Recent concerns in light of the protests across America have cause concerned for everyone. In many cases what started out as peaceful protests have turned violent due to bad actors showing up. Already struggling businesses have been burned to the ground, vandalized or forced to shut their doors when they’ve barely had them open due to the pandemic surrounding COVID19. To put it nicely, many parts of the country are currently a hot mess at best and a powder keg waiting to explode even further at worst.
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know these recent protests were sparked due to the videotaped death of a black man George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes. He died and one of the police officers involved was finally arrested for murder. 3 other officers involved have yet to be charged.
Stress from things like this impact people differently. Black people in America have long complained about treatment from the police. Studies have shown stark differences in the way black Americans are treated in both the healthcare and the criminal justice system even to the point of identifying key indicators of a school to prison pipeline. This kind of stress on a long term basis is bound to cause major issues for those in the black community who often go into the workplace and have to culturally “code switch” to make it through the day. Many people think because black people have been in America for so long that the culture they have is the same as others who have been in America. Newsflash…. there are levels to this thing! We each have different experiences and black people have been notoriously good at showing up to work and acting as though those pressures aren't’ weighing heavily on us because we know people won’t understand and we may be accused of pulling the race card.
The race card accusation is often thrown out when people simply aren’t comfortable having real conversations about racial disparities. People avoid it like the plague and when not heard, black people who need their jobs have learned to acquiesce and keep it moving the best way they can at work. But when someone is killed in our community and it reaches the level of publicity it has as in the Floyd case and so many others, it is like a loud bang reminding us that we are an at-risk population in America. We are well aware that there are people who do not value us as humans and couldn’t care less if we weren’t around. Some of them are sitting in the office with you every day.
Employers need to know this. Employers need to pay attention to this daily high-end stress level and hear the silent cry of this group of people in the workplace. Racial discrimination is TRAUMA! Trauma begets traumatic behaviors, health issues, and more. People are literally hanging on by an emotional thread in the workplace trying to keep their jobs while feeling like going to work is almost too much to bear. If they aren’t stopped by the police on the way to work or given the “you better not steal” look when they stop for coffee on the way to in, when they get to work they are treated as though what they go through doesn’t matter. Parents walk out the door each day giving “the talk” to their kids and then off to work hoping to get back home safely each day. This is not taken into consideration by many others because of the different experiences and the diverse level of problems people face.
So employers! Know that your black and brown employees have a level of stress you may never understand but you darn sure need to consider. No one is saying people are going to start snapping out at work, but this could impact how they are dealing with things at work. How you talk to people, what you decide to do, how you discuss things matter. Humans can only take so much. This is not a plea to give people a pass but to instead help you understand the complexity of a diverse workplace and all of the things that come with it. Microaggressions happen every single day and black people ignore many in order to not raise a fuss so they aren’t deemed “the angry black person at work.”
As you seek to work through the remainder of this pandemic situation, consider those who work for you. Think of how they may have an additional level of stress like never before. Add COVID19 concerns to that (which everyone is feeling the stress from) and it is almost unfathomable to imagine how people are coping. Your EAP programs are great. Your offers to provide counseling services are great. But your ability to have conversations with those in leadership to ensure they are not only aware of our current environment but proactive in being servant leaders who take the WHOLE EMPLOYEE into consideration is going to make a greater difference than you could ever imagine. It would be great to think all employees are created equal but we are not. Just as a single mother may have different concerns than a married mother, a black employee may also have different concerns. It may not be your “job” to drill down to every specific need, but you must consider there are different needs for a diverse workforce. If you don’t know how to do this, don't’ be afraid to reach out and hire someone who can help you. The best companies know to find the best resources to assist them and they take the time and consideration to do so.