In prayer I said to God, “In times past, white people took us from our homelands and enslaved black people in countries half way across the world. When the time came that form of slavery was abolished and we then went into Jim Crow, and when that ended segregation, and when that ended discrimination. It seems like each “victory” for black people in terms of overcoming white prejudice isn’t a total victory, it just reveals another hurdle to overcome, like completing a level of an arcade game and then being presented with a new challenge on the next level.”
Recently at work I challenged why my manager, at that time, a white Italian woman should issue a report to the business mentioning that myself and my fellow black co-worker had delayed a project deadline by taking holidays, even though we had a dependency of assets to be delivered from another department who (even though they had months to work on these things rather than weeks like us) had not finished their work before we went on holiday (at different times). Neither had they finished their work while we or on holiday; and on top of all that, this work was delivered late to us from the other department even after we returned from our holidays, and this lateness, by her own deadlines set, was not recorded in our manager’s report to the business. Yet myself and my colleague have been branded as uncooperative and having a tendency to push back.
Furthermore my manager has accused me of aggression, yet strangely before this problematic manager started, it was remarked by a more senior colleague, that its going to be great having an Italian work for us, she will be feisty and get things done. Does picking up other people’s laptops and slamming them down during meetings with external suppliers on web conferences, wildly gesticulating with your hands, frequently cutting people off while they are talking, count as office acceptable feistyness? Did these actions help get things done?
I’ve been accused of aggression because as a manager with some degree of responsibility for a website, I dared to send an email to my manager strongly advising her not to release a new feature to the website with bugs. This was after considerable frustration was caused to the business by halting all new feature releases to our website for several months in order to fix a backlog of bugs. My manager however, seemed to be considering releasing with bugs, which is why I stepped in.
On another occasion, my manager requested a code change to some development work I had already done at her verbal request, in this case I bypassed my usual process of requiring a development brief to be filled in because my manager said we needed to be more responsive – “who has time to fill in these forms”. This mis-step ultimately led to why the additional code change became necessary. I was on holiday when the code change happened, but rather than copy me in on an email chain detailing the change, so I could read what happened on my return to work, I only found out some time after I returned to work after a conversation and confused email exchange triggered because the code change that had been made was not working properly. I asked her to copy me in for future reference, and suggested that if the change had been tracked, then the ensuing fuss could have been avoided. This again was seen as aggressive.
On a third occasion, my manager, who didn’t have a good relationship with my direct report, wanted to sit in on my direct reports mid-year review. This is supposed to be a meeting where you review the performance and goals of your direct reports and help shape their path to growth within the company. I checked in with my direct report about whether she would be comfortable having my manager attend, and she said she would not be comfortable, so I told my manager I would handle it, but if she could improve her rapport with my direct report then she would be welcome to join future sessions. This too was seen as aggressive.
The straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of being accused of being aggressive, was a web conference call I had set up with an external supplier to discuss a technical problem, the call was clearly detailed as such, I had discussed it with my manager before hand. My manager was in two minds about joining, first she said she wouldn’t, then just before the call she said she would. When the call started, I was at my desk ready to begin as too was the external supplier. My manager was having technical problems with her computer preventing her from joining the call, and seemed to be in a panic. All of a sudden she said I should take my computer and go with her to the break out area – the indication was that we would use my computer to join the webex together. I complied, and we proceeded with the call, but as this was a technical call, and my manager is not technical, I was going to lead the call, even moreso as I had been in conversation by email with our supplier for several days leading up to the call directly related to the technical issue to be discussed. However, my manger decided she wanted to lead the call, and she introduced the call with a technically incorrect description of the problem at hand. At that point I interjected and said “hold on, that’s not quite right, it’s technical, let me explain”. I then proceeded to explain the problem accurately and the call seemed to go very well.
However, at the end of the call my manager approached me and said “If you want an example of where you have been aggressive to me, then take for example the start of that call. You told me to shut up in front of all those people, you should have seen their faces!” I was shocked that she would say something like that, because her version of events was clearly inaccurate. I told a colleague who had joined the call what had happened and asked if she had seen me do anything like that, to which she replied “no”, and that the call “had been very informative” and that I had not been aggressive at all, in fact she said the actions I had used had been just like the actions my manager had used in some meetings to be firm and make a point.
I raised a grievance against my manager as there was now a history of accusations of poor performance, rudeness and aggression made by my manager against me building up, and I felt this was something that needed to be addressed. In my managers grievance statement she alleged yet more acts of aggression, alleging other people in the department have been subject to my aggression. However, when I got statements from those people they said that I was not aggressive, one said they couldn’t remember such an incident, and one went even further saying I “showed grace”. So it seems to me that my manager just wanted to raise statements against me that are wildly inaccurate or even complete fabrications, it’s a form of harassment which I believe is rooted in racism.
