Micro Aggressions (Part 1)

In Nova Scotia it’s very subtle. A lot of the racism people experience are, I think they’re called micro aggressions.

I was working with a youth-serving organization. I hate to use the term, but we were working with “at-risk” or “high-risk” youth involved in the criminal justice system. Most of those kids were racialized. Either African Nova Scotian, Aboriginal or biracial. One of the things I wanted to see happen, most of the staff was white and there were some issues: lack of awareness, lack of sensitivity, I really wanted to push for getting some training for our team.

We had one day of Afrocentric training from the association of Black social workers. Our sister program… they were working in an African Nova Scotian community and they got training almost every week. I questioned my manager. I said, most of the kids we work with are African Nova Scotian, why are we not getting the same type of training as this other program? Her answer was: I don’t know. That’s one piece of the story.

It sounds kind of subtle, but anyway, as a group we were dealing with some pretty intense situations with our youth and families. It was one crisis after another. Many of the youth unfortunately, were in and out of court.

They were going to jail, their parents were struggling with addictions. I don’t want to make it sound all negative, you know. A lot of these families were strong, they loved each other, supported each other.

One of the things my manager did right was say, “you’re stressed, I hear you. We’re going to get a self-care workshop.” We did with a social worker who was also black.

One of the families I work with wanted to talk. I went to Dartmouth to do this and was late to our workshop as a result.

When I got there, it was obvious that the manager was pretty pissed. I had told the facilitator that I was going to be late. I went in, I sat down and here is where it gets kind of tricky. I sat of to the side a bit.

I had had a pretty intense conversation with (my clients) and decided to sit away from the group, at the side of the room. No one said anything for the first hour. The facilitator asked me if I wanted to sit closer and I told her that I needed my space. She let it be.

Two of my coworkers did not accept this. They went and told the boss that I didn’t want to sit at the table.

The background:

There were some other issues. One of my coworkers had called one of the youth she worked with (the youth was biracial) a monkey.

I addressed it with her. She did apologize, but then the atmosphere with her was, for lack of a better word she was bitchy. That relationship went downhill. I tried to be diplomatic about it with her, it didn’t work. So that was one of the things that I was feeling there.

That co-worker was one of the ones who went to complain to my boss.

The upshot of this was that my boss came in and was steaming. She demands that I come out of the room. For me, it was the approach she took that bothered me. It was the approach she took. It would have been better if she had waited until after the session, if she had calmed herself down a little bit. That got my back up and before long we were yelling at each other in front of the entire team.

I felt everything I said, I felt I was justified.

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Indirect Impact?

I’ve been in the workforce for 14 years. In hindsight I have recognized racist things that happen in the workplace that I didn’t recognize at the time.

I don’t know that they had a direct impact on me at the time, but they may have had indirect impacts.

I recall working at McDonald’s in North End Dartmouth. I recall little things that were said, little practices that were influenced by people’s race.

There was a lot of Black people living in area. At night Black kids would be watched extra closely when they came into the lobby.

I remember one night the manager was on the phone, describing what happened. I recall him saying “these three Black guys walked in…”

If they had been white would he have said white guys on the phone and if he did would he have emphasized the word white with such negative connotation in his enunciation of it?

I recall people being promoted to manager who for the most part were white people

I wonder if kids or people there who were Black…I wonder if their being Black maybe sometimes had them be subconsciously disqualified for such a thing. I wonder if the white kids were more encouraged to seek promotion and things like that.

You go back on these things and you just wonder. You recognize things you didn’t recognize at the time and I guess at times I get worried that this sort of thing is not new. It continues and has a negative impact on the way young Black people entering the workforce see themselves and their other Black peers.

I think that in my experience that was the case and sadly, likely continues to be the case.

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