“How do I deal with homophobic (and sexist and slightly racist) colleagues? I’m new to the job and so can’t really speak up. It wouldn’t go down well. Especially when it’s a small company with no HR department, I’m still in my probationary period, and the boss shares that horrible viewpoint. Should I just let it go? Because I really need this job.”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Broderick Greer as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Your question isn’t complicated at all (I’m joking).
It’s actually consistent with a lot of the social difficulties I face on a daily basis. Here is my typical inner-dialogue, “Is this the right time for me to address what I perceive as a homophobic/racist/sexist statement? How will my speaking out about this perception impact my currently peaceful relationship with the verbal racist/homophobe/sexist standing in front of me? When is Happy Hour?” One of the challenges of being a sexual, racial, or gender minority is the constant reality of counting the cost of when to advocate for one’s self and when not to. There is no clear way forward at any given time. There are, however, a few ways of seeing yourself and others that might bring you peace in the midst of interpersonal chaos.
As you are probably already aware, there has been quite a bit of work done around micro aggressions, those subtle verbal indignities that take place in the everyday. Microaggressions can be racist, sexist, and homophobic in nature. No matter the frequency with which microaggressions occur, they have no place in your workplace, home, or relationships. It is within the best of the common good for those kinds of statements to be recognized for what they are: splinters in the fabric of human flourishing. This recognition, though, does not have to happen in a staff meeting or in the office of your boss. This recognition can occur on your terms. Be creative. Be proactive. Counter your office’s culture of microaggression by practicing microaffirmations.
Microaffirmations can range anywhere from silent phrases like, “I am enough. I beautiful. There is more to me than the eye can comprehend,” to verbal pronouncements like, “The joy of this day is shrouded in negativity. I will find the joy in this moment, no matter what.” To break out of the negativity of your coworkers and supervisor might make you look like a square, but it puts you in a respectable position. You will be letting the people around you know that you are a force to be reckoned with, a bitch of sorts. This self-differentiation is important. Push for clear boundaries. The point is not to be the bigger person. The point is to be the better person. When you encounter your offenders at staff meetings or around the water cooler, smile and nod. Your unwavering kindness is your best friend in this situation. To practice kindness in the face of injustice might be seen as a weakness, but it’s not. It takes immense strength to shower others with love. Just ask Martin Luther King, Jr.
The way you worded your question indicates to me that you are a thoughtful, introspective person. Guard your thoughtfulness and self-reflection. Do not allow your humanity to be stripped away by the thoughtlessness of others. Oppression, in whatever form it takes, does not happen in a vacuum. It devours the soul of the oppressor more than the oppressed. It damages relationships and tears down bridges. The reversal of that culture of oppression and aggression is in your hands. Remember that the people being waging these verbal assaults are not waging them against you alone. They are instruments of racist/homophobic/sexist systems much larger than any one person or group of people. We are all complicity in some way to these complex systems. With that in mind, I advise you to be patient and merciful as you sow seeds of a more gentle, kind future.
Your Fellow Struggler,