Recently my boss called me into a meeting regarding an incident in which it was reported that I had behaved in an inappropriate manner when it came to moving me to another cubicle. My accuser who I am not allowed to face is an HR Director who overheard me speak to a colleague and was offended at my tone and what he assessed to be someone who was very angry. He went on to say that this behavior can contribute to a hostile work environment in which others may feel threatened and even scared. My boss concluded her end of the meeting by informing me these actions normally result in a written warning but because it was my first time and I most likely wasn't aware that we'll just leave this as a conversation and won't notate my file. She also went on to say that I've been considered as high potential to move up within the organization, however, I need to be cognizant of my behavior especially near outside influences who may have input regarding my growth.
At this point I do believe my boss thought this meeting had concluded and I understood my place......but screech (Scooby Doo) style. Much to her dismay my inner "aw hell no" kicked in and I responded with my defense aka counter attack:
1) I in no way behaved in an inappropriate manner when I spoke to my colleague who I sometimes hang out with after work. She's white, I'm Black/Puerto Rican, a little Ebony/Ivory going on. She understands me as I understand her. As a matter of fact she too chimed in about the "jacked" up cubicle I was being asked to move to. Is she being spoke to? Uh, no she's not, but OK, let's move on to number 2.
2) Hostile, threatening, scared work environment - I take all of these very seriously. How was I contributing to this type of work environment when I was not using profanity, nor raising my voice, didn't throw any objects (you know white people go after that stapler in a minute), hell I didn't even use street lingo. Did I seem happy, no I wasn't. But did I act like I was going to blow up the place if I didn't get to sit with my team, no I didn't.
3) Why are you mad, I wasn't even speaking to you? - This was a conversation between myself and a colleague, two people that's it! She wasn't running for cover, she didn't run to him and claimed to be scared. Why are you so threatened regarding my conversation with another individual? After all on our recent Employee Engagement Survey one of the questions was, "Do you have a work BFF?" I actually do and it was her. Who are you to control our conversation, especially when you don't even know how she may approach me when she's angry. Was it because she is white and you were fearful that I was over powering her? Or, were you thinking she's white and I should be respecting her more? Sort of like in "The Help"?
As I concluded my counter points, I also suggested a remedy in which 1) I should be able to face my accuser and 2) Perhaps he needs diversity training, which he should of had because he's an HR Director, but apparently something is lacking. By this time my boss had a perplexed look on her face, like damm, it's one of the smart ones, shit I thought this would be over. I then went on tell her my reasons. If this individual has input to my growth what other mis-perceived notions is he also spinning and to who? Clearly he misunderstood and it resulted in my being spoken to but could have resulted in a written warning. Something of this magnitude should give me the right to face my accuser and defend myself or attempt to understand his perception, it could be a teaching moment for the both of us.
My second suggestion really cut to the core as I went on to explain why this HR Director may need diversity training or we need to really amp it up a notch or two. This individual has to really come to grips of what he considers offensive and by who. I have witnessed many meetings in which my white colleagues became upset and carried out offensive behavior like banging a table, throwing objects (the stapler never gets old), even cursing. I've also witnessed them being sent home with pay and Managers asking us to ease up on these individuals when they come in cause their going through a "rough patch". In this so-called offense I did not exhibit any of these qualities. Which makes me wonder, how can my tone scare him this much? I'm not a big woman, merely 4'11, 130 lbs. You're a man of significant size, and now based on my tone you're scared and threatened? Is he a punk? Maybe, because only a punk would report this as an incident. Do I really scare him? Physically probably not, but mentally, hmmmm......maybe so, but is it enough to report me?
As we cut to the core, it was not my tone or behavior, it was me! As a white man he saw an angry black woman and he immediately "Zimmermaned" me which means he profiled me to be violent. Am I taking this to the extreme I don't think so, using words like scared and threatened what else could these mean? This very action insinuates to me that if I express myself in this environment even if something negative is being placed upon me that I can NOT express myself authentically without being perceived as a threat. For adverse situations I have to face them with a sugar coated smile to avoid his fears and those like him. Yet if I lack aggression then I lack the initiative to move forward. If I'm too aggressive I'm the angry black woman. At this point it's a no-win situation, and we wonder why there's a lack of Black leadership?!?! As you can imagine by now my boss's head had to be hurting this was indicative as she rubbed her right temple, and for some strange reason I heard the Excedrin music play in the background. Honestly I really didn't care how she felt, if she was able to deliver this message she had to be equally willing to receive my message. My parents raised me to value my name and I'll be dammed if I let someone's bullshit fears smear it! To her relief I'm about to start my vacation, but little does she know I will be reporting this incident to our Employee Hotline which takes items very seriously. Furthermore, I will express how I felt threatened, after all you did say he has input into my growth; if so he has the ability to stifle me because of his prejudicial stereotypical views. You can not threaten my career because you lack understanding, and then hide behind it. Trust (in the words of a RuPaul Drag Race contestant) after I'm done he will really know what an angry black woman looks like!