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I Don’t Talk About Race Issues at Work

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Although my lack of melanin often confuses people, I am Black. I was born and raised by lighter-hued parents in a predominantly Black neighborhood, surrounded by my family and friends who were a wide array of brown and I was/am influenced heavily by Black culture and history.

Being in Human Resources as a Black Woman has always felt like a privilege to me. I have the ability to make sure there is job opportunity and pay equity and fair treatment for people who look like me. When someone is mistreated because of their race or their gender or some other external thing that has nothing to do with their work, I have the ability to make it right. And I take that responsibility very very seriously.

However, I don’t talk about race issues at work … I don’t initiate conversations about race at all, unless I’m dealing directly with an issue specific to the organization. And I don’t participate in conversations that happen in my hearing, other than to express general sadness and disappointment about the state of race and gender relations right now.

I don’t talk about how I see White privilege all around me and how oblivious most White people are to its existence. The privilege is like air and the use of it is like breathing. Because most White people aren’t actively seeking to oppress others, they miss the subtle ways privilege sneaks into their actions and interactions with People of Color. Like the assumption that one or two People of Color  in a room can sufficiently or appropriately represent the whole group. Or the assertion that the same or slightly greater effort by People of Color will yield the same results as their White counterparts.

I don’t talk about the lack of diversity in the upper management levels in most organizations.

There are Women and People of Color in a lot of entry-level and mid-level positions in organizations. However, when you look at the VP level and the C-suite in most organizations, diversity is sorely lacking and no one is doing anything about it. We’ve been shamed into thinking deliberately hiring for diversity is inappropriate and wrong. And HR professionals who speak out about this risk being un-invited from that precious seat at the table where they can drive and influence strategy; they end up relegated to administration and policy enforcement, which ultimately perpetuates all the negative stereotypes about the HR profession.

I don’t talk about how lack of opportunities for People of Color and Women force us into unwritten, silent competition with each other in the workplace.

We are harder on each other and demand higher levels of loyalty because there are so few of us. We expect that we’ll look out for one another and that we’ll work hard to make each other look good … We are also quick to turn on one another. We will not allow each other to slack or make errors because we fear it will reflect poorly on the rest of us. We also recognize White Male privilege doesn’t leave room for all of us to rise so we fight each other for the few slots we’re allotted.

I don’t talk about how much the state of race and gender relations right now leave me feeling hurt, angry, afraid and alone.

Hurt that People of Color and Women across the US are being killed and abused but there is rarely justice for the wrongs against them. Angry that so many people go along without seeming to notice or to use their privilege to help make change and improvements. Afraid that People of Color and Women will continue to be oppressed and forced to compete with each other in unhealthy ways. Afraid that my children will either end up with the same nervous, semi-jaded views as me — or that they won’t have enough of these views to maneuver and defend themselves against the discrimination that surely awaits them. Alone because I spend 40+ hours each week denying and suppressing these thoughts and feelings so I can function while I work at the excellence that is expected of me by myself and those I work with and for.

If I started talking about these things, I’m not sure I could ever stop.

If I started talking about these things, I’m not sure the people I work with — men, women, whites and people of color — could handle it. If I started talking about these things, I’m not sure it would yield progress or positive results for anyone … Because talking about these things is hard. It’s emotional. It’s uncomfortable. It’s polarizing.

So I don’t do it. I don’t talk about race issues at work.

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