Education: Unlearning Racial Biases

The article, Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity Natalie Moore (2018) presents a poignant view that embodies the harsh realities of how starkly devalued Black people remains in life and death. Time and again we see how deftly a Black man’s innocence can be distorted into one that paints him as the perpetual flawed character prone to criminality – one deserving of the brutality committed against him. Indeed, if there is no outward reason that one can use to justify his abuse – something will materialize. Whether it is the blunt that he was caught smoking in high school or a minor brush with the law at some point in his life – the story of him as a flawed character becomes a justification for his demise. The fact that he was unlawfully gunned down, arrested, beaten, convicted and a plethora of other abuses that many Blacks encounter on a routine basis becomes the background story.

The distorted narratives are influential contributions in desensitizing barbaric acts against Blacks on several fronts. For one, they invoke the dehumanizing ideologies that already exists. As such it is not difficult to convince many that Black men/ women and other minority groups deserve the cruelty they receive and are guilty of the crimes for which they have been accused no matter evidence to the contrary.

It is essential that history, as it happened, is taught across disciplines (in classrooms, homes, organizations, government.) Racism is a sickness stitched in the fabrics, cracks, and crevices of our psyches. It is imperative that as a nation, we unlearn all that history has taught us about ourselves and each other. Education is crucial in this regard. If we do not know ourselves – how can we know others?

Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity

The Masculinization of Black Women

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GQ cover placed “woman” in quotation mark on its cover featuring Serena Williams as Woman of the Year. With the barrage of racist, sexist criticism of her appearance as masculine, it is baffling that GQ’s editorial team did not find this problematic. Or did they? The publication is undoubtedly getting a lot of attention.
The backlash is not surprising. The stereotypical manlike association is an enduring and pervasive assault on many Black women’s image that dates back to the antebellum period. Placing ‘woman’ in quotation mark about a Black woman/ group subjected to a plethora of criticism about our womanhood, can and should be perceived as an overt microaggression. These actions cannot be downplayed as ‘someone who uses quotation marks in his work about an issue that has serious adverse psychological and emotional effect on individuals and target groups.

Serena Williams named GQ Woman of the Year

Addressing Bigotry

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I have never ‘truly’ felt the kind of terror that lived in my belly and would not go away, until I filed a racial discrimination complaint at work against a co-worker who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ reference about Black football players who kneel during the national anthem. When I learned that another co-worker had referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’ I asked for an investigation into that incident as well – in a dominant, white male workforce, no less. Evidently, no one had let me in on the secret that speaking out against bigotry would have changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. But even if they had – it would not have made a difference.

People have asked me, what did you expect? Actually, I expected leadership to be as appalled as I was – and take swift and immediate action that sent a clear message that racism was not tolerated. And used the incident(s) as an opportunity to improve issues around racial diversity. What else was I supposed to expect?

It’s become clear to me, in my research and observing the ways in which many racial conflicts escalate and are addressed – that fear by bullying, threats, fabrications and sometimes outright force …is still the weapon of choice that many in White America utilize to get what they want. This tactic has been used for so long, that tragically – for all of us – many believe this is the only way to deal with conflicts. But.. what has history taught us, if not, that not everyone can be bullied or threatened into silence – for some, this has the opposite effect. And clearly, we are not at a point in history where Black people will retreat into silence.

For those in white America who believe that fear-based tactics is the best way to address conflicts, I challenge you to try a less hostile approach. Can we talk?

 

Originally published on LinkedIn, June 5th, 2018

Black Women

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Malcolm X, in his 1962 speech, Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, spoke about the marginalized state of Black women calling them the most disrespected, un-protected and neglected person in America.

Of the many realizations that became clear during my research – one is how truly vulnerable and confined a space many Black women are forced to live within a systematic construct that treats them with hostility even as it deems them hostile. It appears that Black women who dare to embrace themselves as self-loving, prideful, accepting and unapologetic-ally Black – who challenge dominant ideologies that they are dis-empowered figures – who, in asserting themselves as having the right to speak, ask questions and stand against an unjust system – they understand how potent racism can be. It matters not the level of education and professional success that many Black women attains, society demands that they prove themselves worthy of respect and dignity. To name a few instances where the debase treatment of Black women is evident, Bill O’Reilly thought nothing of ridiculing congresswoman, Maxine Waters by attacking her appearance in his “James Brown wig” remark. Throughout her years in the white house, former first lady, Michelle Obama was routinely referred to as a monkey. Serena and Venus Williams have from the time they emerged on the national scene have been subjected to a ferocious barrage of racist and sexist comments. Omarosa was recently referred to as a ‘dog’ by our president. By a large scale, Black women and girls are victims of violence, murdered and incarcerated and many of these issues remain unaddressed.

