As I watched the #BlackWomenAtWork trend on Twitter, I was given life and inspiration. African-American women from all over the country, and arguably women of color all over the world, shared examples of times that they were belittled, insulted, or otherwise demeaned for being who they are. This hashtag was in response to Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Fox news host Bill O’Reilly as well as Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s degrading treatment of correspondent April Ryan at a White House press briefing. Both are women of color, well accomplished in their fields.
I shared my experiences on Twitter– which were previously shared on this blog (see here) — under this hashtag,
A conservative female attorney I am acquainted with responded to my thread, saying “well, maybe it was just a compliment; you really are articulate“. Her statement is symptomatic of the deeper problem of when something is brought to the attention of some in the mainstream, often folks feel the need to dismiss it, refusing to look at the deeper issue. In my response, I encouraged her to read through the hashtag, and understand the context in which this was being shared. I noted that one of her followers indicated “Some people have a chip on their shoulder and can’t accept a compliment“.
Here’s the deal. As the saying goes, don’t urinate on me and tell me it’s raining. Human beings are intelligent enough to know when they are being complimented, and when they’re being insulted. You will never see one white attorney compliment another white attorney and say “wow, you are so articulate”. That comment is rooted in a stereotype and surprise. The stereotype is that African-Americans are uneducated, live in the hood, and cannot form complete sentences. Mainstream media and BET have not helped that cause. And certainly the demise of the Cosby show didn’t help in that either. But be that as it may, that is the stereotype. The surprise comes in “oh wow you’ve beat the odds to actually be able to speak in full sentences“. That is not a compliment. A compliment would be “wow I really liked your presentation” or even “you really articulated that point very well“. But to tell a professional woman or man of color that they are articulate is at best a backhanded compliment. Wow, people that look like you never sound that way. It assumes of course as all stereotypes do, that you were poor, in the hood, and was never going to have a chance to succeed. That is simply not the case. If a similarly situated White person rose from poverty and made it, nobody turns to them and says oh you’re so articulate. They actually assume that the individual came from a privileged background.
The entire context of the hashtag represents the assumptions and stereotypes that are made of women of color in the workforce. Here are a couple I found telling:
These assumptions and stereotypes can be based in racism, but others can be based in implicit bias. It is the unconscious bias that one may have towards a group of people. We all have a biases; it is how we act is a different story. The key is to be aware and if someone says “this is offensive to me” don’t tell them that they have no right to be offended. You learn from the experience, and move forward as a better person. I expect someone to correct me if I did something offensive, endeavoring never to repeat that mistake again. But it is the tone deafness, or simply the lack of care for your fellow person, that makes these hashtags necessary.
At times, I wonder if it serves more of a supportive dialogue within races rather than a dialogue between races. Only time will tell.
I would also like to take you back to some articles that highlight this issue that I’ve written in the past. Both have to do with judges of color in different parts of the country, and the bias they encountered on the street. Take a look: A Teaching Moment About Racism: The Judge and the Candidate and Racism: In Case You Weren’t Sure — Judge Attacked in Chicago
It is said never to judge a book by its cover. Everyone would be served well to follow that mantra.