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The ‘Not Here’ Syndrome

Racism denial, workplace inequity and the futility of speaking out

One day not long after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a white senior colleague asked me—the only Black tenure-line faculty in my college at that time—how Black people felt realizing that racism still exists in America. I was annoyed by his question. This colleague never spoke to me; yet he felt at ease asking me to speak on behalf of all Black people in the United States. Why did he expect me to have a pat answer? Did he think I had taken a scientific poll of Black people’s reactions to the election?

I had not. Nevertheless, the imbalance of power between my colleague and myself made it imprudent to show my annoyance, so I answered that Black people never thought racism had ended. Not only do we know it still exists, I told him, but we also continue to experience it, often in our own workplaces.

He was shocked.

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