavior from their colleagues and bosses.

One of the factors that makes racism in the workplace so toxic is the lack of agency many people feel there. As marketing and comms professional Thokozile Kachipande told Emma, “If I were to go to a store or a restaurant and experience something that’s racist, I can choose to walk away,” she says. “The workplace is tied to your livelihood. You have to go there every day. You can’t choose to constantly walk away.”

What’s more, Black women may feel more constrained in how they respond to racism they experience at work, for fear that saying the “wrong thing” could damage their career—or even cost them their job. Consider the predicament of Ashley Bankhead, who tells Emma that she was working as an account manager in Atlanta when a member of her company’s leadership team grabbed her hair, which was on top of her head in a puff. “She told her manager about the incident; afterwards, the company leader who had violated that personal boundary ‘avoided [her] like the plague’—an outcome that may well have influenced her ability to progress at the company.”

Editing Emma’s story, I was shocked at how willing these women were to try to put themselves in the shoes of the co-workers who made racist comments or perpetrated other micro- (and macro!) aggressions toward them. Azizza Brinson talks about have a realization about the behavior of her white colleagues: “Oh, you have only come into contact with so many Black people,” she remembers realizing. “You start to learn how they grew up.” For many of those co-workers, the workplace was the only place where they had “in-depth interactions with Black people,” she says.

Now, just imagine what would happen if the white colleagues Brinson worked with—and others in such a position—spent even a fraction of that effort trying to empathize with and understand the perspective of Black coworkers. Those of us who fall in that category shouldn’t stop at imagining it— let’s just do it.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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