#BeTheRippleBlogs - Confronting my BLACKNESS in the workplace in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests
Our second blog in this series is a powerful contribution from Charlene Bailey. Charlene and I have never met and only connected on LinkedIn very recently when we were introduced to each other by Zoe Lewis.
As soon as I read Charlene's work, I knew that she absolutely had to be a part of this series.
Charlene is a Risk Manager at Nest Corporation, the trustee body that runs the Nest Workplace Pension Scheme set up by the government. She has 10 years' experience across financial services and legal, in a variety of global and regulated organisations. You can see more about Charlene's professional background in her LinkedIn profile: Here
As a proud black woman living and working in London, Charlene has been deeply affected by recent events and felt compelled to use her voice to raise awareness about the ways racism is still present in British society.
Over to Charlene:
Confronting my BLACKNESS in the workplace in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests
For those of you that are anything like me, there is a tendency to keep the personal YOU and the professional YOU very separate. You acknowledge that you wear several hats in life and you change those hats frequently – sometimes several times a day – depending on the depth of relationship or the environment you are in. That sounds both ‘normal’ and sensible I can imagine. However, the events of recent weeks - with the unjust murder of George Floyd and the resulting reignition of the Black Lives Matter protests around the globe – have forced me to confront my feelings around the hats that I wear as a Black Woman.
In a quest to make myself more employable, more palatable, more identifiable to corporate London – had I inadvertently put my BLACKNESS in the personal category?
Now it is screamingly obvious that in person, I would be unable to hide or deny my race – nor would I ever want to. But it did make me question, the number of times that I have ALLOWED racist or prejudicial comments to be directed to me or exist around me in the workplace – and I either reacted internally, ranted to a fellow black colleague or simply accepted it as consequence of working in a predominantly white environment. All of these reactions are understandable but neither do anything to affect positive changes in our society.
This then got me thinking about how much I censor myself. Now professionally, we all make adjustments to conduct ourselves in a manner deemed appropriate for a professional environment. But it dawned on me, that for black people this goes so much deeper. We work harder so that our ‘assertiveness’ or ‘passion’ is not interpreted as ‘aggressive’ or ‘attitude’. As a black woman, I think longer about my hair choices, because wearing my natural afro, may seem too much like a political statement. I have had to force myself not to take offence to assumptions that I must be from South London, only eat jerk chicken, only listen to R&B and Hip-Hop and my immigrant parents speak with an accent so deep it requires subtitles. And I have ignored the surprise when people find out that I am articulate, educated, intelligent or have seemingly white interests or hobbies. The list is endless.
But the most common experience, is feeling like a spokesperson for an entire race - just because I may be the only black person in a sea of white. And as that spokesperson, I have felt the intense pressure to be a good representative for the black community and not fuel any of the negative stereotypes that exist about black people. Which has meant at times, I do not want to stand out in a way that highlights my blackness, or my experiences – for fear of being called sensitive or accused of ‘playing the race card’
So, it is safe to say the last week, I have felt muted. And at times felt like I was suffocating. I have been talking about race and prejudice so much in my personal life, but I did not feel comfortable addressing at work. Now to be clear – this is not because my company made me feel like I couldn’t – I am lucky enough to work for an organisation where diversity isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ mandate. It was the fear – what was the purpose? Would they even care? What do I even want the outcome to be?
Anyway, on Monday, I couldn’t hold it any longer and I raised the way I was feeling in my regular management meeting. I explained that I felt troubled and deep down I wasn’t sure what I needed from my manager or the company, but I felt it was something that should be discussed, as other black people in our organisation may be feeling exactly as I did/do. All credit to my line manager, he acknowledged my feelings and admitted he didn’t know the right answer to my questions or even the best way for the senior leaders in our business to acknowledge it more widely – but he was committed to taking it away and providing me with answers.
Later that day, my line manager shared a link to the weekly blog of our CEO. As I began reading, I felt a wave of unexpected emotion. My CEO. My White Female CEO. Wrote passionately about the atrocities surrounding the murder of George Floyd, she acknowledged the disparity between the way blacks and whites are often treated and she made a commitment to inform herself on the ways in which this disparity exists in British society.
I felt a deep comfort from the sincerity of her words. And it was then it hit me. It was the acknowledgement that mattered.
She saw us.
She heard us.
She understood… US.
At this point, I am now crying as I write this. But if you want an indication of how much acknowledgement means to a black person or any group marginalised in society – my tears are it.
So, if after reading this, you are thinking of ways to be a true ally to the black community, whether personally or as an organisation – please read these words and really hear me.
1. Black people do not expect you to have the answers. We do not expect a saviour on a white horse to slay the big racist dragon.
2. However, we do need you to draw a very clear line between right or wrong, even if it causes you to feel uncomfortable and acknowledge your own privilege.
3. Have discussions with your black or mixed raced friends, family, colleagues. Challenge your thinking and reflect on how you have benefited from your privilege.
4. ACKNOWLEDGMENT: These problems exist. We have not made them up. Nor did we create them. We do not blame or hate every white person because of these issues. We simply need you to acknowledge that it exists! That is all.
5. Be a conduit for change. Challenge and call out examples of racism or prejudice.
This last week has pushed me outside my comfort zone and has reminded me that it is just as important to bring my blackness to work, as it is anywhere else.
Which led me here to this article.
My name is Charlene. I am a proud, dynamic, creative black woman. I look forward to YOU meeting the real ME.
Thank you so much to Charlene for sharing such a powerful piece and for the guidance on what actions we can all take to become allies to the black community. It is time for us all to stand up and show that:
We see you.
We hear you.
We understand... you.
The blog post from Charlene's CEO is a shining example of great leadership: tackling difficult topics head on and acknowledging issues that are important to people within the organisation, leading by example by demonstrating her own need to develop her understanding - a great role-model to us all.
Thank you once again for your contribution, Charlene.
If you would like to submit a blog for this series, please send your work via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you tomorrow for the next instalment!
#Kindness #BeTheRippleBlogs #BeKind #racism #BlackLivesMatter
You can find PDFs of all blog pieces: