Written by Meagan Harding
It was some time last year when my brother called me in sheer frustration to discuss an issue he was having at his corporate job. For those not familiar with play family, he’s not my biological brother. This kind of imputed familial status is popular in the black community and a real sign of deep approval, but I digress.
So he called me and he was so upset about the microagressions he was enduring on a day to day basis. He was seeking advice on how to best communicate said frustration and did not understand why his boss was so passive aggressive. This was especially complex because he was hyper aware of the fact that his black body was considered threatening by simply occupying space in the room. It broke my heart because he’s a sensitive guy who cares deeply about relational care. I responded, “there are a lot of emotionally immature people who have positions of power. It’s actually astounding.”
Most job applications do not require that you explain your emotional maturity. They do not test for the ability to manage your own feelings in an non-intrusive manner that does not require babysitting. Emotional maturity is one of those intangible job skills that can greatly impact a person’s experience in th work place but often becomes apparent when it’s too late. There are lot of people managing others who have no business doing so because no one knew or checked on their relational capacities.
Sometimes, it takes extraordinary restraint and patience to be a person of color in homogenous work places. We often have to compensate and side step people’s emotional immaturity while being expected to exemplify extraordinary levels of restraint. It’s exhausting in a different way.
Then, there are also times when we have to check our own emotions. There are triggers everywhere and sometimes keeping it one hundred is inappropriate. It’s important to be able to take criticism, digest it and reflect before responding. I have found that my first thought is usually not the best one when it comes to anger.
Here are some things that I have found to be helpful:
1. Observe first. Take a certain amount of time to just watch and listen. That will give you an idea of where the land mines are and what type of finessing certain topics or people will require.
2. Find a work buddy. It’s important to have someone you can vent to safely and also get input on how to handle some things. This buddy does not have to be the same race; they just need to be down and understand how your existence at the company might be different than their own.
3. With the work buddy, don’t do all the talking. The sharing needs to be reciprocal because no one wants to be spilling their guts to someone who isn’t transparent.
4. Be direct when necessary. Sometimes you simply cannot placate people and you need to create boundaries. Some things just will not work for you and should not be tolerated and it’s okay to make those known. As I grow, I realize that it is okay to tell people how to treat you, even if they are a superior.
5. When you are feeling triggered, even justifiably, sit with it for a beat and allow yourself time to process. That can mean going for a walk, lunch out of the office or closing your office door for a while. In work and in life it helps to breathe before responding.
6. Pray. It’s hard working for and with people. Sometimes you just gotta send one up and ask for help.
Meagan is a creative and a justice advocate. She is the co-founder of REBEL + REST, which is committed to helping restore the humanity, value and joy that the world daily tries to take away from us through the lie of racism. They do this by creating thoughtfully curated, all-expense paid retreats for social activists and advocates to rest, restore, rejuvenate and replenish. You can find her on Twitter @meagantharding or Instagram @meagan.harding.