Monday, 23 October 2017

Some stereotypes that one might associate with in the work place

Being black in the western workplace comes with a whole bunch of unique experiences that only black people can relate to, and the struggle can be very real sometimes.

So if you’re not black, do take note, and if you feel personally attacked by some of these points, then you my friend are probably guilty of some of these things.

1. The ‘I’m not trying to be racist’ or ‘I don’t mean to sound racist but…’ We’ve all heard this one before. This statement is always followed by something borderline racist, racist, or just pretty damn stereotypical. And no, not all black people like dancing. Non-black people love it too. And no, I don’t know where the stereotype came from. So please stop asking me and please stop being silly, thank you.

2. ‘WOW. Did your hair grow over the weekend?’ This one can be quite sweet because you get to educate your colleagues on the wonders of black hair. However, the other side of this is dealing with those annoying looks and a million questions about how your hair ‘grew’ overnight.  Normally I say yes, but you still hear the question, ‘’Oh I had a black friend who told me its extensions.’’  Then why ask me? And yes, it’s a weave darling and white and Asian people wear them too. So what? On the hair issue I told a workmate I was going to dye the tips my locks blonde and she was like ‘ Oh no, you can’t do that?’  When I asked why not she said black people can’t do blonde. When I asked further who said so, there was no response. Another social construct! I will rock whatever I want without giving a damn what people think, thank you.

3. Straight hair, no fear. You hear about this one all the time. Dodgy workplaces that drop people for not having a hairstyle classified as ‘professional’ because their hair is not bone straight, so you opt for something more ‘toned down’ and ‘normal’ to fit in with the standards. What standards though?

4.‘I know someone from there’ This one happens a lot. You tell someone that you’re from Zimbabwe then they proceed to explain how their brother’s, ex-girlfriend’s was also Nigerian. Some even assume you are from Kenya or South Africa and go on to talk to you about their holiday in either of the countries without actually thinking that Africa is a mighty big place.

5. ‘Oooh, what’s that?’ As much as you’d like to bring in some of your country foods from home and eat peacefully at your desk, you just can’t deal with all the scrutiny and a million questions about what you’re putting into your mouth. In a place I once worked a lady from Ghana was made to cry because of the way people commented about her food. Really, what’s that all about?

6. No, I don’t know the name of that rapper You’re used to everyone assuming that you know the name of a RnB/rap/hip-hop song or artist because, you’re black. I was at my desk once listening to an audio book ‘At the Existentialist CafĂ©’ and was asked ‘Is that Drake?’ I didn’t know what to say, yes we love music so do many people and no, it’s a book! Having earphones does not mean I am listening to Drake!

7.‘What is your real name?’ Getting asked ‘what your real name is can be something’ and replying Abigail because that’s my name and then on que, they respond ‘no, I mean what’s really is your name?’ as if being black makes me have a weird sounding name. If I said I was Peter, why not accept I could be Peter, period! Since when has a person not known their name?

8. Twice as hard. Constantly feeling like you have to work twice as hard as your white colleagues to prove yourself, because no matter what you do you might still be seen as lazy.

9. ‘We’ll just call you Abbie M’. People having trouble saying your ‘exotic’ last name but can confidently say Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a heartbeat. Somewhere I worked I was told, ‘we can’t say your name; it’s too foreign and difficult’. Its only because they don’t see no Smith, they have concluded it’s difficult to say yet phonetically it’s easy to just follow the English sounds! The most annoying thing is they don’t even try!

10.The angry black girl/ The aggressive black man. You’re aware of stupid, negative stereotypes like being ‘the angry black girl’ or ‘the aggressive black man’ so you try and downplay everything. You turn a blind eye to the nonsense and be careful not to talk too loud or even get too excited about anything, in case your colleagues think you’re ‘raising’ your voice. Happens to me all the time!

The list is endless but it comes back to the fact that some of non-whites have everything we do judged by western or white standard.  And we wonder why prejudices and racism keep taking different forms!


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Why men deny sexually harassing women at work

The Harvey Weinstein revelations have highlighted a surprising ignorance about an issue that affects every workplace.


