What to Say to Biracial/Multiethnic Coworkers
You've read about what not to say to biracial and multiracial people. Now read what you SHOULD say.
Keywords: biracial, multiracial, multiethnic, diversity, DiversityInc, peer relationships, workplace, work force, diverse, what to say
Along with the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, who is half-Black and half-white, comes the question of the year: "What are you?" It seems mixed-race or multiethnic people are being asked this question now more than ever before.
What are you? What is your nationality? Where are you from? No, where are you really from? Which side do you feel more? These are all questions that can be perceived as offensive because they make assumptions rather than demonstrate authentic, intellectual curiosity.
Curiosity is not wrong in and of itself. Often, it's the delivery and not the question that is the problem. Here are ways to properly inquire about a person's racial or ethnic heritage that are less likely to offend.
1. Learn the lingo.
"Some folks use the words 'multiracial,' 'multiethnic,' 'mixed race' and 'biracial' interchangeably, but it's important to know what folks prefer," says Farzana Nayani, vice president, Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC).
Nayani, who is also an education consultant and cross-cultural researcher, adds that people should not shy away from having conversations in the workplace about heritage. Such conversations can build friendships and networks.
Nayani says, "If you have a person of one race but two ethnicities, it would be more appropriate to say they are multiethnic. And if that person identifies as multiracial, that's their choice. So learn the lingo but also have the conversation about what's preferred."
2. "What is your heritage?"
"As an Afro-Latina, I get questions a lot," says Miriam Muley, founder and CEO of 85% Niche. "They do not understand that one can be 100 percent Black and 100 percent Latina. It does not compute for them, so they continue to press trying to fit you into a box."
Being fit into a box is a pet peeve of people who are biracial or multiethnic. Following Census 2000, there is still debate about what box to check off for census, corporate and other demographers. In 2000, nearly 7 million biracial/multiracial people checked off two or more boxes to reflect their mixed heritage.
The key to properly asking someone about their heritage is making sure the question is open-ended and does not try to define them before they answer.
"Asking 'What is your heritage?' leads the discussion down an intellectual path rather than a degrading path," says Sara Buchanan, director of sales, southeast region, at DiversityInc.
Buchanan is half-Black and half-white. Her mother, who is white, can trace her lineage back to the Mayflower. Her father's family was brought to the United States in the slave trade. Her father's family can also trace their lineage to American Indians.
"Having family that literally came across on the Mayflower as indentured servants, and then having people on my dad's side who were brought over here, and then also having Indian blood makes for an interesting mix," says Buchanan. "Really, I am an American."
3. "Do you identify with one culture more than the other?"
Instead of asking, "What are you mostly?"--which can be construed as a confrontational question that tries to pigeonhole a person--ask an open-ended question, such as the one above.
Buchanan faced a tricky situation while attending a networking mixer thrown by a DiversityInc Top 50 company. She was talking to the company's CEO and it was apparent that he was trying to place her heritage.
"He was at a loss for words. I knew what he wanted to ask me, but he didn't know how to ask," says Buchanan. She says she prefers a straightforward question that does not assume she's chosen one side over the other.
"The best way to do it is to just ask. Don't beat around the bush about it," says Buchanan. "I actually helped [the CEO] and said, 'You want to know my heritage?' He said yes. And in my case, I identify with both and not one more than the other. If someone is interested, then ask, but ask in a way that allows that person to share their heritage. Don't ask from an assumptive point of view."
4. Keep communication clear by reflecting back what's been said to you.
Muley is concerned about how biracial and/or multiethnic workers are asked about their personal experiences. She suggests that people who have asked for further demographic information rephrase what they've been told to indicate that they've heard and understand the explanation.
"Rephrase their comments to ensure that you understand their point and to let them know that you are really listening," says Muley. "You can also advance the conversation by asking questions such as 'How did you feel about that experience?' or 'What suggestions do you have for people of non-mixed backgrounds in this area?' The key is to ask for their guidance and acknowledge their expertise in this area."
5. Know that biracial and multiethnic people are diverse.
One of Nayani's colleagues was conducting corporate training and expected to walk into a room of Asian executives. When she arrived, she thought she had walked into the wrong room because the people did not "look" Asian.
"The people in the room were a multiethnic group of Asians who identified as Asian," says Nayani. "Be aware that people can identify with [an ethnicity] that they don't look like."
Such a situation can become a problem in the workplace if a person is using stereotypes to describe people, says Nayani: "People who are multiethnic can look like different races or ethnic groups. You could be speaking about another group in generalities and they could be in the room."
Muley says the key to asking non-confrontational questions is attitude. "You can sense genuine interest and nonjudgmental behavior and you can sense when people are trying to put you into one of the many 'boxes' in their head," says Muley.
The series is written by and starring Ryan O'Connell, author of "I'm Special: And Other Lies We tell Ourselves."