Those who do not have access to the necessary resources or the ability to advocate for themselves are particularly at risk of becoming truly invisible – in a sinister way- within this hostile environment. That’s why it is vital that we help each other up. No other group can truly understand the bond we share in the struggles we face as Black women – and carve out a space that we can call our own. And as for Black men, stop disrespecting Black women. It’s shameful. We are stronger together that we are divided.

Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?

Radical Justice, Gentle Spirit: Malcolm X’s Message for America 50 Years Later

Omid Safi, in his Radical Justice, Gentle Spirit: Malcolm X’s Message for America 50 Years Later takes a poignant look back on this crucial speech by Malcolm X in which he speaks directly to Black about their marginalized status in America.   This speech, still relevant today begs the question, are we making progress towards a more unified society?

What sets Malcolm X apart from other human rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was X’s fundamental belief that only Blacks can truly give themselves  the independence and freedom that they sought and which was their right. While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s ideologies centered on integration and nonviolence as the means by which Blacks achieved freedom –  Malcolm X focused on Black consciousness – that stems from Black love, pride and acceptance as the road-map to freedom from oppressive racial conditions. He believed that if Blacks wanted freedom they would have to take it.

As we look back on history and where we are now – have we made the kind of progress we need to move us forward?

Reference:

Safi, Omid (2015)Radical Justice, Gentle Spirit: Malcolm X’s Message for America 50 Years Later

There is No Force More powerful Than A Black Woman Determined to Rise

There is no force more powerful than the Black women determined to rise

There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.” — W. E. B. Du Bois.

Resulting from historical and contemporary struggles around race, gender and sex biases, many Black women have developed extraordinary resilience, strength, courage and the ability to adapt and navigate harsh social and systematic conditions. In fact, many have found innovative ways to use their marginalized status to their advantage and are creating a space that they own. 

I concluded my dissertation with a significant paradigm shift on ways to best approach and expand the discourse , and correct the destructive, slave-era narratives about Black women. The dimensions that embodies and shape Black women’s lives are best captured not in their historical and enduring oppressions- rather, it is in their stories of survival, strength, endurance, resilience, and adaptability –  among  a plethora of other empowering attributes that the Black woman is captured and best understood.  Expanding the research about Black women’s unique, inter-sectional struggles from the point of power instead of oppression provides a more comprehensive and accurate answer to the fundamental questions, who is the Black woman, and what is her story?

The intelligent, accomplished and courageous women in my study who shared their lived experiences and observations of racism in America have inspired expanding the research. Indeed, the various dimensions of Black women are so complex that the study necessitates an in-depth exploration focused on Black women’s refined, acute, super-human like abilities to manage the challenges they face under oppressive and exploitative conditions.  One thing is certain; Black women are NOT the dis-empowered hopeless characters that the dominant narrative portray them. They are far from it! 

Justified Black Anger and Mental Health: Controlling the Narrative

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It is important that we acknowledge the issue of Black anger against the systematic structures that keep a large segment of the population marginalized and trapped cyclical in oppressive conditions for what it is – justified. In recent years, extensive studies have shown that pervasive confrontation with racism can create feelings of powerlessness and depression that may lead to emotional and psychological harm. These findings are essential to the discourse on racism – equally important, particularly in this climate where racial tension is high and more Blacks are raising their voices, it is crucial, that a clear distinction is made between justified expressed anger and what determinant factors constitutes as a mental health condition.

Indeed, many are justifiable angry that Blacks have remained among the poorest, most economically disadvantaged, oppressed population from the slave-era into current times. Studies show that the same slave-era, racist ideologies and systematic structures have rendered the group greatest at risk across the spectrum for illnesses, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, unemployment, and underemployment – to name a few. These injustices have not only been passed down to this generation, but many can also envision these same chains around the necks and ankles of future generation. As such, many of us are angry and justifiable so, that…

1. Socio-economically, most of America’s wealth remains predominantly in the hands of the white ruling class. And with the vast disparities in socio-economic solvency, education, and political representation that are in place – there is little to no chance that these inequities will change.

