Being black in the western workplace comes with a whole bunch of unique experiences that only black people can relate to, and the struggle can be very real sometimes.
So if you’re not black, do take note, and if you feel personally attacked by some of these points, then you my friend are probably guilty of some of these things.
1. The ‘I’m not trying to be racist’ or ‘I don’t mean to sound racist but…’ We’ve all heard this one before. This statement is always followed by something borderline racist, racist, or just pretty damn stereotypical. And no, not all black people like dancing. Non-black people love it too. And no, I don’t know where the stereotype came from. So please stop asking me and please stop being silly, thank you.
2. ‘WOW. Did your hair grow over the weekend?’ This one can be quite sweet because you get to educate your colleagues on the wonders of black hair. However, the other side of this is dealing with those annoying looks and a million questions about how your hair ‘grew’ overnight. Normally I say yes, but you still hear the question, ‘’Oh I had a black friend who told me its extensions.’’ Then why ask me? And yes, it’s a weave darling and white and Asian people wear them too. So what? On the hair issue I told a workmate I was going to dye the tips my locks blonde and she was like ‘ Oh no, you can’t do that?’ When I asked why not she said black people can’t do blonde. When I asked further who said so, there was no response. Another social construct! I will rock whatever I want without giving a damn what people think, thank you.
3. Straight hair, no fear. You hear about this one all the time. Dodgy workplaces that drop people for not having a hairstyle classified as ‘professional’ because their hair is not bone straight, so you opt for something more ‘toned down’ and ‘normal’ to fit in with the standards. What standards though?
4.‘I know someone from there’ This one happens a lot. You tell someone that you’re from Zimbabwe then they proceed to explain how their brother’s, ex-girlfriend’s was also Nigerian. Some even assume you are from Kenya or South Africa and go on to talk to you about their holiday in either of the countries without actually thinking that Africa is a mighty big place.
5. ‘Oooh, what’s that?’ As much as you’d like to bring in some of your country foods from home and eat peacefully at your desk, you just can’t deal with all the scrutiny and a million questions about what you’re putting into your mouth. In a place I once worked a lady from Ghana was made to cry because of the way people commented about her food. Really, what’s that all about?
6. No, I don’t know the name of that rapper You’re used to everyone assuming that you know the name of a RnB/rap/hip-hop song or artist because, you’re black. I was at my desk once listening to an audio book ‘At the Existentialist Café’ and was asked ‘Is that Drake?’ I didn’t know what to say, yes we love music so do many people and no, it’s a book! Having earphones does not mean I am listening to Drake!
7.‘What is your real name?’ Getting asked ‘what your real name is can be something’ and replying Abigail because that’s my name and then on que, they respond ‘no, I mean what’s really is your name?’ as if being black makes me have a weird sounding name. If I said I was Peter, why not accept I could be Peter, period! Since when has a person not known their name?
8. Twice as hard. Constantly feeling like you have to work twice as hard as your white colleagues to prove yourself, because no matter what you do you might still be seen as lazy.
9. ‘We’ll just call you Abbie M’. People having trouble saying your ‘exotic’ last name but can confidently say Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a heartbeat. Somewhere I worked I was told, ‘we can’t say your name; it’s too foreign and difficult’. Its only because they don’t see no Smith, they have concluded it’s difficult to say yet phonetically it’s easy to just follow the English sounds! The most annoying thing is they don’t even try!
10.The angry black girl/ The aggressive black man. You’re aware of stupid, negative stereotypes like being ‘the angry black girl’ or ‘the aggressive black man’ so you try and downplay everything. You turn a blind eye to the nonsense and be careful not to talk too loud or even get too excited about anything, in case your colleagues think you’re ‘raising’ your voice. Happens to me all the time!
The list is endless but it comes back to the fact that some of non-whites have everything we do judged by western or white standard. And we wonder why prejudices and racism keep taking different forms!