I’ont Feel Like Dealing With This Ish Right Now: Race, Work & an Email

There is an email sitting in my inbox.  When I saw the sender and the subject line, I released a heavy sigh, instinctually went to click on it; but hesitated, then stopped myself, and ignored it. 

I’ont feel like dealing with this shit right now.

When you are Black, something as simple as responding to an email can feel too arduous at times.  You have to sit and figure out a way to be strong, yet not at all confrontational; a way to be confident, yet not appear to be arrogant; a way to be intelligent, yet not appear to be condescending.  We, Black folks are always a comma away from slipping into a stereotyped caricature.  We oftentimes can’t work to establish who we are because we are so burdened with working to prove whom we aren’t.  

So, I, who sits and writes extensively am avoiding responding to this email.

The email centers around an issue I am having with a woman at a firm that works for me.  This woman, with whom I don’t have to engage frequently, always belittles me every time we must speak.  She will write page-long responses that are both condescending and disrespectful.

Without a question, she would not talk to a White male the way she talks to me. Without question, she does not talk to 99% of customers the way she talks to me. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to maintain a job because without question, no paying customer is going to tolerate being talked to in the way she talks to me. 

She probably doesn’t even realize that she’s doing it. That’s how unconscious bias works. People behave differently when they dine in different restaurants, wear different labels, interact with different people. We don’t even realize it. It’s human nature. Her intentions may be good, but intentions don’t cancel bad behavior. Many White people, particularly when the conversation is dealing with race, want to focus on intention and not behavior. They want the conversation to be focused on how they feel instead of how their actions made you feel. 

I’m not racist.

I like you.

I don’t even see color or race.

I love all people.

How does one nicely explain, “but that’s not the f’ing point.”  I rarely care how White people feel about me. I just care about how they treat me.  I don’t want your friendship as much as I want equal pay, equal opportunity, to be talked to and treated respectfully. And I don’t want to have to keep explaining that I want those things because it’s exhausting; and shouldn’t it be understood by now. Moreover, I don’t want to have to take the role of amateur lawyer, pulling together evidence, to prove how someone’s behavior didn’t honor me—repeatedly.

But that’s oftentimes the situation: a Black person has to explain to a White superior why another White person’s behavior is offensive. Just as in courthouses across the country, when it comes to bias and race issues in the workplace – rarely do Black people have a juror of their peers to express their concerns and to receive assistance. It’s a tough ask to try to prove to another White person that a White person treated you poorly because of bias. Most White people hate talking about race. How do you explain something to someone who is intent on misunderstanding, whose entire life has allowed them not have the tough conversations and to be protected from having deal with race?  How do you get someone to listen to you when you are sharing truths and realities that they don’t want to hear?

I did all the “right” things to earn my way to be in a position to have a “professional” job, to be able to hire a company to work for me. Still, at times, I must suffer the indignity of being treated disrespectfully; then demand that I am treated respectfully, while simultaneously ensuring that I don’t come off as angry or too sensitive; while also providing a lesson – to an unwilling student – on racism and bias. It’s is exhausting.

So, the email sits in my mailbox – unanswered. I’ont feel like dealing with this shit right now.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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