Race in the Workplace

By Fletcher Lowe, reprinted from Living God’s Mission.

We at Partners for Baptismal Living have been exploring how race impacts our daily lives. There is a major contrast.

Here are conversations with two African Americans. A former CEO of a large Richmond, VA hospital said that white privilege is subtlety present as he interacts with white folks in the workplace. He has also been aware that in promotion, his path has been harder than others who were white, having been passed over even when he felt he was more qualified. An African-American lady, shared that fear was omnipresent when she goes out – fear of police pulling her over because she is in the wrong neighbor or driving too fancy a car. In stores she always gets a receipt lest she be accused of stealing.  She also feels that the playing field is not level with both her race and her gender being liabilities.

Now for the contrast. For the white folks we have conversed with, the racial issue is less the backdrop of one’s daily life. Awareness of race comes less from how it affects these whites directly and more from how it affects people of color connected to their work situations. A friend who is in Virginia state government’s office of Conservation and Parks mentioned how they are reaching out to employ more people of color in his agency and how they are training the Park rangers in dealing with situations of racial harassment among visitors. A head of a mental health non-profit spoke of how his agency works with black congregations to help them help their members overcome the mental illness stigma that sometimes prevents them from getting treatment.

Some of us white folks are often blinded by our racial assumptions. The CEO mentioned above was in the church building of the multiracial congregation of which my wife and I are a part. In came a couple of white tourists for the building has historical significance. They began a conversation with the CEO and asked him how he liked his job as the sexton. Without losing a beat, he replied, “I am not the sexton, I’m the senior warden!”

As each of these people is a committed Christian, it raises the question for us: How do we work to level the playing field, to work so fear is not a constant undercurrent. The Advent message of preparation for the coming of the Prince of Peace calls us to work for that peace among races that manifests itself in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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