2. The vast disparity between incarcerated Blacks and other groups, whites, in particular, indicates an immediate need for review and reform of the penile system. Instead, more jails are being built to host more Black bodies – leading to an epidemic of fatherless Black children who are left to be raised by over-worked and over-stressed single mothers struggling to survive harsh economic conditions. This domino effect places many Black children at risk for a life of drugs, crime, and systematic exploitation. Within the construct of these conditions, one can argue that long before many Black children becomes an adult, they are perceived as future criminals – that once old enough, even a minor offense can mark them convicts and ‘property’ of the same system that created the problems that led to these horrific outcomes.

3. It is hard-pressed to turn on the news and not see Black people being brutalized and treated like animals, getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, white people calling the police for things as basic as napping in a common dorm space, getting fired for speaking out against racism, and that massive under funding in predominantly Black schools has led to high drop-out rates and illiteracy among many Black youth.

4. Negative slave era stereotypes still mark Black women as angry, unrefined, overly aggressive, out-of-control and a plethora of other intimations that deflect attention from the real issues that they face. As such, when they voice concerns about social issues that impact their lives, their interests are dismissed and their voices silenced. Despite women contributing to the workforce more than any other group, even those with comparative or more education, on a large scale, work menial jobs, are among the lowest wage earners and face a variety of intersectional challenges that renders them perpetually marginalized and struggling against oppressive conditions.

While it is necessary to address the adverse mental and psychological impact on Black lives resulting from racism, we must be careful not allow white America to label us as emotionally or psychologically disturbed when we express anger at the fact that slavery and its enduring adverse impact on Black people remain unconfronted and unaddressed. The danger here is that if the ideology of expressed anger at racism converges and takes root as a mental or psychological health ‘condition’, adding to the list of negative stereotypes, will be mental instability which will further marginalize and diminish the voices of those who speak out against racial injustice. An effective approach to silence us – is to discredit us- and we must be cognizant of all the ways in which that can happen.

 

Confronting Racial Discrimination in White Corporate America –

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The Beginning – September 21, 2017

Imagine, if you will, being one of two Black women working in a division comprised of over 90% white men. One day, one of your co-workers referred to Black football players who kneel during the National anthem as “Monkey see, monkey do,” You called out his insensitive racist comment, he defended it, and you filed a complaint with HR.

One week passed, then two, every time you checked in with HR, they tell you that they are investigating. You are told one thing behind a closed door, that is not acknowledged in writing. You get generic emails that they will let you know when they have something to report. Three weeks, still no update. The co-worker who made the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ remark shows up to work every day as if nothing had happened, and by all outward appearance, nothing did.

Imagine being that Black woman who filed the complaint…

I am her. And this is only the beginning of what
has been a horrifying ordeal with this issue beginning September 21, 2017. And so this story shall continue….

Intersectionality and the Women’s Movement

 

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Intersectional Theory, coined by an American professor, (Kimberlé Crenshaw, 1989) is defined as the study of how different power structures interact in the lives of minorities, specifically black women.  For example, while a white woman may face sexism among her peers, a black woman experiences both racism and sexism.

The term intersectionality was originally used to encapsulate anti-discrimination laws when applied to the issues of black feminism. In Crenshaw’s essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Anti-racist Politics.Crenshaw writes that discrimination against Black women does not fit within the legal classification of either “racism” or “sexism”—but as an amalgamation of both racial discrimination and sexism.  By large, the law considers sexism as an injustice that affects all women (including white women).  Racism, on the other hand, refers to discrimination faced by black people (including male) and other people of color. Crenshaw believes that cultural forms of oppression are interconnected and influenced by the instructional systems of society. Contributing factors of intersectionality include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.

This article examines how Intersectionality plays a substantial role in the constructed framework of the women’s movement. The Theory is of particular importance in understanding why black women and other minority groups are still not afforded the same equal rights and opportunities to the extent that white women have advanced in American society.

Black women, for instance, throughout American history confront a myriad of distinct Intersectional hardships that were not adequately addressed theoretically and or politically during the women’s movement. This article discusses three of many areas of conflict that black women faced during the feminist crusade.

