"Black Girls Lunch”: People of Color Must Be Protected and Encouraged to Gather Separately in the Workplace
Originally published on the Food System’s Leadership Network Blog.
“Ladies Who Lunch”, that’s what we call it. Shhhhhhh…don’t tell anyone but, it’s basically a code phrase my fellow Black women colleagues and I use to plan our monthly lunch outings. Initially we wanted to call it “Black Girl Lunch”. However, we thought it best appropriate to use a more innocuous title so as not to arouse undo attention to the monthly event on our shared Outlook calendars.
There are three Black women, including myself, who currently work full-time at my work place. Each month we go out for lunch together. We eat delicious food, laugh, gripe, and talk about work and our personal lives. Most importantly, we bond and provide support for one another. Our “Black Girl Lunches” are one of the highlights of my month. I need this time. All three of us do.
Our “Black Girl Lunches” are not the only instance where we meet. There are frequent impromptu meetings throughout the week as well. Oftentimes, we gather in one another’s offices and chat for 5-10 minutes about current events, pop culture, food, candles (We all love candles!), our weekends, or whatever else is the hot topic at the moment. Just like our lunches, these chats invigorate me. As Black women we have so much shared experience. Fellowshipping with these women helps me to feel seen in spaces where I’m often the only Black woman and woman/person of color for that matter.
The ladies and I began scheduling our lunches last year, after we participated in an all staff mandatory racial equity training taught by famed race educator Wekesa Madzimoyo of the AYA Institute. During the all-day training Baba Wekesa, as he is affectionately called, told our mostly White staff that it was important that the Black people in the office meet separately sometimes. He explained to my colleagues that Black people are underrepresented here and often experience feelings of isolation and discrimination inside and outside of the office. Baba Wekesa’s words made me personally feel empowered to openly commune with my Black colleagues. In previous workplaces, I’ve felt hesitant to do this. I’ve heard many stories from friends and families who work in majority White spaces about the micro aggressions and snide remarks they receive from colleagues when having lunch or stopping to speak frequently with other Black colleagues.
Throughout history, Black people have had to exercise caution or secrecy when meeting. It is important I mention this because my workplace is located in the South and aims to address the food systems and agriculture inequities in a state that has historically empowered White residents to violently disassemble and discourage Black gatherings both official and unofficial. Black farmers with financial resources and social capital, such as land and local prominence, were and still are targeted due to their ability to financially, legally, and legislatively support Black-led resistance efforts. In 1856 and 1866, several Southern states passed the “Black Codes” which prohibited free Blacks from assembling in groups, learning to read and write, and voting. Simply googling the words “COINTELPRO” or “Black Lives Matter surveillance” will provide a deeper insight into the immense efforts made to undermine the assemblage of Black people and other groups of color. Consequently, though openly meeting with other Black colleagues for non-work purposes is immensely gratifying, I can’t help but to exercise a bit of caution. Hence, why the three of us decided to name our “Black Girl Lunch”, “Ladies Who Lunch” on our work calendars. Nonetheless, we will continue to meet and perhaps next month we’ll call our lunch it’s proper title.
Calls to Action
1. Organizational Leadership: Encourage and protect the private and public assembly of groups of color in and outside of your workplace.
2. Do the aforementioned prompt in number one AND refrain from commenting, inquiring, or disparaging any assembly of groups of color in the workplace.
3. Person of color: Commune with other people of color in your workplace to share, eat, and fellowship - publicly if possible and privately if necessary or desired.