How to Handle the Emotions of Racial Injustice While at Work

How to Handle the Emotions of Racial Injustice While at Work

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As our country sits enraged about numerous moments of injustice, racial tension and police brutality, we still have to get up, go to work and “wear the mask.” For some in the Black professional community, this has been a challenge. A host of questions circled in the heads of Black professionals after Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted on any charges in the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Freddie Gray in Baltimore Md., or after more Black men and women are unjustly shot dead in the streets by police officers.

You may think, ‘How am I going to go to work tomorrow angry? How am I going to avoid any uncomfortable conversations with coworkers? How will I respond to insensitive and ignorant questions or comments? Will people expect me to be the resident expert and voice of the Black community?’ All of these questions are valid and speak to the larger issues of how events in society trickle … or bulldoze … into our workplace environments as well.

[Related: President Obama Condemns Violence in Baltimore Riots]

So, I pose the question: Is the workplace sheltered from the events that occur in our larger national and global society?

The answer is, no.

We are all embedded within society-at-large, our nation, our communities, our families, and our workplace environments. While each space may have different sets of people,

norms, and expectations, a person’s core identity (i.e., race) is still a constant existence through all of these spaces.

In the case of all of the recent racially-toned police shootings, one’s Black identity has been prompted to stand at attention. This level of racial alertness is directly connected to how much a person identifies with their racial identity. If you have a high identification with your racial identity, race-related events impacting your racial group will be a more intense trigger, than if your racial identification is low.

Various psychological theories, such as Social Identity Theory, suggest that our identities (in this case race) influence the way in which we connect to, engage in, and process our

environment. So, it is important for us to understand that it is a natural process to feel as though these events are directly impacting your emotions, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. The question becomes how do you respond and how should your workplace environment respond.

The responses that we have to societal events at work connect directly to two factors:

  • One’s level of emotional arousal
  • One’s level of identity threat

In the case of the deaths involving police, there is a high level of emotional arousal. There are feelings of anger, fear, disappointment, sadness, disbelief and even rage. When a person believes that their identity or identity group is being attacked, judged, or harmed, there are also high levels of identity threat. This combination of emotional arousal and identity threat, leaves an individual in a place where anxiety, stress, ambiguity and uncertainty can take over one’s thoughts and behaviors.

Check out five steps to cope on the next page …