Have you ever had something bother you so much for so long that you finally decide to get it off your chest? Although I’ve been retired from the workforce for years, this letter is one that I’ve wanted to write ever since I left corporate America.
I’m doing it now because recent news stories concerning systemic racism have resurrected suppressed feelings. Although throughout my working years, my experiences in the workplace were overall pleasant, and I had an excellent working relationship with the majority of my managers, there were a few exceptions. There were a couple of places I worked where the racism of the person for whom I worked was as evident as a massive zit on the nose.
One manager was a pretentious, conniving woman. She reminded me of the lead character in the film The Devil Wears Prada. The other was a short, balding, overweight man who reminded me of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It is to him that I address this letter.
I know that it is customary to include dear in the salutation of a letter, but there is nothing dear to me about you.
Years ago, for several months too long, I worked indirectly for you, under the supervision of an upstanding man who was everything that you were not. He was kind-hearted, polite—a gentleman. I often felt sorry for my boss because you came to be his boss as an accident of fate.
Before your arrival, we had a well-run, pleasant office. To my knowledge, there was little or no office drama or backstabbing among the staff members. If there was, I never saw it. And then you arrived on the scene. It wasn’t long before the milieu of the office changed, for worse. Perhaps you fooled some of the other employees and associates, but you didn’t fool me. You soon showed who and what you are.
At first, I tried hard to get along with you, but my effort didn’t last long. I am not easily fooled by covert racists. Closet racists – as I call people like you – are much more dangerous than apparent racists who do not attempt to conceal who they are. And you, in my opinion, were and may still be, a closet racist.
For whatever reason, you never approached me directly with your concocted critiques. You assigned others to do your dirty work for you. Did you think that I did not know the source of sudden criticisms that did not begin occurring until after you arrived? I treated you with respect as I did everyone else in the office, but because I did not kowtow to you as some did, I think you perceived that I did not fear you. You were right. I didn’t. My mother raised us to be decent, friendly, respectful people, but not bootlickers.
The tension between you and I got so bad sometimes that I imagine that when you looked in my eyes, you saw the stereotypical angry black woman (I doubt if anyone else did. No one else ever brought her out.) If that is what you perceived, then we are on equal footing, because whenever I looked at you, I saw Bull Conner, David Duke, and a white robe wearing, pointed hood, Grand Dragon. Not only did I learn about snide remarks that you made about some other black people in the office, I also noticed that you treated black staff members differently. Your racism may not have been evident to all, but it was to me. Sometimes I think you had every staff member there – black and white – shivering in their boots for fear that one misstep with you and they’d risk losing their job, but I did not fear you. Some people have a higher tolerance for racists than I do.
The thing about closet racists is that they think that they are good at concealing their hatred. It would take an apocalyptic change to salvage people like you. You may doubt it, but I was as happy when I left there as you were to see me go.
Understandably, a lot of people remain silent about racism in the workplace because they value their jobs. If I were not happily retired, I might maintain my silence, too. After all these years since I left corporate America, systemic racism still exists, and people like you are still the head fish.
Today’s younger generations are the civil rights era soldiers reincarnated; only they are more outspoken. They are less timid, stronger, stout-hearted, resilient, challenging, and if necessary – although I believe the majority are peaceful protesters against the system – they will fight back. I have seen on tee shirts worn by many young people the ominous statement, “We are not our grandparents ….” What’s more, other people, brown and white, even your children and grandchildren, are allies. They cannot purify racists, but they can and are fighting systemic racism along with the old soldiers who are still standing.
Well, I’m glad I finally got that off my chest.
One more thing, have you ever heard Sam Cook sing A Change is Gonna Come? Take a listen, watch the video, and think about it. Significant change may not come in my lifetime or yours, but it’s coming.