With "The Big Bang Theory" winding down, Jim Parsons, better known as "Sheldon," is taking a role behind the scenes as the executive producer of the new series "Special."
The show, set to debut on Netflix on April 12, is loosely based on the upbringing and experience of Ryan O'Connell, a gay man living with cerebral palsy. O'Connell authored a 2015 book called "I'm Special: And Other Lies We tell Ourselves."
O'Connell stars in the series, along with Jessica Hecht, Punam Patel, Marla Mindelle, Augustus Prew and Patrick Fabian. He also wrote the show and will executive produce with Parsons, Eric Norsoph and Todd Spiewak.
Both Parsons and O'Connell took to social media to celebrate:
Special comes out April 12th on Netflix. Critics are already calling it "gay" and "disabled" so you know it must be good! https://t.co/o7rtrDqQVO
— Ryan O'Connell (@ryanoconn) February 5, 2019
O'Connell has a long resume filled with stints on some prominent writing teams. He has written for MTV's "Awkward" and the reboot of "Will and Grace."
At this time, being gay is more acceptable than having cerebral palsy, he said.
"Being gay is chic now," he told NBC Out. "Cerebral palsy will never be chic."
But, hopefully "Special" will make being disabled cool just like "The Big Bang Theory" made being a nerd cool.
O'Connell has never been politically correct about his disability referring to himself as a "gimp."
"Honey, I've walked in these orthotics for 29 years. I own the f—ing right to say 'gimp,'" O'Connell said.
O'Connell's disability affects his fine motor skills and causes his muscles to be stiff.
Having a disability when you are gay is difficult, according to O'Connell. He used to refuse to go to the bathroom when he was on a date in fear that his date would notice his limp. He would avoid walking in front of people and eventually took to drugs as a way to cope with his disability.
"I had the choice to turn [my disability] into this big giant monster, or it could be this ant on the ground that I saw with a magnifying glass. And I chose to make it into a big monster," he said.
He has made that big monster morph into his ticket to stardom as he will be the main character in "Special."
Through this show, O'Connell hopes to give the unheard a voice.
"I was tired of seeing movies without me in it and I don't mean me—Viola—I mean, me, as a Black woman."
After winning a leadership award this week, Viola Davis used her time on stage to speak her mind, and she brought her A game. Not often are Black women given a platform. We usually take it, or create it for ourselves and for others. A video clip of her speech is going viral with more than 500,000 views.
"We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money," said a woman working at Trump National Golf Club.
As President Trump sends troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to "defend" (white) America against the caravans of Brown people and bar some from asylum in the U.S., the history of hiring undocumented workers at his properties in New Jersey and Florida continues to come to light.
Trump has a problem with undocumented immigrants seeking asylum, but not when they are hired to wash his clothes or make his bed.
The Trump administration is creating a narrative that refugees escaping violence and poverty in Central America and seeking asylum are dangerous.
Victorina Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, reportedly crossed the border in 1999 and has worked at the at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J, since 2013, The New York Times reported Thursday.
According to a spokesperson for his business organization, she would be one of tens of thousands of people to be employed by Trump, and would be terminated if she was undocumented. Sandra Diaz, 46, from Costa Rica was another.
Both Morales and Diaz, during their stints, washed the Trump family's clothes in a special detergent, made beds and dusted.
"There are many people without papers," said Ms. Diaz, who said she witnessed several people being hired whom she knew to be undocumented.
Morales was initially pleased with her job because she was paid and tipped well, often times by Trump. But her sentiments changed when he ran for president.
"I'm tired of being humiliated and treated like a stupid person," she said in Spanish during a brief interview. "We're just immigrants who don't have papers."
During his campaign in 2016, when he referred to Mexicans as rapists and criminals, he promised to mandate E-Verify, a federal tool to verify employment eligibility, and requested $23 million in his 2019 budget proposal to expand the program for nationwide use. He also bragged when a new Trump hotel opened in Washington, "We didn't have one illegal immigrant on the job."
"The president has been half-serious about stopping illegal immigration by not taking away the jobs magnet," said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group pushing to reduce immigration. Beck said Trump has "let us down in his promise to help American workers" because he hasn't "put his shoulder behind a mandatory E-Verify bill."
Morales reports being driven to work by staff to hide the fact that she couldn't legally drive, and that after she presented fake papers for work, she was given another set of fake papers by the Trump Organization to keep her employed there.
Morales had a front row seat on the job to Trump meetings as she was cleaning his villa, even when potential cabinet members were interviewed and when he met with the White House chief of staff.
But that didn't come without experiencing verbal abuse from Trump's staff.
Her attorney Anibal Romero said in a statement Thursday that his clients were called racial epithets and threatened with deportation by a supervisor that ironically, "had employed them despite knowing their undocumented status and even provided them with forged documents."
"We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money," she told the NY Times. "We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation."
Reader Question: Do we need any more proof that he's a liar about everything?
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