Black people share experiences of workplace racism using #BlackInTheOffice
The heightened awareness about racial injustice triggered by the global Black Lives Matter protests has meant that Black people in the UK are feeling empowered to speak out about the racism they have faced.
And as companies scramble to release statements in support of racial equality, the story appears to be quite different for Black employees who are sharing examples of microaggressions and outright racism.
René and Adesuwa, two Black women, are the founders of nine to five’s, an online community for Black people in the workplace.
They started a hashtag (#BlackInTheOffice) to create a space for Black employees to anonymously share their experiences – and the responses they received were overwhelming.
The pair encouraged people to send them private messages with their workplace experiences, before they would add them to the thread without revealing who had sent it. And it makes for incredibly upsetting reading.
Black women were subjected to negative comments about their natural hair styles, weaves and wigs, with colleagues touching their hair and even attempting to remove wigs during work night outs.
Many Black employees found out upon leaving their jobs they were being significantly underpaid, and being replaced with lesser qualified white people paid more.
Lots of submissions reported being labelled as ‘aggressive’, ‘pushy’, ‘sassy’ or ‘negative’.
Some said they were fired shortly after reporting incidents with the excuse that they were suddenly ‘under-performing’, or were paid off to keep quiet about the behaviour of senior individuals.
Many said they were made to feel – or openly told – that they were only hired because they were Black, to meet a quota. And there were many reports of inappropriate comments made about drug use, gangs and slavery.
‘One example of racism I suffered was being told by a white colleague that I would be spending the weekend “smoking crack”,’ read one submission.
‘A Black employee asked if we’d like to go to a hip hop karaoke session and a white Latino manager replied: “Does the karaoke end with everyone shooting each other?”’ added another.
‘When I initially started wearing wigs in my second year of being in the company, a male work colleague threatened to pull my wig off on a night out,’ said another.
The submissions also revealed the toll these experiences took on people’s physical and mental health, with many reporting panic attacks, being diagnosed with depression, and even suffering alopecia.
René and Adesuwa say the thread is important for highlighting the lived experiences of Black people in professional settings.
‘This idea that racism doesn’t exist at work, it’s covert, and that as a community we are almost “imagining it” or “being oversensitive” is not true,’ they tell Metro.co.uk.
‘These are our real life, daily experiences.
‘It’s not enough to put out lazy statements of solidarity, make one-off donations and quickly hire a Black diversity and inclusion lead. We need them to truly create a safe workplace for their Black employees, where they have the equal opportunity to thrive and succeed.’
The pair are calling for companies to address this problem with action – to pay Black employees fairly, hire and promote Black people into senior positions, address the issues of their Black employee community directly.
‘We will be putting together an open letter next week, where we would like companies to make a pledge,’ they say.
They hope that by elevating these conversations and making more people aware of the realities of workplace racism and microaggressions, people in power will have to start making changes.
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