Now I’m Mad

By Erika Harrington

Have you all seen the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag? If you haven’t, you need to check it out right now. Sparked by Bill O’Reilly’s comments towards congresswoman Maxine Walter, the trending tag is a perfect example of the layered problems professional women of color face throughout their careers, a problem characterized by a policing of emotions and anger.

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But let’s back up for a second. What are we talking about when we talk about “anger”?

A snide comment? A side-eye? The silent treatment? Or, if you’re like me, a tearful and dramatic outburst? However you show it, we all get angry sometimes. Things get frustrating, things get tough, and people get vicious. And they can get frustrating with family, get tough with friends, and peopleyes, even professional peopleget vicious at work.

It’s natural and it’s something you can recover from…right?

Well, let me clarifyit’s easy for some people to recover from. It’s a little tougher for women because when they get mad, it tends to be perceived as the result of their over-emotional and irrational nature. But we’ve already covered this.

And we know there’s a misconception that when women get angry, it’s because they’re just inherently emotional. But men? Well, men were obviously just reacting to something upsetting.

Now this actually makes me mad. If Tina from accounting has been dodging my emails and skipping our meetings, and our project doesn’t get done because we never worked out the budget, and then my boss chews me out for not delivering, I’m going to be bitter. And Tina and I might have to have an unpleasantyet professionalconversation. And no one, and I mean no one is going to tell me that it’s my fault that I’m mad. Yes, yes, we all know there’s more to it than thatbut you get my point.

So I’ve spent a lot of time ranting on something we’ve already read about–I just can’t help it, these matters always get me riled up. Must be my angry nature, right? I want to take time to remind you all that is even worse for women of color, specifically black women who have to deal with the ~angry black woman~ trope.  

Researchers Durr and Wingfield did an extensive study of black, female professionals with participant observation and in-depth interviews. One notable conclusion was the strain and wasted energy that participants experienced when trying to avoid certain stereotypes. They find themselves constantly worried that they aren’t controlling their emotions well enough. They must “pick their battles” so that they aren’t viewed unprofessionally, but the reality is that, in any job there are times where you have to fight for the ideas that you believe in.

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So while it’s more than troublesome that black women deal with a constant threat of being stereotyped, it’s especially problematic when avoiding the stereotype hinders one’s ability to forward their contributions. This can have long-term effects on careers if it prevents individuals from taking the career risks that are key to success. Speaking of impacts on career, let’s consider the emotional cost of constantly worry about not acting “too black” for the workplace. All that time black women spend concerned with image, they could spend doing, oh I don’t know, their actual job maybe?

So what’s the solution here? Well, many advise women to make sure that their anger is accompanied with justifications. When things get frustrating, make sure you’re communicating in a level-headed manner, with fool-proof explanations so your accuser can’t claim that you’re acting irrational. This is good advice day-to-day advice for black women. But let’s also encourage others  to make work environments inclusive and free of prejudice. If your black, female co-worker gets mad and “goes off,” and you find yourself thinking “typical,” then you need to check yourself. Better yet, be willing to check others. A simple “I think her response was appropriate given the situation,” can go a long way at the water cooler.  Remind yourself, or anyone who makes comments like these, that they aren’t angry because they’re black, they’re angry because it be like that sometimes.

Hair we go again…

By Erika Harrington

Let’s talk about the sassiest nonverbal. Let’s talk about the act done by the tallest of runway models to the smallest of cute toddlers. Let’s talk about the hair flip.

Well actually, let’s talk about hair in the workplace.

It’s no surprise that when we talk about getting a job, we talk about appearance. Self-presentation is definitely important. But where do professional standards come from? One answer to this question might be policy. Legal scholar, Angela Onwuachi Willig, analyzed cases in which women’s hair was the bases for reprimand. And who were the women that were most likely to be involved in these cases? You guessed it– African American women.

A quick google search of ideal workplace hairstyles, and what kind of results do you see? Straight hair worn down and tucked behind your ears, an organized bun, or relaxed but well-managed curls. All suitable options for the hardworking woman—well, the hard working white woman at least.

Willig’s study addresses Title IX, explaining that discrimination goes further than a woman’s right to not wear makeup. Our workplaces are not only plagued with gendered norms, they’re plagued with gender norms typically associated with white women. What is the company policy on dreadlocks? Afros? Kinky curls that can only be held down after a draining battle with blood, sweat, tears, and tons of product? Pressure to conform to these appearance policies is the exact burden that Willig describes, and the exact burden that violates the rights upheld by Title IX. This pressure is too real because to resist it is to welcome career-impacting consequences. The result: an average work day that begins at 7:15 am with fine tooth comb and a hot iron. Why do we look at braids with disdain? Braids! A style we spent a large chunk of our adolescence styling on our Barbie dolls.

