HR’s Role in Perpetuating Corporate Racism

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Ms. Sihle Bolani, author of ‘We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate SA’ makes an important point on how Human Resource (HR) depts contribute to the ‘cycle of corporate racism against black professionals.’

Many employees believe that the role of HR departments includes among other things to address abuses in the workplace. However, this is not often the case. A strong argument can be made that there’s a conflict of interest for HR personnel to conduct a fair investigation that may damage the company that writes their paycheck. As such, some companies will and do employ a cover-up strategy that protects employers against complaints that can be damaging. Persons who file a claim about racial discrimination, sexual assault or a variety of other abuses may find themselves the victims of a company’s internal plan to protect itself – one that includes protection for the abusers. The systemic structure no doubt perpetuates workplace biases particularly against Blacks and other minorities.

Complaints, particularly around race, class and gender issues should be referred to a third-party source for investigation. Employees can get the EEOC/ IDHR involved. However, even if one takes their complaint to these investigative bodies, it is not guaranteed that a case will receive the level of attention that it deserves to address the problem. An employee who complains to HR about workplace abuses may unknowingly set in place a process that leads to their termination.

Ms. Bolani’s argument is an important one that deserves attention. The answer is not for employees to stay silent about workplace abuses, but instead, eliminate the conflict of interest that perpetuates and preserves organizational biases.

#Diversityintheworkplace, #racismintheworkplace, #corporatesocialresponsibility, #racialconflict, #corporateracism

(This article was originally posted on LinkedIn November 8, 2018)

Denial and Silence to Racism is Consent

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 

Verizon denied that my co-worker who made the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ remark about Black football players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination and police brutality was racially insensitive.

They denied having knowledge of a racial slurs being made against me. And they denied that the work environment was hostile for me. One of my co-worker (white) was the only person who spoke out about the pervasive racism in the office. He was also let go after they terminated me.  These messages are between that co-worker and I between October 25th through November 4th 2017. 


Addressing Bigotry

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on

I have never ‘truly’ felt the kind of terror that lived in my belly and would not go away, until I filed a racial discrimination complaint at work against a co-worker who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ reference about Black football players who kneel during the national anthem. When I learned that another co-worker had referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’ I asked for an investigation into that incident as well – in a dominant, white male workforce, no less. Evidently, no one had let me in on the secret that speaking out against bigotry would have changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. But even if they had – it would not have made a difference.

People have asked me, what did you expect? Actually, I expected leadership to be as appalled as I was – and take swift and immediate action that sent a clear message that racism was not tolerated. And used the incident(s) as an opportunity to improve issues around racial diversity. What else was I supposed to expect?

It’s become clear to me, in my research and observing the ways in which many racial conflicts escalate and are addressed – that fear by bullying, threats, fabrications and sometimes outright force …is still the weapon of choice that many in White America utilize to get what they want. This tactic has been used for so long, that tragically – for all of us – many believe this is the only way to deal with conflicts. But.. what has history taught us, if not, that not everyone can be bullied or threatened into silence – for some, this has the opposite effect. And clearly, we are not at a point in history where Black people will retreat into silence.

For those in white America who believe that fear-based tactics is the best way to address conflicts, I challenge you to try a less hostile approach. Can we talk?


Originally published on LinkedIn, June 5th, 2018

Confronting Racial Discrimination in White Corporate America –


The Beginning – September 21, 2017

Imagine, if you will, being one of two Black women working in a division comprised of over 90% white men. One day, one of your co-workers referred to Black football players who kneel during the National anthem as “Monkey see, monkey do,” You called out his insensitive racist comment, he defended it, and you filed a complaint with HR.

One week passed, then two, every time you checked in with HR, they tell you that they are investigating. You are told one thing behind a closed door, that is not acknowledged in writing. You get generic emails that they will let you know when they have something to report. Three weeks, still no update. The co-worker who made the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ remark shows up to work every day as if nothing had happened, and by all outward appearance, nothing did.

Imagine being that Black woman who filed the complaint…

I am her. And this is only the beginning of what
has been a horrifying ordeal with this issue beginning September 21, 2017. And so this story shall continue….

