“She can’t be the owner.”
“Can you be a little less aggressive?”
“We can only pay you this amount.”
These are the phrases that echo in the ears of many working African-American women. The sly remarks of their superiors, colleagues, and sometimes, even friends, all cause African-American women to perform daily self-assessments. So, it wasn’t by chance that the moment White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attacked journalist April Ryan and Bill O’Reilly commented about U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, we all fell to our knees in disgust and understanding. It was by chance the first time the feminist voice met the racism cry accompanied by the “Black head nod”. Because, quite frankly, we knew that experience of inferiority and unsolicited comedy, with the focus on us all too well.
I guess you would think it wouldn’t be such a big deal. How could a hashtag draw so much attention? Well, for the degreed sister, the one who had to climb the corporate ladder alone; the one who consistently holds the Angry Black Woman stereotype under a professional subtle demeanor; the one who over dresses daily and under asserts her authority; the one with the alphabets behind her name or the desire to open that business; the one who contemplates braids versus a relaxer; who tries desperately not order poultry at the fancy dinner and commits to ensuring that her colloquialisms are far from connected to the urban area she grew up in…. she finally found relief in seeing the #BlackWomenatWork hashtag. The hashtag meant that she wasn’t alone and neither were her inner most feelings.
So, for clarity, Black women are not insecure. In fact, we are extremely educated and many times over qualified. Yet, in the doors of the corporation, African-American women are immediately and unapologetically mistaken for “The Help” and, quite frankly, we’re tired. It is time that every Black woman garner the respect and credibility that we’ve worked hard to achieve. We can’t let a Trump administration infused with misogyny and racism, or the boss that is only succeeding because of your work ethic, or the looks received on your corporate trip from the concierge allow you to give in to the ridiculous labeling of the Black woman.
See we admit and concede to the fact that our femininity connects us to the same struggles as our sisters of other races. We don’t down play their struggle, but even Hillary Clinton had to step out in outrage over the attacks received by the Black woman in the public view. Let’s examine the attacks: not one experienced by Representative Waters or Ms. Ryan have been embedded with anything more than focus on physical appearance and gestures. Why is that? It’s because there is nothing else to attack her on. Not her education. Not her qualifications. Not her experience. So, the oppressor resorts to low blows and calls out the things that only an immature bully can get others to see.
- What does this all do to us? Well, we start a fight among ourselves, better known as “double consciousness,” as coined by the great W.E.B. DeBois. We feel so marginalized that our inner fight grows to conducting ourselves to be accepted; and we sometimes silence our voice and accept being underpaid, however, the one thing we do and we do well is keep pushing. We outwork our counterparts. We quit jobs that never valued our work ethic. We start our own businesses. We stay in positions to help the next Black girl get in. You’ll probably never hear us complain because we’ve learned a long time ago that doesn’t solve anything. But this year, we’ve screamed enough. We’ve banned together with a measly hashtag and demanded everyone realize that #BlackWomenatWork WILL be respected and NOT intimidated.
I’m reminded of a statement written a century ago that summarizes the conflict that the Black woman experiences. Soujourner Truth said, “I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?” We will continue to work and eat just as much as our counterparts but the lash ends today!
By Erika L. Green
Erika Green is managing attorney at Law Office of Erika Green and Baton Rouge City Councilmember District 5. Follow her @erikalgreenesq