Racist Patronizing in Professional Spaces

Feb 25, 2021
crocodile crying over a pile of gold

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As we’re nearing the end of Black History Month 2021, I want to take the time to continue the discussion on allyship.

What 2020 revealed is that Racism is alive and well, present in slightly different ways than it is in the neighbouring United States but it is still flourishing and blooming here in Canada. We are facing systemic, institutional racism that is often turned a blind eye on, or dismissed as being a one-off experience here and there.

As a result we have toxic workplace cultures that perpetuate trauma and as we know, trauma accumulates. As we rush to return to normal, lets remember that the old normal was not a safe space for those who don’t fit into the shiny image of white privilege.  Even through #BlackLivesMatter rolled as a wave through social media in summer of 2020 we’re faced with the reality that we may not know how to be inclusive. We’ve been steeped in white privilege for so long it turned into white fragility.

This is not a philosophy paper, this is context for some tips I have for those of you who are wondering what they can do to support BIPOC in the workplace. There are not cookie cutter answers but there is some base knowledge you can use to start becoming an ally when you see injustice happen.

RULE #1: You cannot be anti- racist and veer away from unpleasant conversations. Conflict happens and you, as a progressive leader need to get ok with that. The more conflict avoidant you are the more conflict you’re inviting into your life.

What to look out for:

The assumption that your actions cannot be racist because you ‘know’ and ‘understand’ the relationship between power dynamics and racism. To know and understand is not enough, there’s a commitment that needs to be made, one that has to start with “I will allow myself to be silent when those who suffer from oppression speak their truth”

The assumption that when someone calls us out for something that it is an act of hostility. If we want to create inclusive spaces then it’s of upmost importance to remember that reading and knowing about racism does not mean we understand the lived experience of trying to make a living in a hostile environment. If you haven’t experienced anti-Black racism than it’s important not to engage in racist patronizing. It takes a great deal of strength to talk about trauma and to be gaslit about it is further injury.

If you’re interested in creating and fostering genuine solidarity devoid of empty gestures and crocodile tears then start by thinking pro-actively and from the POV that racism is everywhere. Without this acknowledgement we will continue as we were, and we have already established that didn’t work for anyone but the most privileged.

Start working out where and how you can contribute to making the organization less-hostile for BIPOC. How will your organization start upending systemic racism and discrimination? How will you bring an equitable anti-racist framework to hiring policies and practices? What about promotion and lay-off practices? How will you as an organization  confront anti- Black racism and white supremacy mindsets?

Without engaging with these questions you cannot start creating safe spaces. Without engaging with these questions  with stalwart  reserve, organizations will continue to push out Black and diverse talent.

It’s 2021 and confronting bias is in.

Tell us, have you witnessed or experienced racist patronizing? How do you choose to be an ally?



Anna Robson.