A common stressor that occurs among African American women in a workplace is microaggression. Microaggression is defined as a subtle statement, action, or incident which discriminates and is prejudicial against a racial or ethnic minority and is often utilized to make people of color feel inferior. It is often overlooked or dismissed by White counterparts, because the aggression is not always obvious nor is it obvious how it causes the person who is being aggressed against feel. Here are some signs that you are experiencing microaggression on your job.
1) It doesn’t feel good going to work. Your body is typically going to alert you in several different ways when something or someone isn’t good to or for you mentally, spiritually, psychologically, or physically. The way in which this shows up with respect to microaggression is that you dread going to work, and the feeling intensifies over time. This may show up in ways which you dismiss or minimize initially. Some signs to look for are inability or reluctance to get out of bed, anxiety, depression, or feeling stressed or lack of motivation when thinking about your job, avoidance of certain people and situations. This is your body’s attempt to alert you that you don’t feel as though work is a safe space.
2) African American women are referred to as aggressive or hostile when expressing job concerns that goes against the toxic workplace mentality or management. African American women who advocate and express concerns are often referred to as aggressive or hostile – which is a condescending way to describe someone opinion that you may not agree with. It is also utilized as a control tactic to try and demonize someone with good intentions and has a desire to bring about positive change in the workplace. This tactic is utilized to make someone become more submissive by suggesting that they are a bad person or that they are difficult to be around. This also encourages triangulation, where more than 1 person is encouraged to align with non-Black counterparts against the woman of color. This tactic is an attempt to make a black woman feel inferior, that her opinion/voice doesn’t matter, disliked, or as though her job may be in jeopardy for expressing a valid or different opinion or concern.
3) White counterparts reword your ideas and opinions and are praised and given credit for originality. It can be a magical occurrence really – your idea or opinion that you expressed, which wasn’t well received by management or no one cared to acknowledge, is expressed by a White colleague who is treated as though their train of thought is new and genius. Absolutely nothing changed was changed from the idea that you came up with except for the race of the next person who re-stated it. When trying to reclaim credit for your idea, it falls on deaf ears. It can be an additional shock, when the person who restated your idea or point is actually aggressive, yet their aggressiveness is not addressed.
4) Feeling invisible. In the predominantly White workspace, it can seem as though you don’t even exist when you aren’t acknowledged. When an African American woman speaks to a White co-worker, and doesn’t get a response (e.g. saying good morning, and not receiving any acknowledgment back). What’s more, is the co-worker will speak to others in the room with no issue. n that occurs when you speaking to White counterparts where it seems as though you are non-existent. Another example of African American women being ignored on the job, is when their emails and other communications are consistently ignored by management.
5) Guardedness or the perception that you are being scrutinized more. Often African American women feel the need to be guarded and hold their work to a higher standard. There is often the perception that your work is being scrutinized more or the threshold is lower for job termination. Some women feel that their work is also reviewed closer or more scrutinized than their counterparts. This perception comes from comments, warnings, emails, and documents advising that their work needs to be reviewed or modified in some way. Another form of microaggression, is when management may go to another non-Black and requests for them to give feedback about the African American woman’s work performance or behavior. This can also be viewed as triangulation. Because there is a concern about excessive scrutiny, African American women often overcompensate by doing extra work.
6) There is refusal to address you by your title, role, or work role given is often inappropriate. Another form of microaggression occurs when non-African American coworkers or managers refuse to address African American women who have a higher degree, such as PhD or MD, by their title instead referring to them as Ms. By refusing to call an African American woman by her title, it considered disrespectful and it is a power and control tactic, designed to make them feel inferior or level the dynamics to make the non-African American co-worker feel equal. Still other Black women experience being assigned inferior work roles that allow them to maximize their potential. Thus African American women are passed over for leadership opportunities, and higher paying jobs.
7) Inappropriate comments made about hair, attire, names, mannerisms of African American women among colleagues. African American culture is one where in which the public is scrutinizing and tries to conform to White standards of culture. There are still students being expelled from schools for wearing their hair in locks, and there were also recent news reports of teachers cutting off a student’s braids. It is not uncommon for African American women’s hair, names, speech, and style of dress to be discussed in a condescending manner among work peers. Questions asked about their differences can also be shameful in nature. Examples of insensitive comments about African American women’s hair include: “is your real,” “can I touch your hair,” “how much does it cost to do your hair?”
8) Cultural differences are seldom addressed. There is education on cultural sensitivity of marginalized groups in most workplaces. However, in those discussions of cultural sensitivity or competence as it is frequently referred to – African American women are infrequently referenced in groups in which people need to be more sensitive or appropriate to.
9) Little support is offered when there is racial disparity or discrimination experienced on the job. When the ideas of racial differences or aggression is brought up by those who have experienced it, experiences are dismissed, or no one wants to discuss those experiences for fear that there is too much controversy around racial matters.
Despite African American women experiencing microaggression on the job, they are still very resilient. It’s unfortunate that microaggression is something that is still an issue of discomfort for people of color, however the more that we start safe conversations around the issue, the more we can address it.
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This blog was written by Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC. This blog is meant to be educational and not meant to diagnose anyone or to be used in place of therapy or treatment with a licensed mental health professional.
© 2021 Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC
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