7 Things That Need To Be Said About Black Trauma In Predominantly White Workplaces
It isn't just about bumping up diversity numbers or bringing in experts to speak about Black history and Black rights. It's about uncovering the closet parts of company culture that have kept those rights from coming to fruition in the workplace.
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You know what's worse than America treating racism like a new album that just came out? People moving on like nothing ever happened.
Over the last few weeks, you’ve probably noticed most of your white colleagues have abandoned their outrage over George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, trading it in to enjoy summer’s finest things — sailing, bonfires and lake house getaways. But not us. Those tough and uncomfortable conversations everyone boasted about having have slowed (maybe even stopped), and once again Black trauma in the workplace has been placed back in the hands of Black employees. While I wish I could say everything about this is new or shocking, the truth is we’ve been here before.
Let’s take it back for a moment. My most prominent memory of Black trauma in the workplace was just a few years ago. The day was July 7, 2016. That day, from the moment my legs swept over the side of the bed and hit the floor, there was a heaviness that overtook my body. It was a feeling I wouldn’t be able to shake even in the commute leading up to the work day. In the elevator ride up to the office it felt like my anxiety had somehow multiplied. Philando Castile, a Black man, was murdered by police officers the night before. In a similar fate, Alton Sterling, another Black man, was murdered just two nights prior, also by police officers. While my brothers and sisters in Baton Rouge were protesting for justice, I knew that I was walking into a work environment with people that wouldn’t understand the significance of the pain and the weight of that kind of trauma. The last few weeks have presented a seemingly parallel feeling.
That morning I did all the things one does to “maintain professionalism” because let’s be real, as Black professionals we often feel like we can’t be caught slipping (aka displaying feelings). But when putting my best face forward failed, my colleague asked what was wrong? I explained my stoicism was due to Sterling’s and Castile’s death, which was ultimately the result of the racism and systemic oppression that plagues our country, constantly making Black people a target.
What came next was disappointing but not surprising. Her response was, “Well, did you know him?” In that moment, just as it had in others, it became clear that Black trauma had no place, no weight of relevance in white workplaces. This wouldn’t be the last time Black trauma was ignored, displaced or misunderstood.