The Workplace Whisperer

Navigating Your Mandatory Black History Month Office Lunch

The Workplace Whisperer tackles corporate ‘diversity’ efforts for MLK Day and BHM

Julia Locklear
Published in
6 min readJan 22, 2020

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Photo: Rowan Jordan/Getty Images

The Workplace Whisperer answers anonymous work-related questions submitted by readers. If you have a question for the Workplace Whisperer, email julia@julialocklear.com and no worries, we will keep your name and any identifying details anonymous.

Dear Workplace Whisperer,

I work for a consulting agency. One of the big ones. For MLK Day and Black History Month celebrations, my bosses want us to sit through an MLK film for our lunch break at the end of the week and then talk about social justice issues while they cater us a meal of cornbread, greens, and fried chicken. For BHM, it might be a once a week lunch. They are trying but I don’t want to attend. Am I being cynical? Is it racism if they are trying? — Consultant in Houston, Texas

Dear Consultant in Houston,

Sigh. I mean…. Gurl, no, you don’t have to attend. And not wanting to attend doesn’t make you cynical. It means that you have some sense. But I question the leadership at your organization. Why host this film session and serve “ethnic food” in lieu of actually observing the federal holiday in some way? I’m assuming and hoping there are other Black employees who work in the organization and in this office. Senior leaders should consider the message they send by requiring people to observe the holiday the way the company sees fit and all while you’re on your lunch break.

Now, you may feel uncomfortable raising that question with your boss. I’m not suggesting that you do, but it’s clear no one involved in the planning of this event thought about that. In fact, did anyone planning the event actually speak to any Black people? What would it have cost them, aside from an hour or two, to explore what employees would be interested in learning about and more importantly, to check in with Black people to make sure their program execution wouldn’t come off half-assed or offensive? I don’t even want to think about what they do (or do not) for Black History Month. SMH.

Did anyone planning the event actually speak…

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