Tomorrow morning, we’re partnering with the Women’s Fund of Omaha for a Talk of the Town on diversity, inclusion and authenticity especially in professional spaces. A lot of the feedback I’ve heard throughout the years, even by those who are supposedly well-versed in diversity, inclusion and sociology, is that they believe that things are “not that bad.”
Compared to the 1916, a century ago, I believe you are completely right. But compared to where we should be, compared to the concepts of liberty and freedom and justice and compassion and empathy and equity? We still have a lot to go. More often than not, the immediate rebuttal I most commonly receive is, “Well, I never see/hear about it happening so it must not be an issue.”
When honey, if that logic follows then how do you know for sure gravity is a force and that it exists? You can’t actually see it with the naked eye. How do you know black holes and galaxies and planets exist? It could be a conspiracy.
See how ridiculous that argument is?
But I understand that oftentimes, when confronting oppression and our parts within it, we want evidence. We want facts. We want testimonials and first-hand accounts and proof, because we don’t believe that we would actually ever hurt or dehumanize someone because “we’re good people, darn it.”
Especially in professional spaces chock full of “diversity initiatives” and “employee resource programs” made for “people like me” it’s hard to believe that society has not progressed past a feigned veil of polite segregation and respectability politics. It’s hard to believe that managers are still racist, employee engagement events still exclusionary, randy male coworkers still lustful, gregariously handsy and overly confident. That people still steal ideas of women, of people of color just because of their “minority” status. It’s better to show you, rather than tell you, which is why I asked for my friends’ help. I gave them this prompt, with high hopes of that their stories will illuminate something within you that can help others.
After working in corporate America for a little while I noticed some things… and experienced quite a few uncomfortable moments. Tell me about a time where you felt uncomfortable and/or excluded due to your identity in the workplace/work-related function.
So for all skeptics of the world–no matter where you fall in the hierarchy of power and privilege, we give you first-hand accounts.
“Me trying to explain to multiple people that I don’t eat beef or pork that was hard….and that there needs to be diverse foods at functions. People getting mad at me for not know Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or Bon Jovi songs- very important… apparently.”
“Actually I’ll just go with the most recent – yesterday my whole office got off for St. Patrick’s Day and although the idea of day off was nice I realized that I would not get a day off for Juneteenth or any other major day on Black History. Even superficial industry hyped holidays don’t see my skin.history and point of view as important.”
“Years ago, I was the only Black person at a meeting of women artists & the chair/leader answered a question about who should be added to the group by saying “We don’t want to be so diverse that we can’t talk to each other.” I remember feeling very angry & wanting to gather my things & leaving. I stuck it out for a while, but I never felt comfortable with that chair.”
“Boss: ‘Are you feather or dot Indian?’ (While poking my forehead.) Little white man almost got his wig split.”
“General manager, ‘Does it seem like you and your sister are always sat with the black people?'”
“I’ve never gotten a callback when applying for jobs online. I’ve only had one job at a place that wasn’t a person of color owned business. When I was finishing up nail school I applied at a couple different salons. One in particular said ‘We don’t do nail art here.’ And now they’re sending me postcards talking about they hiring. No thanks.”
“i just got let go from a job at a restaurant (where i was the only person of color, the youngest, and for a long time the only girl) where:
- My manager would frequently ask me if I thought “only white people could be racist” and constantly imply that things were reverse racist. He also straight up said that he couldn’t be racist because his ex is black. (I wonder why she left him?)
- I was told that I’m “pretty white” and “didn’t count” as Chinese.
- When I casually mentioned that I don’t have a great relationship with my family, my manager responded with, “Is it because all Chinese people care about is money and status?”
- I tried to file a complaint with the owner/my boss about racist and sexist comments my coworkers made and was told to “get over it because my being upset was making everyone uncomfortable;” that i was “blowing everything out of proportion;” and that “I’m sorry you’re offended” counts as an earnest apology. Not long after my manager described me as being “oversensitive about political correctness.”
- I tried to complain about a customer who would consistently be rude/refuse to be served by me even when all other associates were clearly serving other people, and was told by owner, “Yeah, well, he spends a lot of money here so…”
- A customer of Chinese origin left her debit card behind and the owner and my coworker made fun of her name multiple times by pronouncing it in a really stereotypical/offensive “Chinese” accent.
- A coworker once asked why “…some brown people wear a headdress (he meant a turban) and some just have a ball on their head.” Dude can name 10 different kinds of potatoes but he doesn’t know…
- Dismissed whenever I corrected anyone on the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin dialects because “they’re basically the same anyway.”
- My coworkers would always serve white customers first, and tended to be short/unfriendly and do the really condescending thing to ESL/PoC where you assume someone doesn’t speak English and speak really loudly and slowly like they’re less intelligent.
I was let go 2 weeks ago and honestly I’m so relieved, i work for myself now and it’s a lot less stable financially but the people at the company i do contract sewing for occasionally are almost exclusively young liberal women, and most of my clients are cosmopolitan liberal creatives that treat me like an actual skilled professional, and if anyone has horrible opinions I’m not around them enough to hear them.”
“I had a manager always refer to me as ‘all legs and no brain’ who constantly ‘accidentally’ would hit my ass and make bimbo comments.”
“Office small talk: someone told me their Halloween party costume and I said it was racist/cultural appropriation and they said that’s not a real thing, and joked I was racist for wearing a Irish cable knit sweater…”
“I don’t think this counts as being excluded. But when I worked retail I had this manager from a tiny town in Iowa. And if she thought black customers were shoplifting she always made me confront them. Even though company policy doesn’t allow for us to do that. Sometimes they were stealing sometimes they weren’t. It was just frustrating as hell. When I brought it to her attention she said I was ‘aggressive’ or I was coming off as “mean” in our store meetings. So I guess I felt like I couldn’t actively participate in meetings without being looked at as aggressive and having my opinions or concerns ignored ’cause you know I’m just an angry black girl.”
