Tired of the snark you’ve been hearing at work based on who you are and who you may represent? The epic comedian Cristela Alonzo has felt the same way and has made it clear she’s heard enough of such microaggressions over the years.
Many of us have been hearing enough and have had enough. It sure doesn’t help when we look through the daily news headlines. To start, it’s a dark time right now, with war and instability abroad and plenty of chaos here in the U.S., between the recent Supreme Court decisions and legislative threats designed to take away rights that many Americans had believed were settled.
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As if all the news that is surrounding us wasn’t unsettling enough, returning back to the office post-pandemic has been a slog and even triggering for many employees, judging by how the so-called “Great Resignation” refuses to fade. Further, it turns out that workplace toxicity and microaggressions that have pushed many employees to quit their jobs largely have not changed — many of them have realized they jumped out of one frying pan only to land in another fire. Companies can say all they want about how they are focused on improving their work culture, but the evidence suggests the opposite is happening.
It’s easy to catalogue what’s wrong with corporate America. At the same time, many of us need a release. Comedy can help us cope — and, more importantly, understand — what is going on at the office and in our daily lives, whether virtual or physical. The list of talented people who can brilliantly satirize our society is a long one. The roster includes, but is hardly limited to, the likes of Joel Kim Booster, Jerrod Carmichael, Sarah Cooper, Sam Jay, Matteo Lane, Ali Wong and Bowen Yang.
Alonzo ranks among them, and her latest Netflix comedy special resonates with many of us when it comes to how we might feel about what we have endured, and continue to cope with, in the workplace and during everyday life. Her one-hour stand-up routine is a gem, from her chatting in a car before the show with Dolores Huerta, to how she got COVID on her birthday topped off with having to deal with cops over a stolen blanket, to her childhood in south Texas. But Alonzo really nails it when it comes to dealing with ignorant behavior; in her case, it was when she started college — a scenario that could have happened anywhere across the U.S.
About going back to the office: One of the tropes you may be hearing in the workplace and in life is that “you’re not allowed to say” things anymore.
In other words, you can’t say something about someone’s ethnicity (as if any Italian wants to hear “Mamma Mia” in a fake accent, no Armenian wants to be compared to the Kardashians, and no Latino wants to hear that Speedy Gonzales joke); you can’t “compliment” a woman (many would reply that the line between complimentary and creepy is far too frequently crossed); you can’t tell a queer person that “oh, you’re not a flamer, so I didn’t think you were gay;” or, as Wanda Sykes summed up a few years ago, no, you can’t make unwanted comparisons to your Black colleagues’ appearance, especially after a beach vacation.
Here’s what many people don’t understand: The reason why we “can’t say [certain] things anymore” is that such comments were never right in the first place.
In Alonzo’s case, it was about her encounter with a woman who had never been around a Latina before, capped off with an unfortunate (spoiler alert!) field trip to the local Olive Garden and an awkward incident involving pepperoncini.
As Alonzo recalled about that most unfortunate encounter:
“No one had ever talked to me like that. Like, I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know how to react. Like, part of me was so mad, I wanted to be like, 'Hey you racist b----,' right?…
“I told my friend that story recently. He’s like, ‘Why are you so mad?’ That happened, like two decades ago.’
“And I was like, ‘Cause I just realized that was f---ed up now.’
“But we didn’t know it was messed up, because back then, it was okay. It was acceptable. But see, that’s the thing. We have to learn that, throughout time, there are certain things you can’t do anymore. It’s not okay.
“Like when people are like, “I can’t say that word anymore?” Guess what? You never should’ve.
“Guess what? Not supposed to.
“It’s just that now, we have access to tell you, like, ‘Hey! Don’t.’"
One reason why the “you’re not allowed to say” trope lingers is that many people had long cluelessly confused silence to their comments with acceptance. Reality check: Such a muted reaction, or total lack thereof, is most likely surprise that anyone would even say such a thing in the first place.
So, here’s a primer: If a response to your observation was silence or an uncomfortable smile, then most likely you dished out a dose of hostility.
Enough of the “funny” comments, because they aren’t. They’re microaggressions — and as they keep piling up, the only outlet that person has is to find a new job — or in your personal life, eventual ghosting. Bottom line: If you’re wondering why that employee has “attitude,” take a step back; most likely they’re tired of the ridiculous comments, and rightfully so.
Image credit: Netflix Tudum
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.