I am a staff member at a predominantly white institution. The other week my colleague asked me to welcome a new employee to our university even though we’re working remotely, and I do not work with this new person’s team. This employee is a person of color, and the colleague who asked for my help is a white woman. In the email, my colleague apologized for “singling out my identity.” Still, she thought I would be a great person to welcome the employee to the team and “spill the tea” about our university. She said maybe I could suggest a church or a place to get a haircut. A close work friend said I should’ve clapped back. I regret not speaking on the issue. I’m not a confrontational person, and I assumed this colleague was operating in good faith, despite the questionable language. I’m wondering how you would have responded and what you would say to the employee of color. I’m planning to reach out to this employee and share my honest experience, which has been a mixed bag. — Anonymous, Kansas
Reading this I let out a heavy sigh and my shoulder slumped, as this is an all-too-common occurrence for people of color in professional environments. I would not do as Gray, suggested and wait until I am in a place of power, as that may not happen anytime soon. Sometimes speaking up helps you climb the professional ladder a bit faster or at least sleep better at night. I would suggest this individual send an email to her colleague pointing out the microaggressions. It’s tokenizing at best and informs her colleague she would be happy to reach out to the new employee to introduce herself and be collegial, offering any assistance they might need joining a new community. However, she will not speak to this individual about church or a place to get a haircut, unless the new employees inquire. Seeing, that as all people of color do not have the same religious affiliation or share the same cultural appearance, not to mention these topics can be seen as personal and sensitive topics to this employee. How would you handle this situation?