Lately I’ve been considering how I fit in. Or more accurately, how my blackness fits in with the whiteness I have grown accustomed to being surrounded by. My experience for the most part has been positive, and any aggressions I have faced would have been nuanced and almost unnoticeable to my previously untrained eyes. Still though, I’ve been thinking about it.
I used to be a card carrier of the “I don’t see colour” narrative, truly believing I was entitled to such thinking; not fully understanding the rainbow of colours and attitudes I was wilfully ignoring. And a lot of these nuances, as expected, happen in the workplace.
I’ve always been a hard worker in my nine to five life, and would often find myself as one of less than a handful of black people in any working environment that I was in; feeling certain that I had to work just as hard as my white counterparts to get where I wanted to go. But then I discovered that actually, that wasn’t true.
The Scandal “Twice as good” speech comes to mind in this instance, where I realised that I worked really hard to get very little, whilst some of my white counterparts worked very little for much more than I would ever get.
Once I opened my eyes a little more, I began to pick up on the Microaggressions that people of colour can experience on a daily basis – a phrase I initially learnt from my younger sister who has educated me on much more than I could have learnt on my own as an original millennial; AKA: an old person.
So what do I mean by microaggressions? Tracy Clayton from the podcast Another Round describes microaggressions in one episode, as “bitesize racism”; the tiny almost unnoticeable things that occur to remind you of your non-whiteness that unfortunately, happen regularly and appear as unconscious and inherent ignorance from some white people. These can be completely eradicated through education, but that they still even exist in 2016 is a part of the problem.
I want to mention that having travelled a lot to the US, I always felt that London and the UK in general was far advanced than other western nations when it came to racial integration and moving beyond racial and ethnic stereotypes (see comment above on not seeing colours). But as it turns out, we are not better or worse, just different.
So what is a microaggression?
A white person in the office telling a person of colour that when they tan they’ll be darker than that person of colour.
Or a white manager offering constant positive feedback to their white employee, but constantly lecturing a black employee and rarely recognising their good work.
Or a white colleague confusing you with the only other black colleague in the office.
Microaggressions can be about perception for sure, and they can make a dent in that potential chip being formed on your shoulder as a person of colour, but they don’t have to define all your relationships; at least not the ones with the white people in your life who are “woke” and open to discussing difference in a constructive way.
What’s hard about being a person of colour in the UK, is knowing first how to even broach those conversations, especially in a work environment that could already be difficult without these types of issues. Additionally, if like me you have grown up in British culture, there’s an element of passive aggressiveness and repression that you always carry around, masked by politeness and a desire to not hurt anyone’s feelings; even the ones inadvertently hurting you. Feeling racially profiled even in the smallest way, but being wary of making those who are profiling you uncomfortable, is an ongoing challenge.
I am still figuring out how to have these conversations with those closest to me, and am observing from the side lines my own experiences of microaggressions, and how I deal with them in the moment when they arise.
But we should be having those conversations as a society, and I hope to one day get to a place where I feel confident enough to have them with those that really need to hear it, rather than just accepting things as they are.
In an ideal world the colour of your skin will determine your character in society as much as it does biologically, which is to say, not at all. But we’re not quite there yet, and frankly neither am I.
Image credit: Puzzle by Yasser Megahed from the Noun Project