The workplace is an environment that comes with a variety of different situations that are vastly different from what one encounters in regular society. There are nuances that come with dealing with co-workers, bosses, clients, and even friends and family that can make keeping a zen work environment seem nearly impossible.
This problem is multiplied tenfold when the issue of race and culture is added to the mix. In the modern workplace, it is common to encounter individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life. In many cases, this is a beautiful opportunity to learn and grow with the likes of individuals you may not have encountered in daily life.
On the other hand, there are times that these differences in culture can lead to a host of issues that make it hard for black women to have a comfortable experience in the workplace. These uncomfortable situations are called microaggressions, and dealing with them can take a significant toll on self-esteem and progress within the workplace.
What Are Microaggressions?
To tackle the issue of microaggressions in the workplace, we need to understand what microaggressions are and where they stem from. Microaggressions are as inherent, subtle, or unintentional acts of discrimination against members of marginalized groups.
These acts of discrimination can affect people from a broad range of backgrounds, but in the workplace, many everyday microaggressions revolve around race, gender, and sexuality. For this reason, it is critical that black women learn about microaggressions and understand how it can negatively impact their careers in order to make the best decisions on minimizing and preventing them from happening.
Microaggressions can be tricky to spot and understand because their very nature is in how subtle the instance is. Generally, the person perpetuating the aggression is unaware of the offensive nature in what they are saying or doing. Sometimes microaggressions can border on (or be) things that are outright racist.
Other times, it is seemingly harmless but just as offensive. A typical example of a microaggression that many black women experience is the statement: “You are so pretty for a black girl.”Now, this idea can come in many forms. Some people frame it as “I usually don’t find black women attractive, but you are gorgeous!” but the underlying microaggression is still there.
Because the micro-aggressor is paying you what they believe is a compliment, that you are pretty/attractive, they have trouble understanding how the underlying and implied negative sentiment could bother you. They do not realize that they are suggesting that black women are usually ugly or unattractive, which is not only completely untrue but racist!
This type interaction can make things even tenser when within the realm of office culture. While thankfully, it is frowned upon to issue comments about physical appearance in the professional workplace, black women still encounter a variety of levels of discrimination that range from overt to almost unnoticeable.
Sometimes these aggression’s come in the form of verbal comments like those above. In other cases, they are more ingrained in the company’s foundations.
Imagine obtaining a management position at a large and well-known corporation. You are excited, so you decide to show up to your first staff meeting a few minutes early to get a feel for your new environment. When you walk in, you are greeted by two seemingly friendly men who try to direct you to a design meeting down the hall.
You realize that they are helpful, but they are acting under the assumption that you would not be part of that type of environment and trying to guide you to where their stereotypes of you would fit. While it is not overtly racist or sexist, it highlights how they view you as an outsider in a place you earned your way inside.
This is a common microaggression that women, particularly black women, face when working in white or male-dominated industries. There is a constant need to defend your position, which can be exhausting and stressful leading to a negative outlook on a job, and negative perceptions of self-worth and ability perform well in the situation.