When I reflect upon my four years as a Systems Engineer, it’s evident that the television ecosystem of a national broadcasting company was easier for me to comprehend than the intentions of an insincere coworker and self proclaimed ally. What’s even clearer is this misunderstood truth: Brown skin is not synonymous with courtesy and considerate behavior between two brown co-workers.
In fact, on my first day as a Systems Engineer I met my co-worker, Sam who is black just like me. Over the course of my first work week, he began most of our conversations with, “This is your first job…” , “I’m just looking out for you…” and “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but…”
I was sure that Sam’s statements were condescending and misogynistic, but my sentiment at the time was: he is black, I’m black, and we’re both a part of an undeserved population in a white-washed industry. Without Sam, I’d be left to navigate the white-washed halls of our employer, alone.
So, despite his social shortcomings, Sam and I developed a bond sacred to people of color in a Caucasian dominated workplace. We were “family.” Our shared culture allowed us to articulate emotions, perspective, and humor without using a single word. I liked to think of it as our communication superpower!
Unfortunately, the life of our bond was short lived since our approaches to the inequalities we encountered in the workplace differed. Not to mention, his gender-driven condescension toward me became unbearably offensive. Sam was a proud member of the “Disgruntled Employee Posse,” — which was understandable, given the daily workplace inequalities he too faced. I however, chose to exude kindness and channel my frustrations towards my stellar work ethic.
The lesson here?
As people of color, the communities that we create in the workplace are necessary, but should not be solely governed by racial commonalities. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of accepting intracultural abuse. This is a lesson that I learned the hard way because what I sought early on in my career was an ally. What I needed was inclusion. What I’m learning? Resilience.
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