Recently in class, we have been talking about racism and the fact that racism is now more subtle whereas in years gone by, racism was more overt.
For 9 years now, I have tried earnestly to understand why, as an adult professional, I experienced so many adversities working with whites and other non-black professionals in the workplace. I have attended management classes, became very introspective to seek to understand myself and my management style etc. It was not until recently that someone told me what I suspected but was too afraid to utter. During the years I have worked in the Lehigh Valley, I found on many occasions that I would give a directive to someone I supervised and he or she would give me a hassle before completing and sometimes would not follow through. But if a colleague that was white and even in a non-supervisory role would issue the same directive, there would be no issue. I have experienced disrespect and isolation in the work place if I did not compromise standards and safety issues or behave permissively. These incidents would occur and I would question my approach and try new tactics catering my approach to each staff member. I would consult my peers and even superiors who would all agree that it was not “appropriate” to behave in an insubordinate manner towards me and that they themselves would not tolerate such behaviors. Curiously enough, no one has ever spoken up and/or coached the staff members being insubordinate.
Most recently, I had occasion to discipline a non-black worker that was blatantly disrespectful; this did not sit well and, as expected, she voiced her concern to my superiors. What was unexpected is that once this person complained about the unfairness of being disciplined, I was told by my superiors that I should not think of myself as a supervisor even though I am. They said I should think of myself as a team member and then I would not have to think of others as being insubordinate. My superior also advised that women like me have strong personalities and are a threat, so I should try using more honey to catch the flies. This was acutely inflammatory because I am titled, held accountable as, and paid as a supervisor given the task of bearing the full responsibility of every detail of the shift. I could function in all these areas except, if it came to disciplining a white employee whom I supervised. Then I am too “supervisory”.
Incidents like this are not unique to me, so I started digging around and asking questions concerning the disparities in respect being shown to white vs. black supervisors. One white staff person was bold enough to speak truthfully and told me the following: ”many of the white employees here do not mind you working here and even being in the role of a supervisor. The problem is, they may not say it to your face but, they don’t like to take orders from a black woman especially because all the blacks that have worked here have always been [subordinates] or were cool, like friends.” She went on to say that this is especially a problem for the white staff because I am younger than most of the people I supervise, pretty, educated, speak well, and drive a nice car!
These and other experiences have made me acutely aware that America is now in a time of complex race relations that is just as insidious as in the days of segregation. Many believed that simply because there is a Black President in the White House, racism would be a thing of the past. Many also believe that old fashion racism is out-of-style. I beg to differ racism is still overt and in fact never went out of style. Just look at the candidates running for office and some of the overt hate speeches and protest made from about 2009 and on in the media: