Research reflects, Black girls are subject to discipline, and punishment at a disproportionate rate in comparison to white girls, for subjective transgressions like defiance, or not displaying appropriate comportment. Reading studies on the unequal treatment Black girls face was not surprising, however it did confirm that the inequitable experiences I was subject to were real, I was not in the Twilight Zone, the data supports, Black girls are subjected to disproportionate discipline for perceived conduct. Phew, for years white people explained away discrimination, as if I didn’t know what I had actually seen, heard, or witnessed. In the eyes of white people, I was either militant, or menial. Viewed as aggressive if I spoke up for myself, or weak if I didn’t respond to bigoted comments, and actions. From classroom to cubicle I have been on the receiving end of antipathetic actions for not being what a white person, thought I should be, or for how I acted in any given situation. From the time I was in school, to entering the workforce, I experienced first hand, what researchers documented, on the whole Black girls do not receive equitable treatment, and are actually punished for not acting or behaving in a manner white people deem comfortably appropriate in their estimation, while the same actions were not punished when demonstrated by white counterparts. It unfortunately became something I accepted as an established standard of how I thought I should expect to be treated from classmates, teachers, and colleagues, just part of the day. Essentially, my experiences of discriminatory treatment were normalized in my life, because I was tolerating behavior, and environments rife with covert racism, that was having an overt impact on my daily life.
Earlier in my twenties, I observed the workplace demanded that I navigate racism and sexism with compliance, to voice discriminatory treatment to management, or human resources, was viewed as complaining, and detrimental to my employment. Regardless of the type of office, for profit, non-profit, boutique firm, or large corporation, I saw stigma attached to people for following procedure and reporting discrimination. It seemed if you are Black, and blowing a whistle, you better be dancing, or officiating a sporting event under the direction of a white referee. When you are Black, there is a catch-22 for reporting, you are stigmatized for doing it, and vilified for having the courage to call it out. This was an era, pre #MeToo, and pre Michelle Obama, although not much has changed when reporting discriminatory treatment at work for regular folks, as it’s rare to have a white person have your back, and stand with you against the wrathful winds of whiteness. Reporting is still an open invitation for retaliation, as no one wants to hear, their fellow colleagues engaged in discriminatory action, or displayed racial bias. Essentially, the message was, don’t complain about discrimination, because as a Black person, you should be extra grateful for even being allowed in the building. Posters, and memos regarding a diverse, safe, and bias free work environment were optics. Apparently, as a Black person, you are only allowed one single racist experience in your career, in one single office, and that one single racist experience must directly involve the Ku Klux Klan, to be deemed actual racism. And even then, questions are raised as to what the Black person did to provoke the ire of the KKK. Apparently, some white people lack the capacity to acknowledge, accept, or even entertain the possibility that racism regularly occurs, that racial bias is systematic, and that white people benefit from that system, and are largely silent when it comes to actually standing in solidarity with Black people in the workplace.
Not only was I stigmatized for following the process of reporting discrimination, a process established by the white powers that be, I was stigmatized because, according to white people, workplace racism happens only in an overt isolated instance. And white people know this, because white people are always considered the neutral party, white people are the referees, always making the call. White people define what is racist, and what is not, and guess what? White people find very few instances of discrimination, committed by themselves, or their friends, and colleagues. Racism is solved in their eyes, and Black women should be extra super appreciative to even be permitted to work in their space. Justice is jettisoned. There is an automatic defensive reaction to calling out racism, it doesn’t appear white people are open to acknowledge systematic racism, as they follow the dogma of, “I didn’t own slaves, so I’m not responsible for slavery.” Forgetting the fact that just as Black people are still oppressed by the system of slavery, that built America, white people are still benefiting from that system. White people in America inherited unearned privilege, while Black people in America inherited oppression.
Most Black children are raised with the understanding that what is acceptable for our white counterparts, will not be acceptable for us. It is not a matter of fairness, it is a matter of survival. As a Black girl, I assimilated to the white world I was growing up in, yet as I became a young woman, I realized mere assimilation was not enough to advance in the world, white people stipulated submissiveness, with a smile in the workplace, and virtually everywhere else. I observed white women in the office having it both ways, raising issue with the number of women in higher positions, yet at the same time, expecting the women in those high positions to be white. It was a spurious sorority, in the workplace, with white women at the helm, wielding control over Black, and brown women, through passive aggressive action, resulting in professional sabotage, not easily overcome. The excessive crying from white women in the office was over the top, seriously over the top; convenient crying when faced with their own error, their own wrong doing, or their own bias, or simply whenever they felt like it. It was a whole other level of shit to deal with at work – the “feelings” of white women. It only takes one white woman to cry in the office, and all hell breaks loose, the flood gates of retribution, and protection for white women, has no bounds, especially if the person accused of “triggering their feelings”is Black. Everyday, I live the aftermath of the antebellum, white women have been riding shotgun, with white men throughout history. White women have always wielded power over Black women, yet somehow I should be extra grateful, because a white women thinks she has done something super special, by allowing me to be in her space. I don’t think so – nah, no thank you, no.
Unfortunately, there are women who choose to believe that there are a select number of women that advance in the workplace, and women are willing to belittle, and betray other women, to ensure their place. Perhaps, due to job security, a desperate need to fit in, or just plain pettiness, women, even some women of color, were willing to join the sorority shit storm. Although I empathize with the desire to be accepted, especially in the workplace, where acceptance often determines ones livelihood, and career path, the pain of being ostracized, or fired, for reporting discrimination, stays with you – stigma stains. The agony of having your reputation destroyed, or being a professional pariah is not easily overcome. Encourage and support the success of other women, it won’t hinder you.
In the 1983 film, Twilight Zone: The Movie, one of the tales is about a racist, played by Vic Morrow, who finds himself in the skin of the people he is racist toward. This is what needs to happen to all racists, and to all who discredit, dismiss, and deny discrimination – they need to walk in another person’s “skin.” The fact is, Black women are not provided the latitude, that comes automatically to white women, and some women of color, as Black women are frequently not believed, disproportionately deemed insolent instead of intelligent, or pompous instead of professional, when we dare speak up. “Women of color” is a broad, and beautiful umbrella, having said that, I observe and experience that white women demonstrate a more “comfortable” demeanor, around certain women of color, where they are able to talk about tanning, blow outs, bronzer, and which character on Friends, they are like in real life. They buy their beauty products in the same isle – hell, my beauty products were not even considered beautiful, and were not found in any beauty isle.
The impact of colorism can be both a stealth attack, not felt until the aircraft of delivery is long gone, and as obvious as a Hollywood casting for the 1998 film, Pleasantville. The struggle is real, made even more challenging, when women of color, succumb to corporate hazing in order to belong to the corporate clan, it’s the workplace equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. White women may harbor stereotypes about women of color, yet I noticed they did not fear my Latino or Asian sisters in the manner they fear Black women. White women view our actual physical bodies as something odd and ugly, less than, and different; they seemed comforted by the similar hair texture, and skin tone they often share with certain women with of color. Under the “Women of Color” umbrella, Black women are not included with the same support, we are segregated, and often shamed. White women view Black women as truly different, with strange hair, dark skin, and of course, that underlying faux fear that a Black woman, without a smile, and a little bit of confidence, is a threat. I say this not to draw division with my sisters of colors, I see myself, my mother, and grandmother, in their faces. We are stronger together, capable of limitless change. However, women can’t have it both ways whenever it is convenient for them. By this I mean saying and doing racist things, then retreating under the “Women of Color” umbrella, and claiming they can’t be racist because they are a woman of color.
It is insanity to ever try to be the perfect POC (Person of Color) more to the point, the perfect Black person when living, and moving, in this wild white world as is often expected of us to even get a foot in the door. Following the rules, being polite, putting Caucasians at ease, if that is even possible, as they are often a hyper sensitive, disillusioned group, it is a waste of time, involves too much energy, and sacrifice of soul. It is exhausting.
White people are comfortable with each other, and the select placement of their carefully chosen POC’s, which are always few in number. Even when experiencing the headwinds of racism in the workplace, one may follow procedure, contact Human Resources, or file a complaint, still the burden of blame falls upon the shoulders of the Black person. Instantly, you are stigmatized, and ironically, black listed because a “good” Black person would not ever blame racism for anything, for in the eyes of white people “racism” is simply a card of convenience that is played – not something real. Black people should be extra grateful for any allowance of opportunity tossed our way, in the eyes of Caucasian collective unconscious bias. The responsibility of continually being the perfect POC for white folks is a full time job and one without benefit. Watch how you speak, what you say, how you say it, be aware of your facial expression, what music you play, where your hands are, smile, wear a hair style they are comfortable with, always be agreeable, and don’t correct them, faux screams of being “threatening” will surely follow, as white folks have mastered being outraged, and of course being victimized by Black people.
I’ve heard white women refer to the term “mansplaining” when a man is talking down to them, yet to endure mansplaining and whitesplaining, which is when white people talk to you as if you are beneath them, without dignity, it is an overbearing daily burden. Navigating this mind field is never ending, the moment you let down your guard, they get you. Don’t be taken in at work, school, or elsewhere, for lurking behind that smiling alabaster face, lay centuries of unearned privilege, wrapped in unconscious bias, piety, and self righteousness. White people basically operate in the world, taking their shit out on us. Black people absorbing the displaced anger, insecurity, fear, and sadness of white people, because they refuse to accept personal responsibly for themselves, to be accountable, to acknowledge that systematic racism is real, that they benefit from it, and we suffer from it. Ironic really, white folks love to tout the virtues of personal responsibility, yet don’t practice what they pontificate. Microaggressions are real, having significant impact, building up and destroying opportunity for a fair foundation upon which to build. This is not hyper sensitivity, microaggressions amplify marginalization with subtle, yet powerful actions that have lasting consequences.
White people are still attempting to whitesplain their way out of racism, maybe they are pulling a Barbara Billingsley, like the “Jive Lady” in the film, Airplane, circa 1980. That select “manner of speaking” aimed at “relating” to Black people.
whitesplaining [(h)wīt] [ˈsplāniNG] noun: explanation of any topic by a white person, usually to a Black person, in a practice or manner which is condescending, oversimplified, or patronizing, typically delivered with an overconfident, supercilious, demeanor.