 “Would you do a three-way?” (Peter*), one of the managers, asked me.

It was my first job and I had just graduated from the University of Zimbabwe. I was young and had joined the company as a junior, and was one of several women in the team. Over the coming few months, I witnessed Peter saying some of the most repulsive things to female co-workers, some of which include:

“You’re a slut” (after witnessing a member of his team kissing her boyfriend in the car park)

“Why do you wear lipstick like a whore?”

“This is an ass I could kill for” while eying a female colleague

 “You’re a fake lesbian. All you need is a good f*** from the right guy -  I’m willing to do the deed” (to a female colleague who kept short hair and wore baggy trousers)

“The only reason I hired you was because of your boobs. (joking he said)

At one point, he took a picture of a female colleague, whose skirt had been blown up by the wind, which he proceeded to show to others in the office. She was the only one brave enough to take him to HR.


Why did he get away with it?

This was the norm. Though it was known in the office that Peter made most women feel uncomfortable, he had become part of the office culture. He was the guy that got rides from everyone, got drunk with everyone and joked with everyone.

People have a hard time accepting that the men they know and like can be guilty of sexual misconduct. When I asked about his behaviour in my second week, I was told by a team members that “that’s just who he is”.

So Peter continued to say what he wanted to say on the basis of being “who he is”.

That’s when I realised that the workplace is no different to any other environment for women - where sexual harassment and misconduct is not about incidents, but about culture. When discrimination and indignity is supported and tolerated in any culture, it’s astounding how quickly one can get used to it.  

It seemed that every woman in the office acclimatised to it too, because when HR finally asked about Peter only  one person came forward. Not one other woman, including me, said anything – which in itself is a powerful commentary on what we had come to accept as normal.


The language of sexual violation

In the UK,the Equality Act of 2010 has this definition: “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” It covers indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography.

The terminology sounds simple enough, but my experience of office sexual harassment was anything but.

Sexual misconduct of any kind is always shrouded in semantics. A recent study from researchers at the University of North Dakota threw into light the role of language when it comes to men’s understanding of sexual assault. Among the respondents, a group of 73 straight male students, one in three reported that they would force a woman to have sex if they knew they could get away with it. According to the report, 31 percent of the men surveyed said they would force a woman to have sex “if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.”

But when researchers asked the same question, this time dropping the language of forced sex and using the word rape instead, that number dropped to 13 percent: “Respondents, it seems, were comfortable with the act of rape, just not the name.”

Similarly, most men who engage or instigate sexual harassment at work are likely not self-identified creeps. They don’t regard what they do as ‘sexual harassment’. Sometimes their behaviour is unintentional, and other times it’s pouched in denial: “I don’t sexually harass women, I simply make dude-jokes that the ladies don’t get!”

Like the majority of rapists and racists, they refuse to admit the label that defines their behaviour.

Tolerance of misogyny


This kind of harassment thrives off ambiguity and is fuelled by rape culture. People don’t report it because it’s usually someone they know, they don’t want to be blamed and they don’t want to be stigmatised. Most importantly, they don’t know if it really was violation.

Once you pull the first brick out of the pile, the whole wall starts to crumble and everyone who was complicit gets hit. It’s not simply about the perpetrator, but about his friends in the office, the other seniors, apathetic managers, and worst of all, the people who have seen his behaviour but think it’s “not a big deal”.

For most women, it’s easier to simply suffer the harassment and look the other way – which, to be frank, is something we do every day, regardless. It’s basically the female modus operandi for living. Why should the workplace be any different?

Except it should.

It should be different and it should be called out and organisations should be held accountable. This kind of discrimination didn’t materialise when the person said or did something inappropriate. It started when they realised that they can say things like that.

It started when management and companies decided not to actively engage in conversations around sexual harassment. Companies alone may not be responsible for global gender inequality, but they do have a legal responsibility to protect employees and they can be held accountable for that.

Talk about it


If this is something that you’re facing, do not remain quiet. There are 2 basic steps you should consider:

 If someone says or does something inappropriate, confront them as soon as possible. Often it’s unintentional and drawing a line will show them boundaries.

