written by
Michele Heyward

Racism Is Legal – Subtle Workplace Racism Cues!

Career Job Anti-racism career advancement 4 min read
“Racism, discrimination, bias, and aggression do not come from big moments. It’s in the small actions that mount up over time and build into a culture where we are only meant to be seen as quotas but never heard, never acknowledged, never recognized, and never accepted.”

This statement you read was written by Facebook’s Black & other Employees of Color in a blind letter on a Medium post. This might have come from a specific group of people, but this is the general sentiment of black employees throughout the United States. Your black employees and colleagues may be smiling on the outside. They might be appreciating you for taking the steps to counter their underrepresented status. They might be answering all your questions regarding race and privilege. But on the inside, they don’t feel the same, because of the racism.

“The Black employees of America today are sad, depressed, angry, furious, and are facing micro and macro aggressions every day! They are treated as if they do not belong and are considered outcasts.”

The unfortunate thing is, for the most part, these racist cues aren’t even prominent. They are subtle, otherwise known as microaggressions, never accepted & never acknowledged. But, it is high time you need to know what they are, so you can hold yourself accountable.


This racism starts even before a black employee steps into an organization. Blacks are less than half as likely to receive consideration for jobs relative to equally qualified white counterparts. For both the races vying for the same job, whites have above 30% chances of getting it whereas blacks have less than 15% chances with the same credentials and degree.

Let’s just leave getting the job part aside. When being interviewed, as early as in the telephone conversation phase, around 56% of the black people face racism. This isn’t an open no-black people policy. Rather, their education is extra scrutinized, where they studied, and what they studied is put under microscopic focus, and even with the right degree and experience, everything black candidates say is taken with a pinch of salt. So, even before they are allowed to work for a company, they are put through extreme discriminatory practices to ensure they should be given the job.


With Black people, how they talk, speak, or look is almost always questioned. According to a study, the race-recognizable dialect (or sometimes the lack of it) can be the proxy for not only assessing a candidate for the position but their potential for moving up the ladder as well. Simply put, if you “speak as a black or not” is going to decide if you should be given a job, promoted or not.

Many times, their hair isn’t considered professional enough. Most of the black women have reported that they are suggested to straighten or grow their hair if they want to look ‘more presentable’ in the workplace. Among many other things, there is a common misperception that black people are aggressive to their colleagues & managers, and that apparently threatens the other employees.


This one might not be so subtle, but white leaders have a great way of shoving it under the rug. Black employees are excluded from management and are seldom given a prominent position in corporate organizations. They are never tapped for higher visibility and better access to internal opportunities. Every time there is an active role with a straight line to the top, it is very intelligently presented to a white leader.

A black employee is handed over a long laundry list of must-haves to advance whenever they enter any organization. This list might not be out there in the open, but it is something that all the white executives are aware of amidst themselves. They make a black employee jump all these additional hurdles if want to consider them for a possible promotion. They are either assigned invisible work that will never garner them any attention or given risky glass-cliff assignments that are too tough to be handled all by themselves.

“This is never the same for white employees. Repeat after me – NEVER!”


This is a no brainer that half the white population covers up their discriminatory practices and bias by saying that they feel threatened or unsafe when in the presence of a black (male especially). When situations like these happen, the black employee is always the one who should have been more polite or careful in how they deal with others.

In the same Facebook employees blind post mentioned above, more than 12 employees of color said that their managers and executives chose to ignore dozens of positive feedbacks and reviews. However, the same managers will focus more on one anonymous feedback that had a negative connotation to it without any proof or context. It is the same everywhere. The black employees are judged over one baseless negative review. They are told that this is what someone perceives of them and they must change their behavior if they want to stay in the company.

There are managers who intentionally leave negative reviews. When these cases are taken to HR with proof, nothing happens! Managers are never held accountable for their racist behavior.

If that doesn’t hint at subtle racism, I don’t know what does. Black employees are forced to stay quiet and remain silent during the meetings. If they share their opinion or expert advice, it is deemed disrespectful and an unwanted opinion. Other times, a white colleague will share the same idea or advice and it is wholeheartedly accepted when just a few minutes prior it had been ignored from a black employee.

“The acts of discrimination and racism are subtle and covert. More than half the time, it is extremely difficult to even measure discrimination directly. This is why it is necessary that everyone wakes up now and owns the mess they have created for black people. That’s the only solution!”
Workplace Career Advancement Workplace Culture