1) Black women on a large scale are not viewed as women; rather, we are perceived as black women with many of the negative stigmas from slavery attached to our identity.  Some researchers believe that the constructed Mammy figure as obese, stocky, with masculine characteristics and lacking intimation of sex appeal was a deliberate attempt by slave owners to eradicate black women of sexual attraction and her identity as a woman.  The mammy figure has varied over time, but today, many still view black women through a twisted lens of physical unattractiveness and inferiority. American author and activist, (Bell Hooks, 1981) in her book, Ain’t I a Woman, titled after Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech at the Women’s Rights Convention, spoke to the issue of black womanhood. She writes: “Contemporary black women could not join together to fight for women’s rights because we did not see ‘womanhood’ as an important aspect of our identity.”

2) Black women have faced a lifetime of racial discrimination and negative stereotypes that played out on the front line of the women’s movement. Research indicates that black women who took part in the movement faced sexual and racial discrimination and were delegated to the backdrop of the cause.  Gloria Steinem, nationally known as a leader and a spokeswoman for the movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, spoke about the role that Black women played in the feminist movement. In an interview with Black Enterprise Money editor, Stacey Tisdale (2015) Steinem credits the invention of the movement to black women, stating that she learned feminism disproportionately from them. Steinman also acknowledges that white women’s needs took precedence over black women. She said, “…But things being what they are, the White middle-class part of the movement got reported more, but if you look at the numbers and the very first poll of women responding to feminist issues, African American women were twice as likely to support feminism and feminist issues than White women,”

3) Black women were expected to keep silent about their oppression to give voice to the uprising of black men. (Hooks, 1981). This expectation emphasized the race and sex social hierarchy that originated from slavery in which white men ranked themselves first, white women second, (though sometimes equal to black men) who ranked third. Black women ranked last. As a result of the racial oppression from many white women in the Feminist movement and sexual oppression from some Black men in the Black Liberation movement that black women, in 1973 felt the need to form the National Black Feminist Organization to address their unique challenges.

Some critics may argue that across ethnic lines ‘all women’ are still fighting for equal rights in many areas of their lives. For example, women as a whole experience inequality in areas of gender wage gap, sexism, social status, under-representation of women in high-powered positions and politics, among other challenges. And even though that argument is valid, empirical studies reveal that in all areas, including health, education, and economic security, black women in the United States fare worse than other women, writes human rights attorney, (Chaumtoli Huq, 2015).  In the field of economics, Huq cites research findings by the American Association of University Women which reveals that Black women earn 63 cents on the dollar in comparison to the 79 cents for white women. The pay gap is attributed to a concentration of a large population of black women in low-wage jobs. Some of those jobs include health care, fast food, and retail sales. The inequity between black and white women is widely researched. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth conducted a study over a span of 26-years reveals that 29.5 percent of black women with high school diplomas and no college degree experience unemployment that exceeds 10 or more unemployment spells in comparison to 13.5 percent of white women from a similar educational background.

A solid case can be established that the movement was organized around the demands and desires of the predominantly middle-class, heterosexual, and healthy white women. This small framework does not consider the large multifaceted experiences and backgrounds of women from other ethnic groups. It is on this ground that white women emerged from the movement as the dominant ‘better off than’ more progressive of all women.

Racial discrimination is not a myth; it is alive overtly, and implicitly continuing to devastate the everyday lives of Black women on a large scale. We cannot continue to pretend that we live in a post-racial, color-blind, race-neutral society. In fact, black women fall within the framework of the marginalized co-cultural group more than any other group. For example, if you are black, a woman, from a lower socioeconomic background, who is gay, lesbian or bisexual, you have encompassed every aspect of the marginalized group in America and will face different life challenges.

This article is not meant to diminish white women or the importance of the feminist movement, but rather bring attention to the inequities that exist between different groups of women. The unique challenges of black women must be acknowledged and solutions implemented across the socioeconomic landscape and within human rights policies. Intersectionality Theory can be used to understand and mend many of the divisiveness that renders one group dominant over another. As women, whether we are black, white, Asian, Latina or Native American, we should all me moving forward together.

References:

  • Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.
  • Chaumtoli Huq (2015) A National Black Women’s Economic Agenda Would Improve All Workers’ Rights
  • Bell Hooks (1981) Ain’t I a Woman?