The American workplace has its own rules of engagement. If these rules are not understood or violated in any way, people of color face the possibility of being ousted. Although this may not, absolutely, translate to job loss, it could construe: alienation, being “on the menu and not at the table,” having ideas and perspectives not taken seriously, being stymied to build a foundation for growth and development.
The underpinning of these behaviors lie in the abyss of racial microaggression. Microaggression is indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. Unfortunately, when people of color have not been mentored, have not had their “coat-tails pulled,” or fail to acculturate and assimilate within predominantly white organizations (PWOs), they face the potential of being labeled an outcast, poor team member or even a social martyr for not being receptive to these behaviors. According to a research study conducted in 2018, “Black Men and Microaggression at Work,” the author discusses a construct called intersectionality theory. This theoretical framework has been used to explore social positions and its relationship to systems of power. Intersectionality theory is increasingly a focus in psychological research and provides a framework for understanding people of color’s work experiences in PWOs.” These work experiences can be traumatic and create a fight, flight or freeze response. Depending on the level of resiliency and engagement, the outcome can potentially be devastating to the worker. People of color have employed modes of operation in the workplace that address “behavioral and emotional practices,” which have been defined by the PWO workplace. As a result, they sacrifice their families for long hours at work, feel pressure to perform as it relates to their white counterparts, feel pressure to represent well for those who will be their successors and experience exhaustion from a lack of true authenticity in the workplace.
The effects of microaggression can be debilitating. In order to “go along to get along,” some people of color internalize the thoughts and ideologies of the oppressor and become a model of good fortune for the organization, a token. Although these individuals may have smiles on their faces and appear to be living the American dream, they may also be experiencing internalized oppression. Internalized oppression creates a system of belief to act out the stereotypes created about their group. This form of oppression can potentially lead to disconnections with family and friends, feelings of superiority among groups or alienation. These social constructs have the ability to impact the social and emotional well-being of the oppressed. The burden of consistently hearing covert conversations, “off colored jokes” or other forms of micro-aggressive behavior can be traumatizing. In these situations, people of color are forced to make a decision to address the behaviors and risk career suicide or remain silent and cheerfully wear the “golden handcuffs” that have been awarded by their oppressor.
The great equalizer in the workplace is “de-microaggression.” This form of oppression leads to invisible injury when voices are not heard and oppressive situations arise. We must all address the “silence of silence” in our workplaces. A strong stand for justice and equality will ensure human capital, particularly people of color, are provided with opportunities based on knowledge, skills, and abilities.
James W. Dix III, Ph.D. is a mindfulness practitioner, child advocate and founder of Urban Family Initiative (UFI) in Indianapolis,. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the UFI website at www.ufamilyi.com.