Microaggression – (noun) a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.https://www.dictionary.com/browse/microaggression?s=t
I am all too familiar with microaggressions in everyday life. Growing up in Ashburn, Virginia, I dreaded when slavery came up in history class. At least 3 classmates would turn and look at me with wide eyes, mouths agape at the mention. I hated it. I still hate it. So, fast forward to being 27 at a job I manifested. A beautiful establishment, but, among the hundreds of employees, I am once again one of the only black faces in the offices.
As I got older where I frequently saw and connected with black women. I found spaces and learned that I belong wherever I choose to be. As a result, my tolerance for prejudice and covert racism are both at an all-time low. In my current position, I experience microaggressions and classism on a daily basis. During my very overdue 90 day review, my supervisor said something not so surprising to me. I was told that I need to stop going to lunch by myself and that I need to make myself more approachable- meanwhile, there are people on my floor who I make eye contact with and smile as a “hello” and I swear, some will just roll their eyes, look through me, and had the most unfriendly rude look on their face.
There are also a handful of coworkers who constantly speak down to me, ask me what my job title is and just flat out ask what I do. Apparently, people think I just sit and twiddle my thumbs all day long. Needless to say, these microaggressions and prejudice statements make my job a living hell.
Dealing with Microaggressions
Covert racism and microaggressions are both difficult to “prove”. Sometimes it feels that you are more criticized by calling out prejudice/racism than actually being either. At my job, I do not have upper management to talk to and tell them about my hardship. This behavior is woven into the fabric of the culture. I had to come up with tools to ensure that I continue to do the best as I can at my job, while in the face of adversity. These are some of the things I do to stay above water.
- Keep list of incidents detailed with dates (build a possible case for HR)
- Schedule specific times you have to be social
- Master your job
- If possible, find a coworker to vent to
- Show a mask, never your true self
- Have a crying space – for being overly stressed
- Focus on securing your bag
- Start endeavors outside of work that drives you
Mental Illness in the Workplace
When I was approached and told that I needed to be more social, I was terrified of losing my job. I was told I needed to be a social butterfly. To save my job, I thought, I disclosed partial truth to my supervisor. I told her that I have severe social anxiety and I need time to recharge and time for myself. She looked at me blankly and said that she could not relate and that being social is a key part of my job.
This was upsetting to me. I was doing my work, I was communicating with my coworkers and being kind and friendly when they spoke to me. I am not standoffish, I am not rude, I make myself as pleasant as possible at work. It upset me because I get so overwhelmed by all of the stimuli around me and often have panic attacks. Anxiety (mental health in general) is invisible, it is not taken seriously by many people.
Life at Work Today
Now, my supervisor says I’ve made progress. She let me know that the “team” is more comfortable with me. I got everyone off my back, I saw the mold they demand everyone to be in at this job and I mimic it when necessary. I apparently do it well enough that even when I would be crying my eyes out all morning, at work I seem happy and chipper and my supervisor enjoys it. It is just disappointing that I come into work every day and numb all of the feelings I have. It hurts that I am not cared about as an individual. The last two months have been earth-shattering and hectic for me, and I realize that my supervisor never asks anything about my life, no one does.
For myself, I know that not even HR can help me with this problem as it is the culture of my work establishment. Instead, I focus on securing my bag so I can pursue my dreams and aspirations. Sometimes, a job is just that, a job. Better things will come. More opportunities will find their way to you. I believe this is a stepping stone for more and will refuse to let a toxic environment tear me down.
Have you experienced microaggressions or prejudice in your life? How did you handle it?