It has taken me a painstakingly long time to write this, but it has laid too heavy on my heart not to share, so here goes.
Last year, my team and I witnessed a white manager (WM) repeatedly discriminate against our former Black manager (BM): speaking ill of her; excluding her from key meetings; trying to assign us work without first clearing it with BM. We attempted to address this with WM, but to no avail. So we obtained permission from BM to escalate the issue on her behalf.
It was very difficult to report this above because it involved our superiors. Additionally, we worried about being seen as ‘trouble makers’ for bringing to light something we felt the organization would rather turn a blind eye to. After a number of consultations with our human resources (HR) department, we chose to go to our vice president (VP). We chose this VP because she had been involved in Black mental health activities and this was a small but meaningful sign of safety for us.
When our director (D) became involved, her approach felt to us more like an interrogation than an investigation. We recognize she needed to gather the appropriate information but it felt as if she thought we fabricated the events. Eventually, D called us into a meeting with HR because she said she had addressed the issue and wished to provide us with an update. D spent the majority of that meeting, however, asking us four distinct times why we first went to our VP rather than D, followed by the explicit statement that by not seeing safety in her, we had discriminated against D’s whiteness.
While this was unfolding, all I could think was how incredibly textbook D had played out white fragility. From the start, D’s investigative approach had the tone of an interrogation, and with that, of gaslighting around whether race was an issue in this. One of D’s preliminary questions was if WM ever used any derogatory slurs about BM; but this just isn’t how racism manifests in the modern day. So to lead with this question was highly problematic in terms of validating our concerns and fostering a safe environment for this reporting. Also, D’s scrutinizing of our reporting process rather than the actual discrimination was a form of tone policing, an unconscious or conscious attempt to detract from the validity of our report by attacking the manner in which we presented it. And finally, D’s accusation of us discriminating against her whiteness was groundless. This would mean there was a reverse racism and a reverse victimization that does not exist, particularly when you consider the power differential between her position and our position in the organization, in addition to the power and privilege she holds as a white woman versus us as women of colour.
We were able to circle back to our VP to update her on all that had happened, and are grateful that we had the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged by the senior leadership of our organization. However, beyond this, it is not clear what action was taken to rectify the issue.
A few months later, BM was mysteriously ‘let go’ from the organization due to a supposed restructuring, which basically manifested as another white manager taking over her portfolio. This was a devastating loss for BM and for my team and I. Unfortunately, this is where this story ends; there is no hopeful resolution or happy ending.
I understand and acknowledge that the events that transpired are far from being the worst. But the harsh reality is that as with too many such stories, BM suffered the worst of it and my team and I were reprimanded for being her allies. It has been very challenging to continue working with WM and D, business as usual, after all of this. As far as I know, they did not suffer any consequences minus a possible momentary discomfort in being questioned around their racist actions.
I have spent a lot of time angrily questioning God about the perpetuation of this kind of injustice. To be honest, over this past year, I have been heavy with a deep hopelessness and despair about the many injustices of this world in a way that I have never felt or experienced before. But somewhere inside of me, I know that although there is no happy ending for this particular story, the overall story is not yet finished and it will progress regardless of my personal feelings, or hopelessness, about it. Maybe that is the grace and love of God that somehow provides a flicker of hope amidst all of this darkness. If that is the case, I will cling desperately to this.
In Kee Kim says
Thank you, Jenny, for the honest reflection of what you experienced at work. I am sorry that you went through all of that. This is happening right near us and we should be always aware of what’s happening around us and name it. Thank you for naming that. It won’t be an easy battle but we should keep fighting because our God is God of justice. Our God is God who takes sides on those who are weak and vulnerable. That was exactly what you did. I am very proud of your action. Thank you!