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The Exhausting Reality Of Being A Black Woman At Work

Saturday, 22 April 2017 15:09 Written by  Published in Opinion Read 514 times
I will never forget the day when I was 5 years old and my father sat me down to have “the talk.” He told me “when you get older you will have to work 10 times harder because of your brown skin. Don’t think for a second that because you are beautiful and intelligent, you will always be treated with respect.”

At that moment, it was instilled in me that being a black woman is something to be proud of but not everyone is going to like you because of the color of your skin.

The first time I realized this truth was when a manager described my personality as ‘reserved’ and because of that, I wasn’t ready for a promotion. As I sadly thought about the non-black colleagues in my department who were promoted in spite of having similar ‘reserved’ personalities, my father’s words played out in my mind like scene in a movie.

I remember the time a manager told me a few executives were visiting our department for a tour and I was selected (because of my achievements) for the group to visit me at my desk to speak with me. The night before the visit I picked out my nicest blouse and sharp dress pants to impress them. The next day I saw them from across the room meeting with some non-black colleagues. I was excited at the opportunity to meet the executives. But my department managers who were giving the tour literally passed by my desk while avoiding eye contact. My heart fell to the floor and I thought to myself, “what did I do wrong?”

After the executive team left, two of my department managers (the ones who ignored me) now stood by my desk with a menacing smile on their face whispering as if they wanted me to feel like a nobody. A few days later I told another manager who wasn’t present that day, about what happened. All she could do was apologize and mentioned that she would get to the bottom of it. She never did get back to me.

I once worked for a company as the only black woman in the office. I was sitting in my cubicle while two of my white female colleagues stood by my desk and one of them said with a hint of disgust, “I heard about that story on the news. White people don’t do stuff like that. Only they do.” REALLY? You couldn’t wait until I left my desk to make an overtly RACIST comment?

Another time one woman I worked with was nice but always made me feel like a commodity. She would say things like, “black women have the best shoulder line. You look so athletic and strong. I just had to tell you that.”
I worked at a well-known company and my manager was married to a black man. I thought to myself, this will be good, she will get me. I was WRONG. Although I was new, she would yell at me in front of colleagues when I made mistakes and hover over my desk.

As time passed, it started to feel like she was looking for any mistake to berate me in front of my colleagues. When I would ask her for help or information that was a part of the company policy her response was “you should know this already.” One of the worst days played out like this. She was wearing high heels and marched over to my desk on one of the most quiet days in the office with her arms crossed and scolded me for a mistake that was made because a colleague forgot to fill me in on one extra step. The whole department saw what happened and my white colleagues didn’t come to my rescue nor did they try to make me feel better about the workplace harassment.

At least I’m not alone. Black women across North America used Twitter to share their stories of workplace racism using the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork.

 

To all the white executives and managers reading this article here’s WHY you should start showing us more respect. Putting up with some of your colonial mental genocide tactics is a 1920s strategy to project power in the workplace. If you are threatened by our work ethic, intelligence or natural beauty that is NOT our problem. Deal with your insecurities and thirst to stay in power on your own time. We had ENOUGH of the disrespect! The next time you want to make a black woman or ANY non-Caucasian person feel insignificant, ask yourself, “how would I feel if this happened to someone I care about?”

Last modified on Saturday, 22 April 2017 15:33
Tamia Smith

Tamia Smith is a freelance writer with  a degree in Journalism and Mass communications, with 10 years experience.


Her goal is to educate and inform readers to look inside themselves or their outside world to help create change.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Soraya Sutherland Sunday, 23 April 2017 01:35 posted by Soraya Sutherland

    As a black woman myself working in a corporate job I understand the difficulties that we go through when working around whites (and non-blacks in some cases), and how they make seemingly innocuous comments however barbed with anti-black racial undertones. Or, they passive-aggressively do things to make a “point” about how they feel about you with a big smile on their face. I also sympathize with you as the only black woman in my department or as I say the “token black girl” in my department.

