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Written by

Lucrece Grehoua

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Being the only Black Body at work (and why I’m going home early)

Everyone deserves workplace equality; To be valued where they give their time, energy and effort. To be as happy and as safe in their environment as all their other colleagues, and to have the same level of work progression as all employees who walk through the door – no matter their heritage, level of affluence, region of origin and all round personal experiences.

So it is a shame that so many young, disabled, genderqueer or simply people who might carry something personally different from the general population of the U.K., will fall through the cracks of work life, either dwindling into unemployment, or experiencing dire hopelessness during.

The population of White people in Britain is 54 million whilst Black people stand at 1.1million. This is no surprise then that in the world of work, White people also make up the bulk of all positions. But around 14% of the UK working age population comes from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, yet their rate of employment is exceedingly disproportionate; only 1 in 8 in employment in the U.K. Oh – and I can assure you, this is not because we do not work hard enough, history will in fact show you otherwise.

Despite workplaces being scarce in colour, general post-racial British society remains a myth when – or if ever in conversation. By virtue of my skin colour and background I will almost always be other, finding it hard to fit in, and sometimes even subject to inappropriate micro-aggressions and plain underlying discrimination in and outside of work. In fact, research last year found that minority ethnic people were consistently more likely to have faced negative everyday experiences frequently associated with racism.

Therefore, the significant lack of BAME representation in the U.K. workforce is unacceptable in 2019, yet conversations surrounding racial issues remain a game of Chinese whispers. Being the only Black person at my workplace has become a general part – yet the bane of my existence. I had expectations of majority white working spaces growing up, always seeing rich looking British men on the Central line trains on my way in to secondary school in the mornings. And I knew that one day I’d be a part of these seemingly plush people’s lives – and maybe I even aspired little too much to be assimilated to them.

What I found on entrance to my first corporate job at the age of 21 however, would shock me. Where I once knew I would be a fashionable, kitten-heel wearing woman strutting through the office every day to sit down and complete large amounts of important work, I fast realised that career progression and socio-economic mobility meant nothing without cultural multiplicity. Instead of being the happy, young woman I thought I’d be whilst earning a decent salary, I became miserable and depressed, willing to give up every part of my pay check and sit at home if that meant having some sort of cultural connection in my everyday life.

Being placed in a room with British people who had not a smidgen of what the life of a young Black girl looked like resulted in feelings of despondency and dejection. Prior to my role, I was optimistic about making new friends, but not realising how hard it would be. Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that half of BAME employees say they feel they need to censor how much they tell their colleagues about themselves and their personal lives, significantly higher than the 37% of white British employees who feel this way. And when I realised that nobody understood or cared to understand me, I began to change every part of myself in order to assimilate better into the group of white colleagues I had to be around.

But whilst my co-workers would lunch together, flipping on their jackets at 12:55pm every day, speaking about the pricey new oriental spot around the corner, I would hide behind my computer screen in complete fear, anxious that I’d even be invited. Now you might argue that my being anti-social when I failed to perk my head around the computer screen, screaming ‘Here I come!’, and refusing to try to get on and crack jokes with my peers (for the 100th mortifyingly forceful time) is my fault. But to continuously try to over-exert myself to my colleagues, going to places way out of my economic range, with people I absolutely can not relate to, speaking about things I literally have no knowledge of was painful.

It is the idea that I have to sprain and twist myself in uncomfortable positions, changing my accent, physical mannerisms and even temporarily hiding my interest in CardiB’s new album and Jamal Edward’s new youth club that opened in my area that strains my work life happiness, ultimately resulting in horrendous feelings of gloom. My antisocialism comes from my exhaustion of simply having nobody around me who can relate to me naturally, and therefore going home at 5:22pm when I should be leaving the office at 6.

In this sense, since the majority of corporate workspaces in London are made up of a playing field of white dudes and a few white women, their ability to ‘just get on’ is a privilege, whilst for me, a luxury if I am even able to access this.

Simply employing Black and Minority ethnic people is not enough. Once employed, everyone deserves an equal balance of cultural and racial representation to foster happiness and efficiency in the workplace. And the term ‘Britishness’ now legally means something that – whether people like it or not – BAME people absolutely deserve the same exact chances of job progression as their White counterparts.

2 responses to “Being the only Black Body at work (and why I’m going home early)

  1. Sorry ot hear of your experiences. I think your White colleagues don’t realise how deeply they have been conditioned not to involve Black people socially. I also think that BAME is an unhelpful acronym, devised by them. It lumps all non-white people together, even though your experience is not the same as that of a white Swedish employee would be (or an Indian or Chinese or Turkish colleague). I try to avoid using it.

  2. “. Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that half of BAME employees say they feel they need to censor how much they tell their colleagues about themselves and their personal lives, significantly higher than the 37% of white British employees who feel this way.”
    Look at the statistics. 50% of BAME staff report this inhibition, and so do 37% of the others. Is this difference statistically significant? (A more sophisticated analysis would also normalize for age. We should expect older people to report this inhibition significantly more often than younger ones.)

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