On Saturday evening during a live broadcast of SuperSport after a match analysis of the Lions’ win, the show's analyst and former Springbok, Ashwin Willemse, walked off set after stating he was unhappy with the way he was being treated by his co-hosts Nick Mallet and Naas Botha.
Here’s a clip that went viral after the incident happened:
It’s still not clear what happened exactly that triggered Ashwin’s walk of set, but many publications have pointed to tensions between Ashwin and his co-hosts and some have seemed to favour the view that Ashwin has been difficult to work with and simply left due to unprofessionalism.
Social media has been set alight by the incident and there has been much discussion about it by a lot of people. Some offensive comments like this one by Skybanners SA (the original tweet has since been deleted, but screenshots have been kept) that say things that include that Ashwin needs to “lay off the papsak, bro” have added fuel to an already blazing fire.
Dear, @NetflixSA & those currently being courted: @BrandSummitSA, @DrBladeNzimande, @HermanMashaba, @Cash_Crusaders, @MakeSAsafe & @CityPowerJhb. The Company @SkyBannersSA has since removed their #AshwinWillemse tweet. The Obvious Vitriol in it, They don't deserve Business... pic.twitter.com/uYQsWfscE6— Thabiso Sithole (@ThabisoSithole) May 20, 2018
The episode with Ashwin and his SuperSport co-hosts has begun an important conversation on social media about microaggressions in the workplace in general. It's important that it continue as it affects too many of us.
Which applies to a lot of work environments especially when you start asking whether people have similar experiences.
(If you’re unsure what microaggressions means, Psychology Today defines it as: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalised group membership.”)
A lot of Twitter users have already spoken about how micro-aggressions have affected or still affect them...
Sihle Bolani shared what happened to her when she was working for a banking institution back in 2014 and how it affected her:
To read the full thread, click on the tweet.
And while there were mostly supportive answers to her tweets, there were negative ones too.
Janine Jellars highlighted that maybe some people just need to sit back and listen:
Our own Tammy February also highlighted the struggle people of colour have when we talk about anything racial:
Funny how the people who keep saying that POC have a chip on their shoulder because of racism are the ones who've never experienced it.— Tammy February (@Tammy24_7) May 21, 2018
Twitter user, @Mon_Dee shared this clip of Trevor Noah talking with Oprah to highlight systematic oppression:
Editor-at-large of HuffPost SA, Ferial Haffajee asked Twitter users to share their own “#AshwinWillemse moment”
Where do i start. From getting email instructions to attending meetings convened in Afrikaans. Whats in between is even worse.— Kgoshi Lobang III (@KgoshiLobang) May 21, 2018
I had to dumb myself down to make management feel comfortable. I had to pretend I wasn't a woman. When I got fed up of the condescension I left during a toilet break and never looked back. Don't even write it on my CV. Sometimes I forget I ever worked in that god forsaken place.— Dubelihle wa Diphsy (@SneshyDubelihle) May 20, 2018
We also asked our followers about microaggressions in their workplaces and how they've handled the situation:
Absolutely, I resigned in 2015 without a plan because I believed I deserved better than what corporate SA had to offer.— Makgaje Setlalentoa (@MakgajeS) May 21, 2018
The story of #AshwinWillemse is my story too. As a black professional woman, I had many such encounters but I decided to ask for clarity about irrational decisions contrary to those on the same level. I was labelled an arrogant drama queen because I also walked. #Ashwin— Afropolitan Wanders (@AfropolitanW) May 21, 2018
Marginalised groups are often dismissed when we talk about issues of race, class, gender or sexuality by people in the ‘other’ category who do not experience these issues first hand and cannot be counted as allies because they do not try to empathise with marginalised groups.
This is an important conversation to be had, so we need to keep having it. We need to keep talking about things that make people uncomfortable in order for it to be highlighted and brought into the open.
Especially in the workplace. Ashwin was brave to walk off set but not all of us may be in a situation where we can leave a job where we're experiencing micro aggression.
Here are some tips on how to deal: What you should expect from your managers
Elizabeth Mamacos, former head of content at Careers24 and freelance writer has this to say: "For microaggressions in the workplace to finally become a thing of the past, managers and leaders must take action.
"First is to recognise microaggressions as such, and then to work with employees to put a stop to this discriminatory behaviour. Quite often the perpetrators might even be unaware of the bias they are demonstrating and communicating, but in short any comment - usually negative, but sometimes even if meant in a positive way - about a colleagues gender, race, age, sexual orientation and more can be considered a microaggression.
"All employees should feel secure and respected at work, and managers can assist in this regard by encouraging and facilitating open communication between employees and management, and raising awareness of how unconscious bias might manifest in the workplace.
"Besides working with employees to raise awareness of what constitutes a microaggression, leaders must put an immediate stop to any discriminatory behaviour that occurs. By directly addressing any issues as they arise managers show that the behaviour will not be tolerated, and that all employees will be protected.
"It is also crucial that any organisation's leadership team works together to model the preferred behaviour themselves, and also to show that they celebrate all employees' unique contributions to the workforce."
What can you do?
If an employee is in a situation where they are the target of ongoing microaggressions, and they cannot escalate the issue to HR or higher management, they may be forced to address the issue themselves.
One way to do this without causing further problems is to call on the support of colleagues who are willing to stand up to the perpetrator.
Another is to address the perpetrator directly, by asking them "Why do you think that?" or asking them to explain what they are saying. This can lead to unconscious bias being exposed and addressed in a direct but non threatening way.
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