 Failing that. Bring it to the attention of Human Resources. They’re there for a reason. Use them.

These two steps can help make your life easier but they unfortunately come with no guarantees. Regardless of how women go about it, the sad statistical truth is that tackling sexual harassment is not simple and most companies deal with in the way that conservatives deal with sex-education – by not dealing with it.

Right now, harassment against women in any situation is the accepted norm. We’re told that every human being has the right to dignity, yet in practice we’re taught something very different. The normalisation of these kinds of gender dynamics can only be changed when they’re challenged – not just by individuals, but by organisations and businesses.




Friday, 13 October 2017

Being the only person of colour in the office.

Today I’m wearing a colourful headscarf over my dreadlocks and big hoop earrings in my ears. That may not sound to you like a professional set-up, but it’s how I dress sometimes.

I’ve never had a boss who (as far as I know) deliberately set out to make me uncomfortable as a black person in the workplace, but I’ve had plenty who didn’t approve of how I talk and dress.

And I get it: Employers want the workplace to be a setting in which people can—well—work.

I know I can’t expect all of the comforts of home when I’m supposed to be focusing on representing my workplace in a professional way.

The problem is that many employers end up perpetuating racism just by following the norms that most people consider harmless, or even helpful, for creating a professional work environment.

One can unintentionally make one feel unwelcome just by upholding what’s widely considered to be “normal” workplace culture.

For instance, common standards of professional dress create dress codes that aren’t easy for many people of colour – and pretty much anyone who isn’t a wealthy, able-bodied white man – to follow.

The requirement to adhere to such a dress code would make one not just uncomfortable, but also set one up for failure. There’s an expectation to look like someone other than myself in order to do a job I’m perfectly capable of succeeding at while I look like myself.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal. There are larger issues when it comes to race and work – like blatant discrimination in hiring, racist harassment, or institutional racism.

But even so-called “trivial” things like dress code requirements and everyday micro aggression add up to create big problems for access, safety, and equity for people of colour in the workplace.

And it’s not just clothes that create obstacles for people of colour.

When you think about it, all of our common ideas about professionalism in the UK are based on an ideal of upper middle class whiteness.

So let’s think about it and then do something about it – because following the status quo on professionalism is a sure way to cause unintentional harm.

Here are some of the ways common workplace culture has created struggles for me in the workplace, and how we can work to change them.

1. People Look Down on Me Because I Don’t Straighten My Hair

Like other aspects of the dress code, you may not think that hair is the most pressing issue when it comes to race and the workplace. But for me, it’s huge. I once went to have biometrics done with a funky afro hair. On seeing me the lady at the counter shocked me by talking to me as if I was deaf and unable to comprehend what she was saying. I was given the classic, ‘Can- you- stand –over –there- and wait?’’ This was spoken slowly as if to a two year old. Why, because I looked very African possible since I was doing my biometric having arrived and therefore unable to speak English. I bet you if my hair was straightened, a bit of make-up she might have spoken to me in a normal voice.

Like many other Black woman, my hair plays a significant role in expressing my pride and my identity.

In order to fit many people’s standards of professionalism, I have to take time, put in money, and endure pain to permanently alter the texture of my hair through chemical straightening. Black folks with natural hair can be judged as everything from gang-affiliated to “distracting.”

But, shockingly, there is no correlation between straightening my hair and doing better work. When I put it that way, it’s obvious, right?

I’m a hard worker, and saying that I have to change my hair to do my job is misguided at best – and actually, it feels pretty downright insulting.

So by choosing to wear my natural hair, I’m taking a risk.

No matter how much self-love I build up, I still have to face external barriers that say that my natural beauty is not appealing

2. People Think My Natural Voice Sounds Unprofessional

There’s no one way of talking like a white person or a Black person, but usually in the UK, the idea of “speaking professionally” brings to mind a specific form of English.
That form does not include the way I naturally speak, and it sure doesn’t include African, African Caribbean.
The fact that I feel the need to change the way I speak is strange, because throughout my life, I’ve heard “compliments” about my so-called “proper” way of speaking – comments like “You’re so articulate!”