“On a team of all men, I can repeat something three times and it may or may not be acknowledged. One of the guys says the SAME THING, and it’s suddenly a good idea. Oh, I point out that I said it first…and multiple times.”
“I work with children and usually in the mornings I do this traveling show where I teach kids about different things bullying, making friends, etc. the one I am currently working on involves reading stories to kids and we have to read one about a chameleon which to most of my coworkers was no big deal we just had to figure out how to introduce it to the kids. But then one coworker gets fixated on the fact that it involves color and makes it this huge thing and tries to start talking about race and color. This is a white man doing this, the kind that is so “woke” and “down” to help but doesn’t always listen to the people he needs to and talks over them. After trying to move past this whole situation for what feels like hours I am shaking and so frustrated. I am the only black person in the room and this white male is telling me what is and isn’t about race and at some point shoves this book in my face and starts being like SEE ITS ABOUT COLOR. At that point I had to just flat out say “I hate this” to which he decided to apologize (for his own ego and conscience) which was not needed and I really just wanted to get the hell out of that room.
This situation still bothers me because I see this coworker often and am supposed to work with them again in May but currently can’t even look them in the eyes because I just can’t deal with them at all right now.”
“My last boss (a man) made a joke about my boyfriend-at-the-time hitting me. My current boss has only greeted me with ‘Hola’ since confirming my Mexican heritage. I just stopped replying.”
“I didn’t dress business casual enough or I can’t wear hair scarves as they’re considered inappropriate as well.”
“Was told that my thaali/mangalsutra (wedding necklace) was unprofessional and to take it off for work (clothing retail). To be honest, not a big deal for me personally, but I can’t imagine what it’d feel like for someone really culturally and religiously attached to it.”
“My not-black-or-latinx coworkers would gather around and talk shit about the black and latinx staff that they managed. They made fun of the black girls’ hair and their names, and they made fun of the latinx for not speaking English (many of them actually do but that’s not the point). They would all gather and whisper to each other and I was the only member not included in their huddle and whisper. Once, they all decided to go out for a team lunch and kept it hush hush until it was time to go, when I realized EVERYONE was leaving and i wasn’t invited.”
“When I was 16, and still a very new immigrant in Toronto, I worked at a pizza place for 2 years. My boss was this really friendly Iranian guy. However he was an atheist and had left Islam and literally harassed me because I still used to eat halal food. He would constantly ask me questions like:
‘How can you support a pedophile who married an 8 year old?’
‘How can you support slavery? You believe some people are worth more than others?’
‘You want your husband to have three other wives?’
I understood his reactions as a result of having to leave Iran due to religious reasons but wow, was he so cruel to a naive 16 year old for it.
After that I must admit, I have been super lucky to work in super supportive settings with folks having a lot of equity training. I feel lucky to have those experiences because I know they aren’t the norm.”
“My Latina manager with an Anglo name keeps trying to get me to shorten my name so people will remember it and put it on comment cards.”
“This wasn’t at work, at school, but i was working with them part of the student union, and they said brown is the color of poop and laughed at me.”
“Oh, or like they wouldn’t give me access to websites and emails that I needed to do my job, but then they had the nerve to say I ‘lacked initiative’ knowing full well my supervisor was passive aggressive and wouldn’t let me do A N Y T H I N G. And they always made fun of the Filipina because some of her food would have a fish sauce and they would yell that it ‘fucking smells’ and call it ‘gross food.’ Also fun to note: two out of four were white, the other two were chinese american (who would also make fun of going to China and getting mad at people for not speaking English.)”
“One time a lady said she was getting a tan but was saying how she didn’t want to be too dark. I died.”
“Years ago I was referred to in a conversation between my supervisor and another community organizer. My supervisor mentioned that I ‘speak for the voice of South Omaha.’ Someone told me about it later. I mean, I grew up in South Omaha but I haven’t lived in South Omaha for years. What? That and her constant need to greet me with ‘Hola.'”
“A place I worked at docked the wome of color workers’ pay because ‘they’re not doing enough,’ even though they did all the tough, drudgy work while the white people just show their faces in meetings and tell the women of color what to do.”
“I used to work for Honey Birdette, selling lingerie and sex toys with an abundance of Pin-Up style ladies at my side… Though I was good at my job and customers loved me, I did not fit in with this company. I was once told that my frizzy baby hairs weren’t professional looking and that I looked unkempt. Having a classic Indian nose (the lovely bone bump in the middle) and features that didn’t match the pin up style yt girls I worked with, separated me further from my team. Part of the reason why I was let go was because the company/store wasn’t ‘[my] style.]’ One night, my store [manager] and another went to dinner with the CEO and I noticed that only I and another girl were person of color in the group, however the other women of color had more Eurocentric features so of course I stood out like a sore foot…
At my current workplace, we have a hugely diverse team, with southeast Asians, Indians, English, Italian, German, Scottish, and Sri Lankan employees. One other employee there, however, continues to make heavily racist remarks here and there and thinks it’s hilarious and she gets away with it cos she’s got that badass don’t give a fuck kind of attitude… Which isn’t good but I don’t say anything… She plans on leaving soon so I’m hoping no one carries on her racist rampages…”
“I work for the Canadian government and I am often the token ‘Latina.’ My department is extremely white and male and I get all sorts of comments about my ‘race’ (ugh! Can people please stop saying that Latino/hispanic is a race!!!!!????)”