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home : columns : dear harriette May 27, 2020

3/28/2020 9:13:00 AM
Black co-workers tired of being mistaken for each other

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am an African American woman working in a largely white corporate institution. There are only two black women in my division of about 50 employees. She and I look nothing alike. Specifically, I am tall, with dark skin and short hair; she is at least 6 inches shorter than me, with light skin and long hair. And yet, regularly, co-workers mistake us for each other. It is blatantly racist to me. They don't make that mistake with one another, even when they may be referring to two blonds of similar height and stature. I don't get it, and it's so annoying. What can I do to be seen in my company? -- Invisible

DEAR INVISIBLE: Your job is to educate your co-workers -- to the best of your ability -- without a chip on your shoulder. It doesn't make sense that people who work directly with you would not be able to discern who is who, especially if there are only two black women on the team.

Before you present to your group, start by introducing yourself. Literally say, "I am (fill in your name)." Follow that with your presentation. If you do that every time you speak, chances are, someone will ask you why you are introducing yourself to a group of people who know you. That's when you can point out that they often call you by your colleague's name. In the interest of clarity, you want to be certain that they know who they are talking to. If they scoff or say that's ridiculous, that's your chance to agree and point out that it should be obvious that you are two different people, but given how often your identities are mistaken, you felt it necessary to reintroduce yourself each time you speak.

DEAR HARRIETTE: One of the things that seems to be recommended during this health scare with the coronavirus is to use hand sanitizers. My husband has long believed that these products are ineffective, and he is opposed to us using them. We have two children. I don't want to go against my husband, but I do want to protect my children. What do you recommend? -- Keeping Clean

DEAR KEEPING CLEAN: The formal recommendation is for everyone is to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water. Actual soap is the best way to keep your hands clean. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content is recommended for times when you cannot wash your hands with soap. The high concentration of alcohol is important. That is something to share with your husband and to be sure to provide for your children as backup.

To honor your husband's belief, which is wise, is to be vigilant as a family about handwashing. Teach your children so that they can see what it looks like. Remind them not to touch their faces with their hands or touch others as they go about their day. This is not easy to do, but it's important during this tense period.





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