Using Cross-Cultural Communications Theory to Improve Discrimination and Oppression Among Dominant & Marginalized Groups  


Co-cultural Communication Theory is defined by (Mark Orb and Regina Spellers, 2005) as tools that help us understand the lived experiences of marginalized groups and how they function in dominant societal structures. The marginalized co-cultural group includes people of color, women, persons with disabilities, gays/lesbians/bisexuals, as well as those from the lower socioeconomic background. Among some of the challenges often faced by the minority groups are racial, religious, sexual orientation, and class discrimination. Co-Cultural Communication Theory is often discussed from the perspective of non-dominant groups and helps us understand how they communicate in their everyday lives.

This article explores ways in which Co-Cultural Communications Theory can be applied to get rid of or lessen discrimination and oppression among dominant and non-dominant groups in society. In this paper, discrimination is determined as the denial of opportunities, rights and or freedoms to one or more groups that other groups in the society enjoy.

Being a Co-Cultural competent community is vital, especially in a country with a continuous influx of immigrants each year from all over the world. Immigrants come here from diverse faiths, languages, economic, ethnic and ethnic groups. This vast cultural diversity has appropriated such terms as ‘a nation of immigrants’ and the ‘melting pot’ to describe the construct of the United States. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that some of the social and cultural conflicts that we confront today are not related solely to immigrants. Some of the most disadvantaged population are citizens of this country. For instance, black people are among one of the most marginalized groups in America. A large segment of the population has been living under a systematic cycle of oppressed conditions one generation to the next for over 400 years. Unemployment and underemployment are common in predominantly segregated black communities. Crime rates and incarceration are high, so is a lack of quality education and equal employment opportunities. Black people on a broad scale are stereotyped as lazy, intellectually inferior, criminalized and ranked on the lowest ethnic hierarchy in society despite one’s achievement. This is a minuscule list of the plethora of destructive stereotypes that has marked the lived experiences of a segment of the black population in the United States. A solid case can be established that the devastating history of blacks in America has contributed to continued systematic racial discrimination.

Mark Orb and Regina Spellers, (2005) From the Margins to the Center: Utilizing Co-Cultural Theory in Diverse Context, discussed five epistemological assumptions in which Co-Cultural Theory is rooted, and the relational conflicts that may arise among society’s dominant and marginalized groups.

1) Hierarchy exists in each society that gives privilege to certain groups of people, resulting in an unfair and unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities for those deemed society’s prominent class. For example, in comparing the lived experiences of blacks to white people, the social, educational, political, and financial status explicitly reveals that white people enjoy privileges that are not given to blacks. Many researchers believe that the ‘better than’ mindset and attitudes of the dominant group (whites) towards the marginalized class (black), contributes to the creation of many of the social conflicts that we face today. For example, a large segment of the black population feels like an outsider disadvantaged and oppressed in America.

2) The privileged group adopts the spatial relation of power, and use that power to influence societal norms and shape the way society communicates. The pervasive representation of black adult males as criminals and drug dealers in print and media is a gross illustration of how the dominant narrative perpetuates negative stereotypes. The negative story applied to the entire group has seeped into the psyche of our culture and deem as factual.

3) The dominant communication structures, directly and indirectly, obstruct the forward movement of the underrepresented people.

4) Even though co-cultural group members’ experiences may vary, many shares similar societal positions that render them marginalized and underrepresented within dominant societal structures.

5) Co-cultural members often devise various communicative strategies to counteract the oppressive power of the primary structure. The dominant culture whose language has been deemed the norm also uses their ability to diminish the language of the co-cultural group. In this epistemology, it would be hard-pressed to argue that blacks have a communication style that is distinct to the community, and which the dominant group has linked with lack of education and low intelligence.

It is because of social problems like these that living in a co-cultural competent society is not merely necessary; it is critical to our outcome. Geertz, 1973, 49) Geertz, C. (1973) wrote, “. . . There is no such thing as human nature independent of culture.”

Living in a diverse society, it’s important that we understand that culture shapes our lives in many ways. It determines the efficiency with which we navigate through life, learn about the world, our attitude, and how we relate to others. Some of the people we encounter in our daily life may have different fundamental philosophies, different worldviews, and belief patterns, but they have a right to their point of views, the same way we have a right to ours. Co-Cultural Communication Theory teaches us to respect other people’s differences even if they are not congruent with ours.


Orbe, M., and Spellers, R. E. (2005). From the margins to the center: utilizing co-cultural theory in diverse contexts. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 173–191). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.