    As I was reading your article I found myself (my younger self) in your sentiments. Picking out nice clothes to “impress” them, wondering why my white female managers (who were also sleeping with and married to black men) seemed to have disdain for me, or why my white colleagues wouldn’t “stick up for me” when I was cornered or treated unfairly. The indignation I felt working for and with people like this couldn’t be understood unless someone else in my skin went through the same issues as well.

    When I started working myself, I too was subject to the “talk” where my mother and father told me as a black person I will have to work twice as hard, to get a piece of what they got. However what my father also told me was not to expect them to treat you the same as them, respect you or even acknowledge you. Now why would he say that? My younger self thought. As I got my first job working in an office for a printing company, it all made sense as I later realized that they are not a progressive group of people. As I deconstruct your article I will explain why I say this.

    You wrote: “The first time I realized this truth was when a manager described my personality as ‘reserved’ and because of that, I wasn’t ready for a promotion. As I sadly thought about the non-black colleagues in my department who were promoted in spite of having similar ‘reserved’ personalities”

    Often when a company or corporation wants to seem “diverse” they will throw in a non-black token into their exec, management or high level management team. If they wanted black people on their high level management team they would overlook your “reserved” character or other excuses to put you there. This is how they want it. They just didn’t want you.

    You wrote: “ I was sitting in my cubicle while two of my white female colleagues stood by my desk and one of them said with a hint of disgust, “I heard about that story on the news. White people don’t do stuff like that. Only they do.” REALLY? You couldn’t wait until I left my desk to make an overtly RACIST comment?”

    (at the time) Why would you expect them to re-arrange their conversation around your presence? If they said it within earshot, they wanted you to hear it.

    “White people don’t do stuff like that. Only they do.” “They” in that sentence shows those white colleagues of yours (at the time) see you (or whichever non-white group they were talking about) as a monolith.

    You wrote: “Another time one woman I worked with was nice but always made me feel like a commodity. She would say things like, “black women have the best shoulder line. You look so athletic and strong. I just had to tell you that.”

    “Tell me for what?” Is what I would have asked her. She can point out the stereotypical things about black women and use that to make underhanded compliments, or in your case make you feel like a “commodity” but I’m sure she’d never compliment your intelligence. Sounds like she’s putting you up on the auction block for sale.

    You wrote: “I worked at a well-known company and my manager was married to a black man. I thought to myself, this will be good, she will get me. I was WRONG”

    And this is where I started to roll my eyes. There are a good number of white women in the world for that matter that are married to, have sex with, and engage in numerous activities with black men however that does not mean they like black people. Especially white women with black men DO NOT LIKE BLACK WOMEN. In fact they HATE us. Usually the prerequisite for black men being with a white woman is to hate yourself, hate your people and HATE YOUR WOMEN. Why? Well, this goes back hundreds of years for that matter. The white woman’s male counterpart was more obsessed with raping us than sleeping with them (read the slave narratives), and it was a white man that first challenged his own law to marry a black woman (Loving v. Virginia), and without turning this into a long history lesson, this “history” has a lot to do with them constantly emulating our features, and secretly hating us for it and it has been going on since “Sara "Saartjie" Baartman. This is why white women seek out black men that are self-hating coons because they do not want to be with a black man while feeling as if they are in competition with us. This is why they are ok their black boyfriends, husbands or friends making you tube videos professing their love for white women and hatred for black women. They don't tell their black partners to stop doing that, they are ok with it! That’s why there’s so many of these “black woman bashing” videos.

    Black people think they can sex away racism, that being with white people will stop racism and that whites will stop being racist. That has never been furthest from the truth. Interracial relations with whites have been going on for hundreds of years however we need to understand that we still live in a white supremacist system which should show us that sex with whites is NOT working, and will never work because the system is still up and running. If white people actually cared about black people or if they “progressed” then they would dismantle the system of white supremacist oppression and create a system of equality and justice. However, that isn’t happening now is it, and it will never happen because this system has their privileges, their rights, and their identity woven into it. Dismantling white supremacy would mean giving all of that which their ancestors killed for up to a group of people they innately believe are “lesser beings” than them.

