#BlackGirlMagic was truly tested this week! Women’s History Month concluded with #BlackWomenAtWork making sure everyone got the memo! Thank goodness for the ferocity of Angela Rye! No matter how magical, powerful and necessary black women are to the world, in certain settings it can be considered a “double negative”. It’s hard enough being a person of color in the workplace. With that being said, it’s disheartening to see black women stand up and fight for the needs of their community when the love isn’t returned. You can never choose to put ‘black’ first or ‘woman’ first because you’re simultaneously fighting the good fight for both, but the challenges black women face can occur frequently and unjustly. Sadly, it’s an issue that seems to persist no matter how far we climb up the career ladder. Two separate high-profile incidents this week highlighted the criticism black women regularly face in the workplace and ignited many to share their own experiences on social media.
On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly dismissed comments about President Trump made by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, mocking her hair and saying, “I didn’t hear a word she said, I was looking at the James Brown wig.” O’Reilly later apologized. On the same day, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, provided an in-your-face dose of the dismissive, belittling and demeaning response black professional women often face when they dare to excel in their professional arenas. April Ryan, the Washington Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks and a trailblazer in her field could barely finish her questions about the Trump Administration’s ongoing troubles after just two months and was chastised for shaking her head in response to answers Spicer provided.
Activist Brittany Packnett created the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork in response to the statements made about Rep.
Maxine Waters. Fed up with the constant criticism black women face in the workplace, Packnett invited black women to chime in with their varied experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly. It took off like wildfire. Ultimately, she hopes that the hashtag and that the two incidents start a needed conversation about how women of color are treated in the workplace.
“It’s high time that we make the invisible visible so that people recognize it’s not just happening on television — it’s happening at the cube right next to them, and they have something they can do about it, like create inclusive work environments,” says educator and activist Brittany Packnett.
The hostile treatment of black women in the workplace are identified by the four forms of disrespect hurled her way. Black women, like April Ryan and Maxine Waters, face these forms of disrespect seasoned with sexist and racial undertones in one way or another all too often in the workplace:
1. Use of Degrading and Belittling Tone – Responding with a contentious and combative tone as if offended for simply doing her job.
2. Refusal to Hear Ideas – Every day black women suit up knowing that they stand the chance of speaking to brick walls and having their ideas ignored.
3. Dismissal of Ideas – Unnecessarily dismissing ideas or suggestions with facetious comparisons and unfounded jokes.
4. Discredit Earned Credentials – All too often, black women find themselves backed into a corner, with their credentials questioned, and with no opportunity to refute the claims.
Black women get so used to not having room to respond that not dealing with unprofessional behavior seems like the appropriate way to handle disrespect in the workplace. Say something and you’re immediately labeled as overly “sensitive” or an “angry black woman”. In both scenarios, the women took the high road, but still lost; damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
April had no choice but to concede in the moment and Maxine deflected in speaking to MSNBC by saying, “No, I’m not responding to him. First of all, let me thank Hillary Clinton for standing up for all women and in particular for black women.” She added, “I’m a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody.”
“And I’d like to say to women out there and everywhere: don’t allow these right-wing, dishonorable people to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are, do what you do, and let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country. We also know that when a woman stands up and speaks truth to power that there will be attempts to put her down. And so I’m not going to be put down. I’m not going to go anywhere. I’m going to stay on the issues.”
It is clear that #BlackWomenAtWork and in the world are a force to be reckoned with. We are not backing down and we’re getting stronger daily. For instance, even in the face of this treatment; black women are now the most educated group in America. They are also the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. Thankfully we have support from some within the larger community, speaking up for us and on our behalf.
One such champion includes artist Lawrence Lindell. Having witnessed the way black and brown women in his life were made to feel uncomfortable in their skin, he decided to start a picture series titled “Brown Girl“. These powerful drawings of young boys of color giving positive affirmations to Black and Brown girls led to a 24-page book titled From Black Boy With Love.
“I chose to make all the characters in the book young boys of color because I want to start and continue the dialogue of men and boys speaking to women and girls in a positive manner,” Lindell explained. “This could be an example of how we should teach our young and especially our old to speak life into our women and girls.” You can purchase the book for everyone you know and love right here.