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Anti-Racism in the Workplace

Racism is a topic that makes most people feel very uneasy. It is not a good conversation starter in the break room, and it is rarely part of the work gossip around the Keurig. But it is something that is very much alive and present in our country and often our work environments. Our country has been called into the arena to face, well, ourselves! This is a call to vulnerability and discomfort, so we can all be better.

The first step toward anti-racism in the workplace is to first acknowledge that racism exists, even in our most diverse work environments. It is also important to acknowledge that racism can exist between coworkers, employer and employee relationships, and our relationship with our consumer. Note that racism is not always being a part of an extremist group; it can be very subtle in our day-to-day interactions. When we as a people fear the discomfort that racism brings, we miss out on opportunities of growth and personal connection. This is also not meant to bring about shame, but if it does, I invite you to get curious about it. This brings me to the next step, curiosity.

Becoming curious about your emotions, your biases, and messages that you received around race is important in this communication and is Step Two of the process. This is an invitation to take ownership of your narrative. Brene Brown refers to this as the “Rumble” in her book Rising Strong. She states “The Rumble begins with turning up our curiosity level and becoming aware of the story we’re telling ourselves about our hurt, anger, frustration, or pain”. What this calls for is a willingness to know when you get that feeling in your stomach that something is wrong or uncomfortable, instead of putting up a guard or being defensive, you allow yourself to explore what is coming up for you. This is the opportunity to ask “why am I getting defensive”, “what am I fearing in this situation”, “why do I feel unsafe”. Curiosity also entails being willing to hear another person’s story and experience. Being willing to hear that something that you could have said or done hurt another person whether or not it was intentional.  

Step Three: Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Yes! I said it and I meant it. You can be wrong in a situation and it is ok. When we are in the “Rumble” we will definitely get things wrong. We will say something that was meant to be a joke that was not funny to the person on the receiving end. This also means that you cannot narrate another person’s story. If they state that they were hurt, you cannot engage in rebuttal or say they are being too sensitive. This invalidates that persons’ experience and creates a toxic environment of inauthenticity. People no longer feel safe, which produces poor work quality and lack of cohesion on the team.

Lastly, always be willing to learn. I joke that I’m a “Forever Student”. Whether I’m in a training or sitting at a park, I’m always learning from those around me. I invite everyone to always be willing to learn. Learn how to communicate better. Learn how to listen better. Learn about another person’s experience that may differ from your own. Learn about you! American author, Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” Make the choice to continue to learn.

The topic of racism is something that can no longer be ignored. It will continue to present itself in workplaces, friend groups, and families. We, as people, have the opportunity to come together and embrace diversity in our workspace, neighborhoods, and our country.

By: Brittany Lollis, LCSW, LCDC, CDWF-C