    Unless someone can name some benefits that black people (as a whole) received from being in interracial relationships with whites then I’ll recant what I said. The only thing that has changed with white people is time and technology, they are still racist and every interaction with black people will always be racial. Why you thought “she will get me” is a display of clearly how naive you are (or were) to the system you are living (and working) under and the people that maintain and control it. You being her underling was an opportunity to display her “feelings” about you. She gets to berate you, humiliate you, to screw one of your “men”, and with her arms crossed towering over you; maintain white supremacy.

    You wrote: “The whole department saw what happened and my white colleagues didn’t come to my rescue nor did they try to make me feel better about the workplace harassment.”

    And why would they? Why would your white colleagues put their jobs in jeopardy for YOU? Furthermore, why would you (at that time) expect them to “come to your rescue” or “make you feel better”? That expectation is why you experienced this disappointment. Remember, it was not too long ago that we weren’t even allowed to work with them, much less drink out of the same fountain and if they had it their way they would never hire a black person ever again. It is because of integration and civil rights laws why they are being FORCED to work with us, and FORCED to integrate with us and this is why we experience this type of treatment on the job. This is why when a black person moves into a white neighborhood “white flight” happens and they all leave. They show us with their actions all of the time that we are not “welcome” and they don't want to be around us. However, we just keep pushing ourselves on them and forcing ourselves on them thinking this will make them “less racist” or “accept us”, we keep thinking by pushing ourselves in their spaces we will become like them and that is the illusion we bought into when our grandparents fought for integration instead of fighting for our own economy, autonomy and self-assurance.

    And lastly, the part that made me roll my eyes so hard:

    You wrote: “To all the white executives and managers reading this article here’s WHY you should start showing us more respect. Putting up with some of your colonial mental genocide tactics is a 1920s strategy to project power in the workplace.”

    That’s the point though, to project POWER. Firstly, majority of the companies we work for are white owned, and majority of these white owned companies attained their wealth and positions through nepotism, corruption, and mass exploitation of the working class (or in some cases mass exploitation of African slave labour). As I stated in my previous comment, they do not want to work with you. The only reason they have to show the government how “diverse” they are is because they are FORCED to. Whites have never respected black people, and for you to want them to “show us more respect” is highlighting a “white acceptance” begging mentality that a lot of black people have. We forget that we live under a system of white supremacy and they only thing white supremacy respects is POWER. Unless we are going to challenge them with the same POWER, by building black a economy, black businesses and separate from being underneath their thumb (by using our dollars) they not need to respect us. As far as they see it, we are no longer of any use to them anymore. They know this. We don't.

    You wrote: “If you are threatened by our work ethic, intelligence or natural beauty that is NOT our problem. If you are threatened by our work ethic, intelligence or natural beauty that is NOT our problem. Deal with your insecurities and thirst to stay in power on your own time. We had ENOUGH of the disrespect!”

    I highly doubt them being threatened has anything to do with our beauty, intelligence, and work ethic. It has everything to do with us being black. And why should they have to deal with their insecurities on their own time? It’s their company, run by someone that looks like them. As I stated earlier unless we are going to challenge that power by having our own power (separate from theirs) there's not much we can do about it.

    You wrote: “The next time you want to make a black woman or ANY non-Caucasian person feel insignificant, ask yourself, “how would I feel if this happened to someone I care about?”

    In this system of white supremacy, If this happened to someone they cared about, they have lawyers, and a legal system put in place to sue these companies. Since we do not know of these avenues, black people never take this route when they experience workplace discrimination. Also, it is very hard to prove this in the court of law. Without detailed proof to substantiate your claims of discrimination it is difficult to win these cases.

    In summary, I know a lot of the anecdotes you provided are in retrospect however your last paragraph is what made me still think that you work emotionally with the dominant society as they see you as “just a worker”. I feel, the only way to stop workplace discrimination as black people is to remove our self from under their thumb. I am not defending the discrimination at all as this is not right however I understand the system I work under. I understand that I work for them, and that does not mean “progress”, I just want black people to start thinking of how can we on a grand scale make changes, REAL changes for us only because whites aren’t going to change anything about our current social and economic condition. Only we can.

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