By: Mya Koffie
White professionalism is the manifestation of white supremacy and racism in the workplace. The phenomenon presents itself in a variety of ways and is intrinsically connected to colonization: Western powers began colonizing as early as the fifteenth century. Violence was often inflicted upon the population of an area during colonization, and as justification, the colonizers created myths. One such myth states that white people were inherently superior to and more civilized than the people they colonized; this narrative that ‘white’ equals 'civilized’ is the driving force behind white professionalism.
White professionalism has devastating consequences. By preventing non-white people from engaging in free cultural expression, white professionalism discourages them from and adds to the complexity of, working jobs where professionality is valued. These are typically higher-paying jobs. Research conducted in 2020 found that on average, equally qualified people of color were only making $0.97 per every $0.99 a white person made.
Workspaces have a standard of professionalism that caters to white people over people of any other race. For example, it is legal in America to not hire someone on the basis of their hairstyle, allowing companies to discriminate against people wearing natural Black hairstyles under the premise of wanting their employees to have a certain ‘look.’ Additionally, tattoos are often considered to be unprofessional, despite the fact that tattoos have historically and globally held tribal significance to multiple indigenous groups.
To combat this social phenomenon, it is important to educate ourselves on the history of white professionalism, the importance of diversity in work environments, and the stories of individuals who have been impacted by white professionalism. For more on this topic, see @decolonizemyself and @zenerations or look into Stanford’s article, “The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards.”