Racism and prejudice pollute the daily existence of black people around the globe. Whether on public transportation, dining with family, at the movies or even waking down the street, racism hovers over the black American’s plight through life. For the black “professional” however racial micro-agressions seem anything but “micro” in the work place. This is not to say that racism does not exist for the blue collar black worker, but it tends to be more systemic and less direct given the abundant black bodies that often work together in said environments. In contrast, the black professional in a traditionally white industry or company is often a drop of chocolate on a white tee shirt, affording their presence a shock value not experienced by blacks who work in predominately black settings.
For example, I am mistaken for a student every time I enter and exit my department, prompting the sign-in desk to ask for my identification twice a week while my white colleagues walk freely in and out of the department. This “mix-up” operates under the racist yet persistent premise that all blacks look alike. Yesterday, this same scenario intertwined with a more abrasive discriminatory act, melding my professional pursuits into an uncomfortable lump in my throat that I am forced to dry swallow and smile.
Yesterday, I did as I normally do after my morning class— buy a snack and beverage to devour before my office hours. The lovely and always pleasant barista, prepared my beverage so elaborately that it was impossible to carry the beverage to my cubicle without spilling its contents. So I sat at the bar to sip my beverage and butter my bagel. As I am sipping, a hispanic man emerges from the back. He is conspicuously indignant and looks at me as if my presence has insulted him personally. He orders me to sit at the tables (all of which are full) and I politely ignore him. He then proceeds to slam milk and other items in the space I occupied. I refused to acknowledge his actions and remained seated. He then proceeded to walk around the bar to violently pull the seat beside me and yell at me to take a seat at the table. A few students witnessed this aggressive behavior with gaping mouths but the baristas that seemed so nice and warm on previous visits acted as if nothing was going on. After I finished eating, out of curiosity, I asked the baristas about sitting at the bar ,and they said that the bar was for “people to wait for the coffee.”
This statement proved contradictory given the fact that the bar has chairs. Starbucks, Caffe Bean, and pretty much any another coffee shop also serves their customers beverages at a bar. However none of these locations have chairs at the bar, because they do not want you to sit there. The chairs at this particular location are commonly occupied by students or faculty who wish to enjoy yogurt, coffee or a bagel. Thus, the barista’s comments supported this man’s aggression simultaneously insulting my intelligence. It also seems that sitting at the bar proved inappropriate solely when my black female body opted to sit and enjoy my purchase.
In recalling my encounter yesterday, it is hard not to think of the sit ins in the 1950s where young people engaged in peaceful protests to demand equal treatment from establishments that took their money but either demanded blacks take their food to go or eat while standing up. However, even in this encounter blacks sought acceptance in a scenario where they had the power. This scenario and others like it function to render the black body inferior, and this function often renders the black body cripple to their own power–power blacks surrender as customers and employees to companies that truly believe blacks are inferior.
By placing money into white companies, blacks remain a controlled substance of the western world. Similarly, By going to the white man or woman for a job, blacks remain controlled by whites.
Thus, on the surface, my issue is that this person of color operated with a white mindset prompting him to demand my ejection. However, the true issue is with myself. I should not have patronized this company as an employee or customer and expected anything other than the treatment I received. I wrote a letter to management, but I know my letter will fall on deaf ears. But had I been the president of the college, or a young white woman, this not so gentleman would meet serious consequences for his carelessness.
Ironically, this scenario occurred on the same day that hashtag #blackwomenatwork trends on Twitter following Bill O’Reilly’s comment that he “could not focus” on what Maxine Waters was saying due to her “James Brown wig.” The comment was wrong on a number of levels.
- Comparing a black woman to a black man is an insult to black femininity.
- Comparing an entertainer to a political is an insult to her accomplishments
- Finally, discussing Maxine Water’s aesthetics is an insult to her position.
As black women who occupy white spaces, Waters, myself and our sisters throughout the diaspora incur subtle racist acts as a means to remind us of our displacement. The experience of a black woman in these environments is especially unique because our prejudice endures a duality prompted by our race and gender intersectionality. All females are compartmentalized by how they look, however black females are consistently devalued for not meeting western standards of beauty. While Susan Boyle, Sharon Osbourne, and Sarah Jessica Parker may not possess conventional beauty they are not berated as harshly as Shirley Chisholm, Serena Williams or Leslie Jones who face criticism that casts them as beastly or masculine. The unattractive white woman finds praise in other areas like style, talent or personality. Whereas the black woman deemed unattractive serves as a line of demarcation between animals and white women. Thus, O’Reilly’s comments not only illustrate what happens when black female bodies occupy spaces traditionally reserved for white men but how black female identity is generally conceptualized and reduced by the western gaze. Thus, while the corresponding tweets proved accurate, they mainly substantiate why it is imperative that the oppressed to do not seek employment from their oppressors.
As the late and great Malcolm X said in his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet:”
Anytime you have to rely on your enemy for a job, you are in bad shape.
Nevertheless, whether its looks, credentials, speech, behavior, or attire as we saw late last year with #teacherbae, the Western world consistently seeks to remind the black female of her fictive inferiority.
Furthermore, micro-aggressions and blatant disrespect incurred by the black female body occupying traditionally white male environments will continue as long as blacks bodies accept the label as “employee” or “customer” at white institutions.
Waters self-proclaimed feminism and alignment with Hilary Clinton illustrates feminism as yet another means black females seek white acceptance, illustrating O’Reilly’s comments as almost deserving to the black female body who seeks to place her gender before her race. Let this serve as a reminder that to the western world black females are not women, thus the black woman must adopt womanism to account for the totality of her existence.
In closing, respect should be readily given. All lives should matter, but they don’t. Human rights should be extended to all living beings, however this has never been the case. We as a collective can not expect the callous treatment of whites to soften just because its 2017.
In a letter to his nephew James Baldwin admonishes his namesake of racism and its pernicious ways. There are numerous resounding moments in this text, but perhaps the quote most applicable to this argument is the following:
There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them.
Our issues do not experience resolve upon achieving white acceptance. I, personally, do not believe that whites are truly capable of accepting blacks, because to do so would mean to accept that deep down blacks embody what whites wish they were. But we must accept that white supremacy is white people’s sole means of survival. To accept this does not mean to adopt their truth as our truth, but to accept that “his” story is a fallacy that operates as western truth.
To accept the white mode of thinking is to understand that the pictures of black female doctors that went viral a few months ago is a counterproductive gesture that does not alter the image most people have when they hear the word “doctor.” This gesture functions as a means to get the world to accept that there are black female doctors, whereas at best it teaches the masses to not act surprised to avoid appearing racist. These pictures function as a way to request equity where the western world has handed us a pseudo equality. But we as a black collective have been doctors….
We are beautiful. We are wise. We are rich in culture and legacy. We are natural story tellers, mathematicians, healers, scientists, historians, artists and engineers. We are everything that the western world says we’re not, which is why their acceptance does not matter. Rather than seeking white acceptance, I encourage those of the black collective to accept their blackness. Being black grants beauty but it also guarantees adversity. We must accept that this adversity will come. We must also accept that the adversity accompanies true greatness–and we as a collective are great.
So in response to Bill O’Reilly’s gauche remarks, rather than thank Hilary Clinton, Waters could have simply replied ”Thank you. I’m black and I’m proud.”