[This post was finalized prior to the COVID-19 outbreak]
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Today’s post is by Dr. Shahla Khan. Shahla Khan is a Ph.D. Fellow at Business School Lausanne in Corporate Political Correctness. She is also an author, blogger, and YouTuber when she isn’t teaching or researching. Life forced her to convert to feminism and she never looked back since. She tweets from @ShahlaSparkle.
My blog has a heart chat section where I invite my readers to share their stories, experiences, questions and opinions with me. It’s like a millennial version of Agony Aunt.
One reader, an Indian woman of 30, recently wrote to me in a massively disturbed state of mind. So here’s what happened.
She and her husband work in a highly prestigious university in New Zealand. He works as a professor and she works as the IT assistance worker on the helpline.
In a team of 6, she is the only non white person.
Yesterday it happened to be that for sometime she was the only assistant on the helpline. She received a call from a woman who works in the university. Here’s how the conversation went-
“Hello, this is (her name) speaking from the IT help centre at the (university of name). How may I help you today?”
The lady on the other side responded: “oh I think I misdialed.”
And she hung up.
She then called again and again my reader the Indian woman picked up.
The lady repeated her lines and said she may have misdialed again.
This happened third time. Don’t pull your hair out yet, she called the fourth time and by then a white woman had returned to her desk and this Indian woman let her take the call.
From the computer system it was visible that the call came from the same person.
She then revealed her issue to the white woman and her issue was resolved.
My Indian reader was frantic.
Her first questions to me were not what most people would expect. She asked me “am I not worth working there? Am I not good enough to handle a forgotten password situation even though Iam a software engineer?”
I asked her again if she had even moved past the “may I help you” line in the 3 times she picked the call.
She said no.
I asked her why would she assume then that she wasn’t good enough at her job because she didn’t even get a chance to do the job!
She then asked about what we call ‘tone policing brown women’. She asked if her way of speaking was intimidating or lifeless or too loud?
I then asked her about the general environment and work culture and she said things along these lines have happened before. Hence she is super cautious around her work to the extent of being called an OCD by the same white colleagues. She isn’t like that at home. But at work she is always walking on eggshells.
I informed her then that she didn’t want to hear “it was plain and simple racism my dear”. It’s not about how competent she is at her job which was her initial worry. Or that her voice was intimidating or lifeless. She is actually a highly qualified software engineer but she is working at the IT help centre because her husband is a professor in that university and they thought it would be convenient for them to work at the same place.
So as usual the wife quits her highly paid job as an engineer and joins her husband at his place of work.
She was deeply hurt by this experience and she said she didn’t even know how to take this and what to do.
I advised her to visit the university website and look at their policy on racism. Whatever it suggests in terms of reporting or taking action, do so.
And guess what she said next. Yeah, the same thing that kept Ariana Grande shut her mouth at Aretha Franklin’s funeral when a pastor sexually assaulted her in front of a million people. She feared she would be ‘making a scene’ and be labelled as a ‘troublemaker’.
People often believe that women in general and specially women of colour are unnecessarily nagging and ranting about trivial issues. This creates a sense of hostility and social abandonment towards those who raise a voice. Others usually are silenced by this social pressure of being likeable and blending in. They give in to the fear of being labelled and oftentimes losing their jobs.
My current area of research is political correctness in the corporate world so I have been trying to understand why political correctness gets so much flack. A professor at a prestigious European university has written extensively against PC culture in his papers from the 2000s. So I decided to write to him and check if his views on political correctness and affirmative actions had changed in the last decade.
He is now retired but he responded and gladly announced that he is now no more obliged to self censure and mind his language. In his papers he has consistently made generalizations about Muslim travellers should be racially profiled as terrorists or women when get liberated only think about themselves and do not participate in either home making or in the economy, sciences or advancement of human life in anyway. Those generalizations are fine but the generalization he has most trouble with is ‘white people’ or to be specific ‘straight white old men’, which is a demographic mostly used in the context of identifying systemic oppressions, institutionalised racism etc.
He claims that race specific or gender specific movements harm genders and races. Any time a woman wants a job because of her gender or a person wants a job because of their race, it only makes them look bad. In one of his emails to me, he told me about two women of color that worked for him as secretaries. One Mexican and another from somewhere in the war zones of the Middle East. He said that both of them specifically told him that they don’t want to align to their cultural values and do not want their race or culture to be identified at work.
While I absolutely believe that this professor was telling the truth and so were his secretaries, he failed to learn the reason ‘why’ those women of color who got a chance to work as secretaries for a white older man in a grand European university, were distancing themselves from their races so fiercely. That’s because they want to do their best to assimilate in the European culture so that they don’t face racism, so no one sees them as an outsider, the flag bearer of race issues, the troublemaker, and so on.
Millions don’t utter a word when they encounter racism or assault. Whatever the reasons may be but this fear of being tagged is the worst fear and the first thing that a woman’s mind thinks of when she encounters racism.
- Black Women Faculty at HBCUs – WOC Guest Post
- Healing Racial Trauma in the Academy, Part I – WOC Guest Post
- When a Cup of Coffee Means More Than a Cup of Coffee: Mentoring as a Woman of Color – WOC Guest Post
- What Can You Do: Being Black and Tired in Academia – #BLM Guest Post
- COVID19 and Racism with the PhDivas Podcast