Awkward Moments Being A Black Professional

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When Is It Appropriate To Educate Your Co-Workers On Black Culture?

We as Black people can not simply live a life where it's comfortable to be in your own skin because many of us are not culturally competent. Audre Lorde was a black writer, feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist who said “[People of color] are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.” Everyone walks around pre-judging anyone and anything moving or staying still and think it’s ok to just say what's on their mind. In the workplace, after breaking a few barrier and being granted the ability to enter one's personal space or life it gets tricky. Sometimes co-workers get too comfortable. But there are many opportunities to have teachable moments.

First off, it's not your responsibility to educate anyone, unless you feel disrespected or concerned by the individual’s overall knowledge or perspective. However listed below are several examples of when it's appropriate to educate your co-workers on Black Culture:

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1. When your co-worker ask you questions about your  different hairstyles

Real Life Example: Came to work with Bantu knot twist outs and was amazed at the response I received. My co-worker asked me if my hair was like that on purpose? He stated that my hair looked like I stuck my finger into an electrical socket, and laughed it off.  

How to address this issue: Laugh it off as well because you know they lack expertise in this area. However, don’t let them persuade you into believing your particular hairstyle looks bad or is viewed as a joke.

2. When you co-worker uses offensive gestures to address you.

Real Life Example: My co-worker subconsciously snapped his finger in order to get my attention. On top of that, another co-worker witnessed my reaction (a quick head roll with a stank face) and realized how it affected me negatively and gave me the reassurance that this action was wrong.

How to address this issue: I immediately took a deep breath and held in what I wanted to say because he was on the phone. However, at that moment I promised myself that if it were to ever happen again, I would pull him aside and express my discontentment with the gesture.

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3. When you co-worker greets you with a fist pound but gives a handshake or high five to the other co-workers they come across.

Real Life Example: My co-worker consistently greets me with a “pound”, and when he is addressing his other peers he gives them a handshake or a proper greeting.  

How to address this issue:  I made sure that I ignored his pound gesture, and gave him a high five, or made my hands unavailable for such a greeting. Now I get either a high five or just the proper greeting   like " Hello."

In conclusion, It's important to speak up in the workplace. Many times those that offend you don't know it until you explain it to them. When you are confronting an issue always keep it professional and intentional. It unfortunate but necessary to address issues at work because that where you spend most of your waking life. You don't want to work in an uncomfortable environment so speak up and take action Milli. 

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