Being other at work makes me wonder

When you’re a minority in a mostly white work environment, sometimes you have experiences that make you wonder “was that racist?”… I’m not naive, I know racism still exists. Some racism is overt and in your face, other racism is more subtle. However, as a young adult I want to believe that most of that stuff is behind us and that racism is just a small component of American culture. But then there are these moments….

So before you give up on reading the rest of this post, hear me out.

Growing up black, you’re often told to work twice as hard as your white counterparts so you can succeed. You are told to not blame anyone for your problems and you are expected to have thicker skin than most kids your age have. I can only speak to the black experience because this is the experience I know. So I did it…what I was told – I did it. I went to college and grad school. Studied hard, worked hard and continue to do so. But still there are these moments…

In college, I experienced subtle racism here and there but nothing that really rattled me. The occasional professor making an off the cuff remark about race, students either making fun of or being overly involved in what they consider “urban culture.” In various work environments over the past few years, I’ve experienced it as well. I’m beginning to experience these things again, again very subtle. But the things I experience now, though subtle, sometimes make me wonder “is this racism?”.

So someone at work sends me an email asking me to make copies  for a meeting. I make the copies. While I’m organizing the copies, the requester walks in a says, “was it clear what I wanted you to do?” I’m thinking and actually say, yes you wanted x number of copies, here they are (as I hand them off). The requester continues to make this moment awkward by asking me if the documents have been stapled (the answer being yes, because the documents were about 15 pages long). This moment makes me wonder if this person thinks a little less of people of my hue or if it’s just me.

The only reason I even wonder if it’s a little bit racist is because of past interactions I’vewait had with this person. Interactions where this person is genuinely surprised when I complete a task that was asked of me. Let me be clear, this is not just the normal “I’m glad you figured this out” reaction. This person is genuinely shocked that I can handle logistics for events (i.e. reserve space, confirm setup, etc.). This person is equally shocked when I know the answer to a very basic question being asked. It really bothers me that there genuine and I mean genuine surprise that I can make copies, make a reservation or even make budget decision (which I am capable of doing). These moments..these moments…make me wonder.

You might be thinking…I’m overreacting, it isn’t necessarily a race thing. You might be right. All I know is that feeling that I get in the pit of my stomach when I experience these moments say otherwise. For now, I confront these things head on the only way I know how, by asking questions like “is there something I’ve done in my time here to make you think I wouldn’t understand how to complete this task?” The answer is usually no. That get’s me no where, so I move on. No sense dwelling, right? But these moments…these moments…make me wonder.