– July 28, 2020 –
As workplace disciples, we understand that God’s creative power has been extended to and through human beings, the bearers of God’s image. Consequently, people tend to function best at jobs that afford them the opportunity to develop, utilize and expand their creative abilities. When this happens in an atmosphere of openness, equity and encouragement, it is a win-win for both the company and its employees.
Unfortunately, this is not the lived work experience for African Americans. Daily, from the assembly line to the C-suite, Black employees are often frustrated, unfulfilled and simply exhausted having to navigate work environments that are toxic due to systemic and covert racism. There are ongoing disparities in hiring rates, promotion rates and mentorship. The black-white wage gap continues to worsen each year and spans all education levels. The value of racial/ethnic diversity in leadership and its correlation to competitive success remains unappreciated by most businesses. These and many other systemic issues communicate, with a deafening silence, that Black lives do not matter in the workplace.
It must be noted here that, throughout the history of the United States, Black people have always made significant contributions as part of the labor force. In spite of ongoing victimization from a host of work life obstacles, African Americans continue to persevere. Many have become inventors, educators, medical professionals, scientists, engineers, clergy persons, athletes, entertainers, writers and entrepreneurs — and the list goes on. But career success is rarely achieved without challenges.
Implicit racial biases and microaggressions are two covert ways that racism is expressed in the workplace. Briefly, implicit racial bias is the assumption and/or attribution of certain behaviors to an entire race of people without intention or awareness. Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to marginalized individuals and groups.” Having worked for over twenty years at several Fortune 500 aerospace and tech companies, I experienced countless instances of these types of racial injustices. For example, during a conversation with another manager about how to improve interactions between our two teams, I used the word discombobulated. The other manager, who was a white male, said sarcastically, “Ooh, that’s a big word, Gina!” On several occasions, white coworkers have taken it upon themselves to touch my Afro or braided hair, speak to me using their version of Ebonics and even ask me if I was hired through an Affirmative Action initiative. These behaviors form a dark cloud in the workplace that is oppressive, draining and ubiquitous, impeding Black creativity, progress and success on the job. (“Can you please get your knee off our necks?”)
As believers, our Christian faith informs our work—primarily, how we show up and how we interact with others on the job. Jesus commands us to love our co-workers (neighbors). And Paul’s words also apply to workplace discipleship: “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand (Phil. 2:3-4, MSG).” It is time for believers to become intentional about being educated concerning and acknowledging the existence of racism in the workplace. Christians must also strive to understand and be observant of the toll these issues are taking on the financial, social and emotional well-being of their Black co-workers and employees. It is a moral obligation for people of faith to seek to learn more about implicit racial bias and microaggressions in the workplace, and then continually engage in the discipline of self-examination to uncover areas in need of personal behavior modification and healing.
Workplace disciples have a common calling to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God. As models of Christ’s values—especially those related to love and fairness —believers have a God-given responsibility to become an active part of the solution to eliminate racism and expand respect toward Black people at work.
This article is an excerpt from one that first appeared in the WP313 ezine, July 2020. Workplace 313 (www.wp313.org) is a nondenominational, nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to equip and mobilize Christians to integrate biblical faith and values with whatever work they do. Article written by Rev. Dr. Gina Casey.
The Rev. Dr. Gina Casey earned degrees from Howard University, American University, and both Fuller and Gordon-Conwell Seminaries. Her work experience includes years in government (NASA • CIA) and the tech industry (Intel) and as a pastor and chaplain ordained in the AMEZion Church. She is a founding member of the WP313 Board of Directors.