More than likely, you have experienced or witnessed a racist incident, statement, or conversation. Whether conscious or unconscious, racist incidents always seem to find space in the workplace. Since our country was built on the oppression and free labor of people of color (I’ll save that for a different blog), racism can go noticed and unnoticed by employees and employers. Many people choose to excuse these incidents as a normal part of today’s society. However, the environment this creates and the toll it has on individuals can be paralyzing and stressful for people of color and advocates of equality.
Racial Battle Fatigue is the physical and psychological toll from the everyday fight with racism and racist behaviors. Over time, this can result in Race Related Stress. Race Related Stress is the long-term psychological and physical effects of racism on an individual. Recognizing that racism is connected to poor health physically, mentally, and emotionally, daily self care practice is extremely important. With that in mind, here are four self care tactics to deal with a racist co-worker.
Sternly Say Nothing, Walk Away
You can send quite the message when you say nothing. Don't feel responsible to educate every racist person’s ideas, concepts, behaviors, confusion, or stupidity. Talking about racism with someone you agree with is hard enough, don't feel pressured to give energy to someone who can google their own question. Like the quote says, “Racism is like wrestling a pig, you get dirty and the pig likes it.” If it gets to a level that you don’t feel like dealing with, sternly look them straight in the eyes, pause, then excuse yourself from the space or conversation.
Educate Yourself, then Calmly Lay the Smack Down! (LOL!)
Knowledge is power and education is the great equalizer! Use your knowledge and experience to calmly prove them wrong or argue against a point. Getting riled up only contributes to the fatigue you were already feeling. Quote some thought leaders, reference some books, state passages from articles. The great thing about educating yourself is you recognize you're not alone and if anything, a calm professional smack down will feel really good!
Talk with Your Allies
Sometimes you need to talk with someone who understands. Before you go to your supervisor, you should clarify what is happening. Pending the situation, talking with someone you trust could save your life or the life of the racist. The ideal person would be someone you trust with authority that could advocate for you to your supervisor; this will prevent you being labeled a troublemaker when you go to your supervisor.
Write It Down
Since it's a work incident, taking a few minutes out of your day to document the situation is also work. If it's one co-worker or a group, keep a log on them; trust me they are keeping a log on you! Don't let them off the hook by dismissing this as an isolated incident. Racism is a pattern of behavior and it can be burdensome on you in the workplace. Reach out to your union, human resources, or closest executive. Even if nothing happens at that moment, with enough reports, it shows a pattern of behavior that is irreconcilable in the organization. Once action is taken, you could feel a major sense of ease in the workplace.
I know some people may have wanted to hear me say flip a table or curse the racist person out with all the bleeps you can use! I do understand how built up frustration can explode and I cannot tell you how you should respond to these type of situations. However, I can tell you that getting fired is probably not a good method of self care. If you do decide to flip a table, have a job offer already signed or a side business you can invest in because it’s likely you won’t be employed there too much longer.