Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: “Triggered but Silent”

This week, Jenée Desmond-Harris and Akoto Ofori-Atta discuss a Prudie letter: “Triggered but Silent.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: This question made me so mad and sad and annoyed. She is a busy woman with a stressful job, and she’s having to spend her valuable free time stressing over this shit!

Akoto Ofori-Atta: It is so annoying! And so irritating. She is trying to balance A LOT. Being irritated with her colleague, wanting better standards at her workplace, but not wanting to be the referee of all of it.

Jenée: Even just that little tense feeling you get when you hear something racist-adjacent at work takes a toll.

Akoto: And then you have to go home and think about it, and wonder about being the angry black woman, and talk to the potential ally, and stew over what it meant, and tell you partner and your group chat to get their take, and by the time it’s over, you have maybe lost three hours of your day thinking about that stupid comment Sloan made at work! And you know the actual comment was probably something soooo ridiculous, like: “And THEN, we had to use the PUBLIC WIFI, so ratchet.”

Jenée: Lol exactly. So I think she should totally, totally feel free just detach and let this woman poor-judgment herself into whatever consequences she ends up facing. But also it seems like a big part of her wants to speak up.

Akoto: Yeah. And I think there is one more option, other than calling out and mentoring. Sometimes, I think that you just have to register your own discomfort, annoyance in some small way. The calculus is always hard to make.

Jenée: Like right in the moment ….

Akoto: Yes, and this could be something she could employ for inevitable future incidents, but I’ve found that sometimes a follow up question and a confused face is enough. “Wait …
so what part of that was ratchet?”

Jenée: I can SEE you making that face.

Akoto: “Oh” *sips drink* Ha, I do it all the time, with a little eye squint.

Jenée: I feel like one thing that complicates this—or makes it slightly different from many racism-at-work situations—is that she kind of pities the white woman and thinks she’s dumb, rather than feeling actually attacked or victimized. “Just one of the local simpletons” type attitude.

Akoto: That’s true, but I still think she was a little offended!

Jenée: Yeah, but “my boss offended me” just feels a little different from “this junior woman who I don’t think is smart or sophisticated offended me”—it’s a better position to be in, if you have to be in one!

Akoto: Totally agree. So now, back to what she should do about her junior coworker—I thought your advice about mentoring is good, although I have NO idea how mentoring lands when it comes to like, advice about race/appropriation stuff.

Jenée: Very good chance it ends with tears.

Akoto: Lol yes.

Jenée: And her being labeled the angry black woman, which is what she is trying to avoid.

SHE (the letter-writer) could very well wind up in sensitivity training, now that I think of it.

Akoto: That is a VERY likely outcome, ugh.

Jenée: Maybe she can wait until she has a chance to give feedback in some sort of annual review, if that’s how things are set up there?

Akoto: I don’t know, I think the worst part of situations like this is when you regret not saying or doing something in the moment. I think LW should take the L on this incident and begin working on some tactics she can pull out for future situations.

Jenée: Practice that eye squint. That’s a really good idea.

Akoto: Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be overt! But something that will be enough to make them sit in some discomfort and think about what they said. They might say the same thing in front of someone else, but they will likely stop saying it in front of you!

Jenée: And figure out a way to bill all the time you spent thinking about this while Ms. “Ratchet” goes around without a care in the world. Sorry, I’m still bitter.

Akoto: Listen, THAT is what LW should bring up in her performance review to HER manager.

Jenée: Yes! Under “is there anything interfering with your work performance.”

Akoto: Oh, and don’t think I forgot about what you said in your response about wearing stockings. To be discussed later!

Jenée: It was the very end of the stocking era!

Akoto: I immediately regretted wanting to tease you about this because I remembered I was forced to wear stockings … and skirt suits. Twenty-two, and dressing like a boomer.

Jenée: A workplace tragedy for another chat.