Working While Black: My Coworker Used A Master/Slave Analogy
It’s an understatement to say that in the midst of this pandemic, the lines between home and work life have become a little blurred. Our desks and office spaces have been replaced by at-home setups or your bed. Meetings with the coworkers you used to see every week day take place over Zoom and instead of your best business casual, we’re just making sure that our clothes appear clean on screen.
Perhaps doing things this way inspires a certain level of comfortability. In this new work climate, one woman shared that her coworkers have become more lax and downright offensive in their communication even in what are supposed to be professional settings.
The following is a story from a Black woman who experienced one of these incidents and what she did in response.
“There was a meeting and we were talking about the interdependence of systems and one of the men on the video call said, ‘Oh, it’s like a master and a slave.’ I was literally knee deep in writing an email and when I heard that, the bells just went off in my head. And I looked up—often times I’m the only Black woman in these rooms. And that day, I was not only the only Black person but the only Black woman. The majority of them were men. And White men at that.
When the comment was said, you could hear the oxygen get sucked out of the room because they knew it was inappropriate. But no one wanted to say anything.
I said, ‘No, that’s inappropriate. Use another analogy.’
Other people on the call were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. How about mother and daughter or something else? It just doesn’t sound right.’
And I said, ‘It doesn’t sound right because it’s not right. Especially as the person who is on the receiving end of that statement. Historically speaking that’s just not a good thing to be bringing up and it’s inappropriate in the context.’
People thought it was the funniest thing because the man who initially said it turned red. So they missed how poignant this conversation was because they made it about this person being embarrassed instead of the context of what he said.
Later, I had another meeting with some people who were in the meeting with the master-slave comment. And someone said, ‘Oh D., that was so funny what you said.’
I was like, ‘Eeett. The intent is not to be funny. The intent is to identify the comfort level at which White men traverse life that they can say something and don’t think that it has consequences.”
I’m totally okay with being known as the person who gets into these conversations about race. You need to be aware. And I don’t care if you think we’re close or whatever. The fact is you’re being racist whether you realize it or not. That’s a racist comment that came from a position of power and privilege that you didn’t even think that it was racist because it just came like breathing to you.
The person who said it, he knew he was wrong because as soon as he said it, he turned red. And when I spoke up it just made it even worse.
So it’s like, you know what you’re saying is not right. You’re just not trying.