As a black woman, media (in all of its forms) can be a tricky space with hurtful reminders of our perceived place in society. At any turn we can be subjected to insults towards all aspects of our being. Everything from our hair and bodies, skin tone, our “attitudes”, our socioeconomic position, and just about anything else you can think of are up for laughs.
While most choose to remain oblivious to the fact that mainstream media thrives and rests on the backs of the degradation of black women, every once in a while that fact becomes too glaring to ignore.
Case in point, Bill O’Reilly’s disgusting remarks towards Democratic Representative Maxine Waters.
Waters has been very vocal in her opposition against Trump and his policies, as have plenty of other public figures. Bill O’ Reilly chose to engage not in a critical and mature discussion regarding difference of opinion but in a mocking dismissal of her views by saying he was distracted by her “James Brown wig”.
This media spectacle seems to have shocked everyone but black women, who took everyone to task by reminding us all that we come across Bill O’ Reillys in all areas of our lives…..particularly at work. Its a fact that black women who have had our appearance scrutinized since the beginning of time, know very well. Regardless of whether its in a political arena, national television, or a tiny office cubicle in the middle of nowhere- black women are subjected to criticism. Whether we choose to aesthetically assimilate or not, someone somewhere has something to say about it.
Sean Spicer was not to be outdone in making a public chauvinistic/racist fool of himself, that same day during a press conference demanded that reporter April Ryan “stop shaking her head” at him (after interrupting her numerous times). It was symbolic of the passive aggressive demand of silence from black women once we become too “loud” or “opinionated”.
Brittany Packnett, the educator and activist who created the #Blackwomenatwork went on to say, “This idea that a black woman’s presence is to be policed or politicized in the workplace is what we’re talking about. The idea that Sean Spicer can tell April Ryan what to do with her face, irrespective of her years in journalism, the idea that Maxine Waters voice is less important than her hair, is what black women are experiencing every single day”.
Per usual, while plenty of hashtags and movements are made to remind black women of our so called place in the social and economic hierarchy, we decide to use that same time and energy to voice our frustrations and let it be known that we are fully aware of the microagressions and racist attacks directed towards us.
While being a form of support, #Blackwomenatwork has also sparked recognition on the need for change. Bill O’ Reilly has since apologized (as vague and insincere as it was) and plenty of light has been shone on the need for inclusion and the demand of respect.
Black women are entering higher education and corporate sectors at record numbers, we are most definitely “at work” and plan to stay there. We just need to be prepared for the discomfort and hostility from people used to the status quo.
#Blackwomenatwork is a proud declaration that we will continue to shake our heads, raise our voices, and simply take up spaces in rooms we are wanted in regardless of what is thrown our way.