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What Happens When You Realize Your Office Is Racist?

Let's break down what "loud and intimidating" really means

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I’ve worked in the corporate world for my entire career. It’s had its ups and downs, but I’ve always been able to manage the corporate lifestyle without much struggle. Part of corporate life is feedback. It comes in many forms and is called many things (in my case, the 360 review), but essentially they all involve various people you work with providing anonymous feedback about you. I had mine recently and it was… eye-opening.

Let me preface this by saying that on my team, I’m the only person of color. I’m also one of two people on my team who doesn’t have direct experience in our project area. I was hired specifically because I didn’t have the direct experience, to bring new ideas and perspectives as we improve processes. I jumped in, learned a ton, and made some impressive contributions in my first six months on the team. I even received an award from my VP! I thought I was doing great… until I received my 360 feedback.

For positives I was listed as a strong problem solver with out-of-the-box ideas who could relate well to others. Cool—I agree with all that.

Then I got my negative feedback. I was listed as: very opinionated, intimidating in large meetings (when I ask lots of questions and am vocal with ideas), and only relatable in one-on-one settings. Apparently, I should also stop asking so many questions and having so many ideas, until I “know more.” And finally, I should stop making jokes with a teammate because I make other people feel uncomfortable… even though the person I’m joking with thinks it’s hilarious.

I can’t lie, when I heard this, I was both pissed off and hurt. To date, no one has said any of this to my face. Not my manager, teammates, or partners on projects. So where is all this new feedback coming from? Why is it only shared in an anonymous survey instead of coming to me? And why am I still waiting for the person with the strongest comments to come talk to me in person, as they were encouraged to do by my manager?

I already knew the answer. Because I live and work in passive-aggressive Minnesota, that’s why. And nothing says passive-aggressive like waiting until you have an anonymous venue to share all the stuff you don’t like about someone. What this really comes down is I am too opinionated, too assertive, and too business-minded. I am too damn good at my job, especially for a Black woman who doesn’t have any direct experience in the subject area. And I’m a Black woman who refuses to kiss anyone’s ass or break my neck to play the corporate game. I take care of my business and I don’t allow folks in the office to walk all over me.

It stung at first, but my assessment was eye-opening for me. It reminded me that no matter how great I am, I will always be less than to certain folks, because of my race, and my gender. I can be excellent at what I do, and it won’t matter, because I’m an outsider. They want me to sit back and be quiet… but that’s not what I’m about. I’ll keep on being who I am in the office—until it’s time for me to move on to my own business. Until then I’ll just be the opinionated Black woman in the office.  

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