Meeting and connecting with new project team members is ALWAYS awkward and my initial “meet n’ greet” was no different.
My new team members were cordial but not friendly; offering no welcomes or introductions. As they relaxed to enjoy our catered lunch, team members interacted with each other easily, while I observed, ate quietly and made an excuse to exit early. I chalked the distance up to being “new” and figured the team would warm to me once we got to know one another. That never happened.
As a Black woman in technology management, being one of a few, if not the only African-American employee on the team, is nothing new. The underrepresentation of Black people in Information Technology and Corporate America, aka the Race Gap, is a hyper-focused discussion topic and all too real professional challenge that yields little progress year after year. In truth, we can write [or in my case, blog] nonstop about inequity in the workplace, but until Executive Management (aka white privileged leaders with power and status) commit to create diverse work environments that foster equity and inclusion, N O T H I N G will change for Black and other marginalized employees who are historically denied a seat at the table, and/or room in the C-Suite.
Sorry. I digress.
So we’ve been introduced and it’s my first “real” meeting with my new team. I’m excited and hopeful; ready to contribute, ready to learn.
Needless to say, I was not prepared for the peer (White, male, early 40’s) who decided to “welcome” me by offering the hook to The Jeffersons** theme song, Moving On Up:
Fish don’t fry in the kitchen
Beans don’t burn on the grill
Took a whole lotta tryin’
Just to get up that hill
Now we’re up in the big leagues
Gettin’ our turn at bat
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby
There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that
Well we’re movin’ on up
What still resonates with me is the shock and discomfort that registered across the faces of my “non-singing” White, male and female, peers.
I unfortunately did not address my peer’s blatant racist behavior. I felt a mix of confusion, anger and embarrassment. I remember thinking WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING and how can this dude think this shyt is funny?!
My peers were silent, and once the song was finished, moved on in the meeting discussion as if nothing had happened. And for them, maybe that was true.
There is always that moment when I am faced with the possibly life-shifting decision to deal with the recent race biased insult/micro-aggression in front of me OR quickly identify a path to skillfully and angrily, navigate around it.
I regret my decision that day. My team member was/is a jerk and by not stopping his mean-spirited insult in its tracks, I opened the door WIDE for his future racist behavior that included the random use of Ebonics (i.e. yo, yo, yo, homie!) and exaggerated efforts to avoid acknowledging my presence in any room that he entered.
My silence, our silence, empowered him. And this is how it all started . . .
I CLEARLY see now how we (those in the room where it happened) got it wrong. The questions for you, if you are:
- Black and/or the target of this behavior – what would you do in this situation?
- White and/or an observer of this behavior – what would you do in response to what you’ve seen?
WHAT WOULD AN ALLY DO / #WWAAD
The Jeffersons: old 1970s television sitcom; a television series about George Jefferson’s newfound wealth, which led to his moving his black family to “a deluxe apartment in the sky” in Manhattan.