Is my skin colour really that offensive? – Sonia

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Is my skin colour really that offensive? – Sonia


I have never been more aware of my skin colour as I walked into the office on my first day. The feeling of dread quickly drowned my body as I looked around and realised I was the only ethnic person. Suddenly, my nerves were no longer focused on my ability to do the job.

In this office, I first heard the term “casual racism Thursday”, and although it was just a joke, it made me realise just how differently my colleagues viewed me. As time went on, little jokes were made; I was labelled as “ghetto” and asked if my dad was a terrorist. I worked so hard for such little recognition compared to my white colleagues; however, the second I did something that was deemed wrong, I was quickly scolded as if I was a child in school.

Your firsts thoughts might be, why didn’t you go to HR or speak up and in theory that seems like the most straightforward remedy but being a woman of colour and labelled as “ghetto”, every time I spoke up I was made to feel like I was a nuisance. In this company I realised, I didn’t have a voice without being seen as a trouble maker, and that opportunities weren’t going to come quickly to me, I had to work myself into the ground to move up.

The senior staff didn’t view me as an equal or capable, and my immediate colleagues were utterly ignorant. When I finally decided to move on after almost three years I was given my leavers card, and I saw the words “good luck my brown bitch”, and when I look back on it now, it makes me cringe that I didn’t stand up for myself.

By the time I started my new job, I had already realised working life would be a little more difficult for me than my white peers, so to some extent I was prepared and felt ready to tackle the job ahead. Within two weeks, my manager asked “are you white” I responded and said no and she came back with “so you’re not even half-caste”, and from that moment I knew this place was going to be no more comfortable than my last.

The company was white male dominated. Although there were a few ethnic people, I didn’t get the impression there was much of an alliance. Within weeks I felt like a second class citizen if it wasn’t the obnoxious, crude sexual jokes it was the casual racism that was normalised from the CEO level to the point they even made fun of black and brown clients. I went from being called ghetto to exotic, and honestly,  I couldn’t tell you which one was worse.

Every opportunity was used to undermine me, and I was asked to do meaningless tasks outside of my job role to assert authority. It had even gotten to the point where I was being humiliated in the middle of the office and when I would complain I was told that I was too sensitive and couldn’t take banter. My mental health quickly started to deteriorate, and the sexual harassment had gotten so incredibly hard to bear that I even stopped wearing makeup to work in hopes I would go unnoticed.

During my 1.5  years in that company, my self-confidence was shattered entirely. I was left feeling incapable and not good enough for a better opportunity. Every day I was left to feel like I was lucky to have the job that I did and that I wouldn’t get any better. The countless complaints I made went unheard; I never received a single apology.

By the time I had finally left my weight had dropped to 34kg and my mental health was in tatters, the idea of leaving a job without having another lined up was extraordinarily daunting, but I had finally snapped. I took three months to focus on building up my self-esteem, I had to help myself understand that what happened wasn’t my fault and that my skin colour or gender shouldn’t leave me at a disadvantage or objectified.

Although this was a challenging time in my life, it made me realise how resilient I am and taught me to love my skin colour. I learnt how important it was to find a company that fits you and that are willing to listen when you speak up for yourself. Once I realised what was important to me it was easier to understand that I needed to take my time when searching for the right job, sometimes accepting the first opportunity presented to you isn’t always the best thing to do. Although I can’t say, things are a 100% better, and I still face micro-aggressions I now feel like I have a voice.

I have been given the room to advocate for diversity and inclusion within a workplace. The most effective way to move forward and improve company culture is through education and uncomfortable conversations, teaching our colleagues just how detrimental racism is. It is so important that ethnic people are given equal opportunities and that our voices are heard. Casual racism and sexism shouldn’t be seen as banter, and we shouldn’t be told what we should and shouldn’t accept as ethnic people. Our trauma should be recognised and understood; race is an extremely sensitive subject and should be treated as such within a workplace.

The idea of having to work harder or be fearful of losing a job due to the colour of your skin shouldn’t be crossing our minds. Race isn’t a card we pull, I don’t have privileges due to my skin colour, but that does not make me a second class citizen. I am unapologetically a brown south Asian woman.

By Sonia | @ssnialdn 



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