Updated: Mar 12, 2022
Early in my professional career, I worked hard and I worked long hours. When my annual appraisal arrived, I noticed that I did not get a rating showing anything close to excellent. Perhaps, I was missing the mark with respect to experience, efficiency, etc.
Annual assessments are discussed at a meeting before signatures are appended by employee and supervisor. At the meeting, I asked my boss how I could improve. Her response shocked me a little bit. Essentially she said that if she didn’t get a good rating, I wouldn’t get one either. She took my question as an affront possibly, and my professional life became difficult.
At this juncture I need to mention that my then supervisor was an African American lady, and I considered her to be (what is commonly known as) one of those typical “angry black women”.
I was exploring options regarding my employment when one day my supervisor and I clashed openly. I had been respectful so far, but when she repeatedly came to my office and was unnecessarily abrasive, I abruptly told her one day not to come to my office again, not to email me or call me, or even speak with me. I informed her that I would ignore any communications from her, and asked her to take whatever action she deemed necessary. I would do what I had to do. I didn’t realize then that she was in a difficult position, possibly by not being in good standing with her supervisors. Any additional complaint to them about me probably wouldn’t look good. Also, she was non technical and replacing an integrator on an intricate (national income tax processing) platform would take time and training. I got away scot free with my conduct and she left me alone thereafter. I kept on working on incoming projects and she moved on to another program. I reported to a different supervisor. (Not just that, the new supervisor awarded me an international trip to Singapore in style, to pick up a performance based gift at a three day glittering ballroom ceremony heralding top performers from multiple countries). However, I have radically changed my view with respect to that vicious unprofessional confrontation with my African American lady supervisor. In fact, I firmly feel I shouldn’t have said what I said, and in the unlikely event that I ever meet her again I’ll sincerely apologize. Here’s why: We were having dinner at an ex-neighbor’s house. I described the above situation with dinner guests as an angry black woman syndrome. A Caucasian (White) lady told me that she had an African American husband and they had an African American daughter. When her daughter was in 4th grade, she came home from school one day with a math test in which she had scored zero. The mother looked at the test and was puzzled because the math problems appeared to have been solved correctly.
The next day the Caucasian mother of the African American child went to see her class teacher to discuss the test score. The teacher, who was Caucasian, simply marked all the test problems as correct and awarded full marks, changing the zero to 100. When the mom asked the teacher if she should apologize to her daughter, the latter stood up and just walked away, without a word.
The daughter is now grown up and is employed on the west coast.
At our after dinner conversation, the mother told me (and she was absolutely correct) that I probably had no idea how her African American daughter has faced rank, naked discrimination from childhood right up to now, including at her current job. She was an "Angry Black Woman" who faced issues at school, college, markets, transport systems and at work, and her anger developed from an early age.
I let this mother know that I just learnt a lesson which I would never forget.
I would have walked taller, if instead of confronting my African American boss, I had made at least one attempt to befriend her over a coffee.