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Part of learning how to talk about race in the workplace is unlearning what you may have been taught and realizing what workplace practices you may have accepted as normal.

In recent days, media and retail workers have spoken out against the status quo of racism within their own institutions as those same companies champion Black Lives Matter on social media.

It’s time to question how your own thinking could help make your colleagues of color feel unwelcome. You may have internalized common lies about workplace diversity about race that you should know are not true.

1. The enduring myth of meritocracy

A lingering nefarious belief about career advancement is that if blacks, natives, and other people of color work hard enough, they will have the same career outcomes in the workplace as their white counterparts.

But dismal statistics on the representation of people of color in professions and in senior management show that this is not true. There are only four black CEOs in the Fortune 500, and only 8% of black professionals hold white collar jobs. Among employed adults with a bachelor’s degree or above, black workers make up just 7% and Latinx workers make up just 6% of the science, technology, engineering and math workforce, according to the Pew Research Center .

For the few people of color who are hired in fields where they are in the minority, they may also be faced with the assumption that they have a racial advantage.

“What becomes most toxic is when whites assume that African Americans and other people of color are somehow at an advantage in areas where they are virtually excluded,” Pamela Newkirk said, reporter and author of “Diversity, Inc .: The Broken Promise of a Billion Dollar Business.” “

“There’s this underlying assumption that if you’re white you’re there for merit, or if you’re black or colored, you got your job because of your race, which is ridiculous, but that’s is a perception that is prevalent among many whites, ”Newkirk said. Newkirk herself experienced this perception in a newsroom where she was the only black employee and was told that the only reason she got the job was because she was black.

Far from being an advantage, being the only member of your racial identity group comes with its own psychological burden. Fifty percent of black women said they felt especially on guard and closely watched when they were the only woman and person of their race in the room at work, according to a 2019 LeanIn.Org and McKinsey report.

2. The Race Card

“The only race card that has ever been institutionalized in our country is white supremacy.”

– Sociologist Crystal Fleming

When co-workers say that their co-workers are “playing the race card” or “creating divisions” by speaking out about discrimination and abuse at work because of race, they are downplaying the lived experiences.

“The only race card that has ever been institutionalized in our country is white supremacy,” said Crystal Fleming, associate professor of sociology and African studies at Stony Brook University and author of “How to be less stupid at About race: on racism, white supremacy and the racial divide. Fleming said that white supremacist racism gives people privileges, benefits, and resources based on their being socially defined as white.

“Even the term ‘play a card’ – that’s one way to downplay the enormous damage from racism,” Fleming said. “Anyone who has been systemically or structurally targeted by racism knows that this is not a game; it’s a matter of life and death, it’s a matter of having access to resources or not. “

Invalidating the experiences of colleagues with the breed can be done through a defensive attitude. A common feature of how white supremacy appears in organizations is defensiveness, according to “Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,” by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. “Criticism of those in power is seen as threatening and inappropriate (or rude),” they write.

The antidotes to this criticism mean that you have to work on naming the defensive within yourself to understand “the connection between defensiveness and fear (losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege)”, write Jones and Okun.

3. The post-race myth

“Once you admit that there are inequalities and prejudices, then it behooves you to do what you can to combat them.”

– Journalist Pamela Newkirk

In conversations with colleagues, you might hear that “racism is disappearing” or that “we are a post-race society”, a phrase that was repeated often after the election of Barack Obama. as the country’s first black president.

But race has always played a role in our society, including in the workplace. “We were not a post-race society before Obama, during his administration or after. We were never a post-race society because we always had these perverse disparities that we allowed to continue, ”Newkirk said.

When you say that you think your workplace doesn’t see race, you are also saying that you are choosing to ignore any racial inequalities in the workplace that might occur within your meetings, between your teams, and in your workplace. conference room.

“Once you admit that there are inequalities and prejudices, then it behooves you to do what you can to combat them,” Newkirk said of post-racial beliefs. “It’s easier to say it doesn’t exist, and it’s a way to ensure the status quo, to protect the status quo.”

4. The conviction that “everyone is diverse”

Fleming said that this “everyone is diverse” language falls under “all lives matter” framing diversity.

“Part of what happens with the language of diversity and inclusion is that it is co-opted by institutions, businesses and universities in a way that avoids addressing systemic racism, inequalities and discriminatory practices within our institutions, ”said Fleming.

5. The belief that promoting racial diversity ends once you hire someone or attend a workshop.

Improving racial diversity doesn’t stop once you hire diverse talent. It’s also about fostering an environment in which they want to stay and grow.

Minda Harts, founder of The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color, noted that many black employees leave because they don’t have the opportunity to move forward.

“I think a lot of companies are focusing on the pipeline. They say, “We have to get them started,” but in fact there are a lot of talented black employees who are not being selected, “Harts said.

Harts recommended that companies identify the black talent they already have within their company within the next 60 to 90 days and ask themselves, “What are the succession plans to ensure they are progressing through the? rungs? ”

The work doesn’t stop when you take a racial bias or diversity workshop, either. Fleming said one of the main misconceptions about diversity is that it’s a box you can check off after attending a workshop or training session.

“It allows organizations and institutions to avoid structural changes, because if you just tell people that all you have to do is this workshop and the problem solved, you don’t have to wonder who Excluded from the C-suite, what is the pay gap between people who are white and people who are black, and people of color, or also the gender pay gap, ”Fleming said.

Going beyond racial diversity when hiring also means critically questioning the relationship between your business and communities of color. There may be a disconnect between the progressive words projected by brands and the way their businesses operate.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, for example, recently knelt with the staff in the pose that former quarterback Colin Kaepernick popularized to speak out against police brutality against blacks, but in 2017 JPMorgan Chase paid off. $ 55 million to settle a US Department of Justice lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against black and Latinx borrowers.

“The solution isn’t just to diversify hiring, you also need to look at the politics of everything that happens within the organization,” Fleming said. “We must take seriously not to let our institutions get away with superficial statements that do not go to the root of problematic and harmful practices.”


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