WORDS on the EDGE

Some of the unintended consequences of workplace diversity revolve around office faultlines. In 2001’s “Working while Black,” author Barbara Marshall offered a few words and definitions that can set the ground to shaking.

“Damaged goods”
codes black employees or applicants who have previously submitted grievances or who have sought legal redress for unfair or discriminatory treatment in the workplace.

“Over-qualifiers”
identifies those whose credentials are perceived to exceed the minimal required qualifications for employment opportunities and are regarded as “threats” to the status quo or potential “troublemakers.”

“Loose cannons”
is a phrase applied to those who speak openly and candidly about controversial issues and challenge established racial orthodoxy.

“Black jobs”
signals the tendency of blacks to qualify for jobs that have historically or traditionally been held by blacks, who then languish without prospects for institutional advancements despite transferable skills, talents and abilities.

“Couriers of emotion”
mark the predilection to regard advocates of black American employees and issues related to equality as being incapable of objectivity and logical reasoning.

“Looking past”
is the tendency to displace the authority of black supervisory personnel by assuming that white subordinate employees have either superior or equal supervisory status.

“Nobody knows my name”
codes a syndrome prevalent in predominantly white institutions where the names of blacks become blurred and their titles are disregarded.

“Territorial apartheid and other confined spaces”
describes the mental and physical geography of institutions, however affluent and profitable, which locate programs and offices occupied by black employees in ghettoized alcoves — and generally away from prime real estate.

“One strike and you’re out”
codifies denials by employers to provide black workers with equal opportunities to fail or falter.

“Reconstructed or qualified attributions”
identifies the tendencies of those holding institutional power and influence to avoid fully crediting black workers, individually or collectively, as contributors to and originators of innovative ideas, programs, and practices that benefit the institution as a whole.

“Elusive rewards and restricted perks”
refers to a generalized status of black employees who earn less than their white counterparts and who receive fewer psychic, social or material rewards per quantitative and qualitative unit of performance.

“Uppity”
codifies black employees and applicants who are products of private/Ivy League education and beneficiaries of wealth and affluent status and who confront latent systematic institutional hostilities because of their relative privileged status.

“The good blacks”
classifies black employees or prospective applicants whose behaviors are distinguished by an accommodating, “go-along-to-get-along” approach and who act as supplicants to the status quo.

“Oversized children”
benchmarks the tendencies of employers and their representatives to “talk down to” — to provide elaborate explanations about the obvious — and to otherwise regard black applicants and employees as childlike adults.

“Incompetency zones”
refers to the predispositions by employers to judge most black job seekers or incumbent employers as inferior, as lacking the “right stuff” or “necessities,” or as existing below par. It also describes the tendency to scapegoat black workers by targeting them for blame.

Excerpted from Barbara Marshall’s “Working while Black: Contours of
an Unequal Playing Field,” published Autumn-Winter 2001 by Phylon and
found online through JSTOR archive.
At the time of publication, Marshall
worked at Boston College in its Office
of Affirmative Action.