Why is it that those particular white people who are noted for their feisty or aggressive nature are allowed to be this way, and chosen for having this trait for specific jobs, it is seen as an aspect of character that is positive; but when a black person acts in the same way, this aggression is seen in a negative light? What about when a black person is not even being aggressive, but trying to clearly state the facts to progress their work, why should that be seen as aggressive? As I said to my employer:
If anyone believes it is agreeable to allow one person based on their nationality or colour to behave in a certain way, and treat another person of a different nationality or colour differently when they act in exactly the same way; I strongly believe that is an example of discriminatory behaviour.
You see this kind of situation highlights a huge problem for black people. We’ve been on a journey toward equality lasting hundreds of years, and I feel like we’ve fallen asleep, we aren’t pressing for progress as hard as we should do. The years of physical struggle and obvious overt racism are largely over, at least for those in the Western World, but what we have now is a creeping tyranny, where society, in most cases, furnishes us with enough to keep us from revolt, from thinking too deeply about why we are still earning less than white people, why there is more crime in the black community, why our educational standards are lower, why we are in this mess, this decline. We don’t stop to think about the way systems are set up to discriminate, and why? We don’t stop to consider why language reinforces racism, and the big one – what spirit or mindset is behind these and what is the end purpose of discrimination and racism?
You see, when slavery started, it wasn’t just about physically enslaving people, you can’t physically enslave someone unless mentally they submit to it, it’s impossible. Some people jumped overboard, chose to be shot, killed themselves, ran away, caused revolt, tried to kill their masters rather than be a slave. Today, while such drastic acts are all but for the most tiny minority of people unnecessary, and needn’t even be thought about, the question of mental enslavement remains. In context with my situation, if I allow myself to accept being falsely accused of all kinds of things, and if I allow myself to be subject to the prevailing attitude in a workplace that lets white people act in one way, while baring me from acting in the same way, even while laws on paper say this is discrimination; then I am doing myself a disservice, and I am doing other ethnic minority people in that workplace a disservice, and I am doing people worldwide a disservice, and I would be showing the people who passed before us in this struggle a huge sign of disrespect.
Even this week, we can see how the BBC’s Naga Munchetty was reprimanded by her employer for apparently commenting on the motives of Donald Trump regarding his words aimed at the four US congresswomen; Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, where he said they should “go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”. For me Naga Munchetty came across as eloquent and balanced, but on the account of one viewer who complained, she has been reprimanded for saying things that she apparently should not have according to BBC guidelines, even though her co-presenter Dan Walker was asking her some very specific questions about her experience of racism.
The BBC has to respond to its complaint, but one wonders why the complaint was made only about one person, and why the other white male journalists who frequently express their own opinions on air (some are even paid to) are not reprimanded in the same way as Naga Munchetty? The answer is two fold. Firstly, it is this notion that white people can afford “privileges” that minorities can not. Secondly, it is about the fact that white people are more zealous about the fact that their “privileges” might be being worn away at, and even from white extremists that their whole way of life is under threat; and conversely black people have fallen asleep here, there is no direction for black people and we don’t seem to know what we want – our rights are being eroded and not enough of us even realise it or are willing to stand up for our rights, and when we don’t do that, the creeping tide of white supremacy gets a little higher. Do we want to be accepted as true equals in all aspects of life, do we want more wealth and self sufficiency in society, or are we happy enough as we are?
We need to wake up out of our sleep, because the situation I am in at work and the situation Naga Munchetty finds herself in is just the tip of the iceberg. When white people are being more aggressive in their assertions of white supremacy, when the law and authorities still in the 21st century are killing, imprisoning and deporting black and minority people unjustly and getting away with it, and when minority voices are being reprimanded for speaking up even when there are laws that should allow them to do so; we’ve reached a tipping point in society where the tide of white supremacy is in danger of rising further, unchecked, and carrying us away.
Lord, help us all to realise that you created us all, no matter what race or colour we are.
Help mankind to realise we are all equal.
Help us to realise that we must respect all people.
Those who hate other people unlike themselves have a problem with their own lack of self worth,
That is why they need to devalue others to make themselves feel better,
But their pride is worthless and in their blindness they cannot see it, pity them,
Lord look at our histories and see the iniquity that breeds inequality in the present day,
Give power to the powerless and help us to make a stand,
In this way we might open they eyes of the blind,
And enable them to live in truth, peace, and with respect and love for their fellow man.