This is unacceptable. Keeping our hair down is literally keeping us down. Why are we focusing so much time and energy on hair, instead of focusing on killing the next sales presentation? Why are these expressions of individualism and culture being stifled? This doesn’t only apply to black women– although if you’ve never had to run away from your mom as she tried to hot comb your relentless curls, consider yourself lucky. It applies anybody who’s putting in extra effort to uphold standards that are completely unrelated to their actual work performance.

Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to address this problem. For starters, let’s shift the emphasis on producing, not primping. If there are specific policies in your organization that address appearance, check to make sure that they’re inclusive to women of all races and ethnicities. If you’re an employee and you encounter a disagreement with a higher-up about what constitutes “extreme” or “unkempt” hair, understand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manual on Race Discrimination is on your side. Speak with your organization’s human resources department or coordinator and keep a detailed record of all pertinent conversations.

say enough. And if you’re like me, and love looking into a crowd of people and seeing heads of diversity, then tell the world you’ve had enough too. Say it loud, say it proud: a woman’s hair, afro or otherwise, has nothing to do with her professional competence.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

What makes the Red Woman unemployed?

By Ellie Miller

In 2010, when Peter Pan peanut butter was recalled, I wasn’t surprised. Peter Pan always makes me sick. Not because of fake ingredients and preservatives, but for the racism that it spouts in the movie’s infamous “What made the Red Man red?” scene. In your list of greatest Disney memories, this song probably falls pretty low. And I’d say that’s a good thing.  In this short scene, Disney captured the stereotypes that millions of Americans held about Native people. Natives were portrayed as overly sexual, stupid, and lazy. Decades later, these stereotypes still exist, one of the more prominent being the stereotype of laziness. Needless to say, that has not been very good for Native women in the workplace.

According to The American Association of University Women, in 2015, Native women made only 59 cents for every dollar a white man made. Once you pick your jaw up off the table at the shock of these numbers (I know that’s exactly what I did), you may be thinking, “I thought women make 77 cents for the male dollar.” You would be right- but that’s only if you look at white women. The severe racial discrimination that Native women experience in the workplace compared to any other groups highlights the ways racist ideas of laziness, drunkenness, and promiscuity consistently create unsafe spaces for Native women to work.

These numbers aren’t new, however. Nancy Shoemaker, in her book Negotiators of change: Historical perspectives on Native American women, explains how historically Native women have been given the lowest paid jobs. This trend stems from change resistant belief that Native people are unable to effectively participate in society.

This leads me to the thing we really need to know: These power imbalances and pay gaps didn’t happen by accident.

When colonizers first encountered Native people (the ones they mistakenly called Indians),  Native people, who happened to be more advanced than the Romans (and way less dead), were labeled as uncivilized labors with their heads and hands in the mud. The colonizers also ignored the fact that traditional Native societies  valued women’s work, and viewed Native women as protectors and bearers of life.

So in American history, we had a clash of two cultures, one that valued women’s work–more specifically, native women’s work– and one that didn’t.  I’m afraid you know how the story ends.

Sherman Indian School, 1910. Source

In order to make sure that colonizers’ ideas about work won out over native ideas, colonists ensured that the future–that is the youth–only learned colonizers’ ideas of work. They did this by removing kids from their families and culture, and sending them to boarding school. According to J.E. Simenson, in their book Making Home Work: Domesticity and Native American Assimilation in the American West, Native women were specifically taught “female occupations”, like cleaning or milking cows, while men learned industry and management techniques. This distinction set up Native women to only ever be laborers for white society.

In the face of this oppression and disavowal of work, Native women remain resilient. As culture protectors, Native women have been able to use their cultural value passed to them by their ancestors to resurrect aspects of traditional Native work. This matters not only for Native women, but for all women. Because understanding this situation historically makes it clear that our ideas about work and “the way things are” isn’t the way they have always been, and isn’t how they have to be, should be, or will be in the future.

We should know the name of Winona LaDuke who created the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which recovers traditional modes of agriculture and sustainability and reducing toxins from local farms. We should know to buy real Native earrings, not the $15 dreamcatchers hoops from Urban Outfitter- they’re probably the same price, but one supports Native women and the other child slaves in China, so you decide.

Knowing these names and this information reminds us that we can support Native women who assert the value of their ways of living and working, and we can also follow their lead by asserting the values of our own way of living and working.

 

So what made the Red Woman unemployed? Clearly the colonizer. But what made the Red Woman thrive? The answer to that is simply this: Red women.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.