Support for people experiencing racism at work

When working with people experiencing racism at work, I have been frustrated that no formulation model centred on whiteness related violence, exists. Part of my clinical work has involved supporting people in racially oppressive/toxic work environments and as such, I have had to try to develop some tools to help ensure their lived experience of racism was validated and centred in the therapeutic conversation; so that a sense of agency and mastery could be fostered.

I have learnt that experiences of racism at work usually revolve around a main trope/story. The story often sounds like ‘one of these stories’ you have heard many times before and, will likely have a firm déjà vu quality. One might in fact, have heard the story so often, that they become incredulous it is actually happening to them. Many start to doubt their experience. If racism is not externalised, confidence and self-esteem can be significantly hit and, more serious psychological distress may ensue.

The whiteness at work formulation: rationale

The whiteness at work formulation is a basic tool anyone experiencing racism at work may use. It is questions based and, designed to be simple and accessible. The aims of the tool are to:

1) Derive meaning from racially oppressive situations by making connections, links and seeing patterns. Formulating and conceptualisating racism/oppression is one of the most powerful methods to retain a sense of agency and power when we experience racism.

2) Promote some psychological distance and increase our capacity to see the situation in its entirety/from above thus, helping us strategise. Racism is a significant stressor. When under stress, our capacity to plan, think clearly and problem solve is often significantly impaired. Taking a meta-cognitive or helicopter view of the situation can help us problem solve more effectively and, stops us from becoming too emotionally embroiled as this also increases the likelihood of psychological injury/trauma. 

3) Externalise the problem. There are strong structural (and ego centred) drivers that promote victim-blaming in situations of abuse of power. Further, experiences of racism can quickly hook onto past trauma/abuse and/or psychological ‘vulnerabilities’ increasing their wounding potential. Our best defence here is to externalise. 

A basic formulation may thus be useful when both navigating and making sense of whiteness at work. The framework is not designed to promote any particular course of action but, aims to encourage reflection and self-care. 

You choose your strategies. 

The tool may be useful to both those affected by racism and those working to support victims/targets.

The framework: basic questions

1. What is the main narrative/discourse?
Ask yourself…
What is going on here that sounds typical/predictable?
What is causing me distress/discomfort?
(trust your experience)
What seems beyond the individuals concerned?

2. How is whiteness being reproduced here?
Ask yourself…
What tropes can I recognise?
What stereotypes are being used?
What structural inequalities are engaged/perpetuated?

3. Who are the agents of whiteness?
Ask yourself…
Who is actively reproducing whiteness?
Who is passively/inadvertently reproducing whiteness?
Are there any agents that may be/appear unwilling? (consider using them in question 5)

4. Tactics/devices in use
Ask yourself…
What devices are being used to exclude/Other?
What is/are the function(s) of those tactics/devices?
What is the impact of any tactic used (on me and on others)?

5. Navigational and resistance strategies
Ask yourself…
In relation to the functions(s) of the devices in use, what strategies are available to me to buffer/counteract?
What support is available to me – internally and externally?
What/who do I already know, that I could summon to help me navigate here?  

You may want to organise this information in a table. I will aim to produce a diagram (psychologists love diagrams).

Reflect on your answers.

Discuss them with others you trust and more importantly, derive a plan of action based on what you want to achieve in your current situation and, the support you have.

Remember white supremacy is beyond you and it is beyond me too.

Look after yourself.

Experiencing racism or racial injustice is no reflection on your character or lack of skills/talents.

Feel free to pass this post around 🙂 

Happy resisting!

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