Want to Challenge Anti-Asian Racism at Work? What Not to Do
A year ago, I wrote about the rise of coronavirus racism, and sadly, it’s only become more relevant and urgent.
My fears of the rise in anti-Asian racism were realized, with reports of verbal and physical assaults on Asians spiking around the world, culminating in the horrific murders of eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, in Atlanta in March, 2021.
While I was feeling all the feelings, one emotion was strong—fury. I was furious that it took murders to bring the issue of anti-Asian racism front and center, furious that there were attempts to pass off the murders as not racist, and furious at the surprise that anti-Asian racism was even happening.
So how do I deal with all of this anger? Since I also hate feeling helpless, I think about the actions I know can be taken. As I pointed out a year ago, in a workplace culture, racist acts usually play out as microaggressions—those small verbal or nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults. Sometimes they’re made consciously, but more often they’re unconscious to the person speaking, who may even think that they are giving a compliment or joking around, when in fact there is a hidden insult or negative assumption embedded in their words.
Here’s the key takeaway: Organizations, through their leaders, must take action against microaggressions and must model inclusion. Catalyst has the resources and tools to help. When you find yourself in a situation where you witness a microaggression—in or out of the workplace—there are three things you should never do.
- Don’t act like you didn’t hear or see it. Racism is not going to go away if we ignore it. In fact, ignoring it can be seen as tacit agreement—and this failure to address it can add insult to injury.
- Don’t make excuses. Explaining that somebody didn’t mean to be racist doesn’t make the remark or action any less hurtful or less racist. When somebody asks, “Where are you really from?” and isn’t challenged, their question reinforces stereotypes and perpetuates inaccurate information.
- Don’t become immobilized. This happens more often than not; you witness something but are at a loss for what to say or do—and end up doing nothing.
At the same time, there are two things you should always do:
- Address the microaggression by responding with a non-judgmental observation or asking a thoughtful question. Doing so signals support for your colleagues and models inclusive behavior and courage to others. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it.
- Talk to those involved. Doing so can break down stereotypes and provide comfort and support to the targets, particularly during such a scary time in the world. Check in with your colleagues to signal that you’re open to listening without putting the burden on them. If they don’t want to talk, be okay with that.
As angry as I am right now, I am still optimistic about the future. I take comfort in the actions organizations are taking to root out systemic bias and the knowledge that something can be done. Clearly, racism isn’t going away any time soon. Now, it’s time to take action.
Vice President, Strategic Engagement
As Catalyst Vice President, Strategic Engagement, Serena Fong drives positive change by leading and executing strategic communications and strategies to key stakeholders, including government leaders, policy-makers, influencers, strategic partners, Catalyst Supporter organizations and board members. She works across the organization to create and execute a compelling and impactful engagement strategy,…