I see you. Your throat closing up as you surrender to once again being treated as ‘lesser’. Your frustration clear from the frown lines etched upon your face. Your remaining dredges of resilience ebbing from your eyes.
I understand. I’ve felt it.
‘Let me just dumb it down for you’.
‘You’re just another f*cking Asian’.
‘Go back to your own country’.
Strangers, colleagues, so-called friends.
These sexist, racist, crushingly aggressive slurs that have been hurled my way throughout my time studying in England, working across three countries and two continents, are something I have come to accept as an inevitable part of being a woman of colour in the workplace.
A combination of growing up in a predominantly white, middle-class area in England, spotting very few female role models who looked like me throughout my childhood and being a pretty shy, under-confident kid (only outside my own home, my parents can ruefully attest), led to me being consumed by a particularly acute form of internalised racism that I was unaware of until just a couple of years ago. Even then, I was unacquainted with the term that so accurately describes my own experience until my bad-ass sister — one of the few role models I mentioned above (like she needs the ego boost) — recently mentioned its existence to me.
“Minorities suffering from internalised racism buy into the notion that whites are superior to people of colour. Think of it as Stockholm Syndrome in the racial sphere.”
And so I began to ponder. Why did I only just manage to stammer out that it was Hindi my parents spoke, not ‘Indian’ to a curious classmate in Year 4? Why did I glance away awkwardly when two girls in my Year 8 Design & Technology class excitedly gushed about how they loved the vibrancy of Indian fashion and had I ever worn a sari and did it really take that long to put on? (Yes, yes it does). Why did I religiously straighten my hair throughout Sixth Form rather than contentedly leaving it in its natural wavy locks?
Only after heading to University, moving to a different continent and befriending many more ethnically diverse people, did I finally begin to recognise that during my childhood I had actually been embarrassed about my own extraordinary culture, heritage and skin colour.
I wince at this admission even now.
But I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be the same as everyone else. I never realised that being ‘different’ was actually a gift that was really f*cking cool.
The combination of this internalised racism, attending a single-sex school and subsequently reading Spanish and Linguistics at University (a very female-dominated discipline), meant that upon entering the corporate world for the first time last summer, I was pretty unprepared for the intersectional challenges that being a woman of colour in the workplace would inevitably present.
Fast-forward ten months and three internships. Several racist remarks, countless sexually-fuelled comments and (frustratingly, because who on earth wants to give them that satisfaction) quite a few tears later, and I’ve come to realise that seriously undervaluing my own opinions, constantly putting myself in second place and essentially having inexplicably little faith in my own ideas is symptomatic of almost always being part of a marked minority in the workplace.
The Big Bad Corporate World that had mercilessly gobbled little old me up in a maelstrom of ambition, enthusiasm and naivety, has now spat me out (albeit in a somewhat bedraggled manner) as a more mature, experienced and savvy woman of colour in the workplace.
Not by magic. Not by sheer dumb luck. In fact, the very reason for my personal and professional growth over the past ten months has been almost exclusively down to the incredible role models I’ve been lucky enough to work amongst and be managed by. These diverse, driven, inspirational people are the ones who’ve shown me that there is a path to success as a minority in the workplace. We just have to carve it out for ourselves.
So what now? I’m not saying I know it all (the post on imposter syndrome is already in the works, fret not). I’m not saying I’m going to give you all the answers. I’m not saying I find it easy to deal with the constant challenges that every minority faces in the workplace. What I am saying is that I want us to tackle it together.
Yes, I’m looking at you.
My aim is to create content that a broad cross-section of people, regardless of race, gender, age or any other defining quality can identify with in order to stimulate and maintain some important conversations regarding being a minority in the workplace. So by engaging with the learnings and questions at the bottom of each of my posts, I hope you’ll join me on this drop-in-the-ocean journey to making the working world a more diverse and inclusive environment for everyone. Because whilst I certainly don’t know the answers, I can’t wait to start finding them with you. We must all come together to be the co-creators of an anti-racist, anti-sexist society in which everyone can flourish personally and professionally. And we’re already on our way. How do I know?
Because even though yes, I do see you. Your throat closing up as you surrender to once again being treated as ‘lesser’. Your frustration clear from the frown lines etched upon your face. Your remaining dredges of resilience ebbing from your eyes.
I also see your resolve strengthen as they advocate for you. Your steely determination injecting self-belief into your stance. Your gratitude to your ally revitalising your ambition and drive.
Today’s Learning: It’s not Us vs Them. It’s not Men vs Women. It’s not People of Colour vs White People. We’re all in this together. Let’s start acting like it.
Today’s Question: When was the first time someone different to you advocated for you in the workplace?