As a female person of color who has been working in digital marketing and in tech for the last 12 years, I can say that unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of not thinking about race. I have to think about it pretty much every single day. I am oftentimes the only woman in a meeting, the only person of color, or in endless cases, the only person of color AND the only woman in the room. So, I am constantly asking myself, how are people going to perceive me and my actions as an Asian female here? I know I am the minority; the last time a colleague and I manually checked our stats, about 15% of the entire go-to-market organization were people of color. Are they going to immediately assume I fall into the “model minority” stereotype, that I’ll be quiet, passive, never speak my mind, simply take orders and carry them out? Needless to say, I do not fit that stereotype at all, and I know for a fact that my failure to conform to a racist stereotype has brushed a lot of individuals along my career path the wrong way. Here is just a handful of incidents that have happened to me personally, but does not include all of them:
- I have repeatedly voiced constructive feedback about my team to a former VP. Though I know the feedback I gave was shared by a number of colleagues, including several white colleagues who spoke to this leader, I was the only one out of all of us who was told that she is “one of the most negative people on this team. For your career growth, I suggest that in the future, you consider how you ‘package’ feedback.” Now, what makes me different from all the others in this group?
- I was once told that I was “rude,” “unprofessional,” and spoke with a “demeaning tone” when asking a colleague who was speaking far above normal office speaking volume to please lower her voice. She had antagonized a number of colleagues sitting around us to the point where most of us did not feel comfortable being around her or sitting at our assigned desks. Yet when a white male colleague literally yelled across the floor of the NYC office, on multiple occasions, “Yo, <employee name>! LOWER YOUR VOICE!”, everyone merely laughed and took him as the joker of the office. Nothing was reported in that incident. When I mentioned this to our HR rep, she responded to me, “Well, I wasn’t there,” and shrugged.
- I, along with another Asian colleague in New York City, have been told repeatedly by a colleague, in an attempt to be “woke”/ aware, “I can tell the difference between Asians.”
- On more occasions than I can count, I’ve been asked by white colleagues, “Where are you really from?” after telling them that I was born and raised in San Francisco (to be clear, this is a microaggression that implies that I am a perpetual foreigner and not truly American).
- I’ve repeatedly been mistaken for at least half a dozen different Asian female colleagues across offices, via Slack, e-mail, and in person.
- One European employee gaslighted me, insisting I had been in San Francisco in April/May 2018 when he had actually confused me for another Asian female colleague. I told him that I hadn’t been to San Francisco since kick-off that year, and I would obviously know when I traveled from NY to SF. He kept insisting I was wrong and that I was in his meetings in SF that week.
- These mistakes have also been made by members of our CXO team.
How do I know that any of the above was actually racist or prejudiced? In the day and time we currently live in, all of the above would be quite hard to prove as “racist.” And if I were white, I’d have the luxury of never even thinking for a second it could be about my race because I would be the majority group. The majority group is the default group, the “normal” group to which everything else is compared. But that’s the thing: You don’t need to yell racial slurs to be racist. You don’t need to be a member of the KKK to be racist. You could easily donate to progressive causes and vote for Democrats and still be racist. The Amy Cooper/Christian Cooper situation was a classic case of white privilege and racism in action, as her actions silently said, “Your position in society does not allow you to talk to me like that. Now, you’ll be punished for not knowing your place.” This was all because she couldn’t tolerate a black male birder calling her out on breaking the law.
It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, what you do, or what industry you choose. Racism is pervasive everywhere. And the worst part is: the people you think will help you, the ones whose jobs are actually to help you (hello, human resources teams, I’m looking right at you), make the situations worse. They gaslight you. They question you to death until you question your own sanity and sensitivity. They try to make you “consider other viewpoints.” They try to make it NOT about race. BUT IT IS ABOUT RACE. It IS about sex. The white moderate is the issue here. The people who think they are helping are NOT helping. They are making the situation worse and perpetuating the status quo, which is to continually oppress people of color and under-represented groups in a white male-dominated society.