I’ve learned that this is not a compliment. It’s basically another way of saying “Wow, you don’t fit the stereotypes that come to my mind when I picture a Black person!”

There is a problem, and not only because people expect me to be something I’m not. It’s also a problem because of the negative misconceptions people associate with African/ African Caribbean accents. In a professional setting, Black users of thick African accent are judged as unintelligent, uneducated, gang-affiliated, and more. Fun enough, not Europeans. Theirs are seen as sweet and cool accents.

These racist and classist ideas about how we should speak in a professional setting actually affect all Black folks, regardless of how we naturally speak, because we’re all judged based on the same stereotypes.

I went to a Christmas party once and a workmate having been drinking all evening had the guts to ask me to ‘speak like an English person’. That was so upsetting and to make it worse people laughed. That ruined the party for me.
 All of us should be evaluated on how well we do our jobs, not on how well our voices can hide the fact that we’re Black.

3. People Doubt My Capabilities Because of My Name

Studies show that potential employers associate “black-sounding with violence and incompetence, making them much less likely to call back Muchecheti  after an interview than Connor or Smith.

Job-hunting can be discouraging enough as it is – and it’s even more demoralizing when you realize potential employers might be throwing away your CV upon reading your name, without even considering your qualifications.

My name reveals my Blackness, and I really shouldn’t have to think of it that way – like it exposes something negative about me. Turning down my application because you know I’m Black is racist discrimination, period.

But oftentimes it’s more subtle than potential employers thinking, “She’s Black, so I won’t hire her.”

Even people who don’t think they’re racist can hold subconscious biases like believing Black people aren’t hard-working. And even beyond hiring, these biases can come through in ways like laughing at our names or insisting on calling us by nicknames you find more appealing or easier to pronounce. I once worked in an office where I constantly heard other team mates either laugh at people’s names or complain that more visa people were applying (even when some of these people were British people).  And even they were visa people, aren’t we living in the world of global competition where the best gets the job?
Some Black people end up changing their names or going by initials to improve their chances of success in the job market. It’s just one of the many ways Black folks feel pressure to change or hide who we are to avoid being misjudged.

4. People Judge Me as Excessively Angry If I Get Mad or Set Boundaries

Emotion is a natural part of life – everyone gets mad sometimes, including at work.
There’s an understandable expectation to keep emotions in check, to a certain degree, in a professional setting. I wouldn’t be a very good employee if I lost my cool with every condescending customer or irritating co-worker.
But you wouldn’t be a very supportive employer if you held my emotions to a stricter standard because I’m Black.
Unfortunately, this tends to happen.

As the study on “black-sounding” names revealed, many people associate Blackness with being violent and dangerous. Further research on implicit biases shows that people who don’t even realize they hold racist views can feel this way.
I used to think my ability to be patient in all kinds of situations would help me avoid being misjudged as excessively angry.
But now I know that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m actually angry – I can be stereotyped as an Angry Black Woman just for sharing my opinion, asserting my boundaries, or speaking in anything other than a sugar-sweet tone of voice.
That makes things really inconvenient, to say the least, in a work setting.
For white men, confidence and assertiveness are treated as positive qualities and leadership skills. But when I was a supervising manager at a retail store, I had to balance taking leadership – like telling a habitually late employee to be on time – with gentleness, so as not to be judged as aggressive when I was just trying to do my job.

I need to be able to be assertive at work not only to get my job done, but also to take care of myself while I do it.

Since emotion is part of a natural human experience, it’s unhealthy for me to suppress all emotion at work. And since setting boundaries is absolutely necessary for self-care, it’s oppressive to expect me to put up with being mistreated because people judge my assertiveness as excessive anger.

5. I Have to Stay Quiet about the Pain of Racism
As woman of colour, racism is part of my everyday life.
We’re often expected to carry the burden of racism silently, because when we talk about it, we’re seen as rocking the boat. And that even includes when racism shows up at work.
Many Black folks are familiar with this cycle: We witness or experience racism, point it out or stand up for ourselves, and then a white person cries, or feels guilty, or says they’re being attacked. Often you hear ‘Oh she has chip on shoulder or she likes playing the race card’. Suddenly, we’re seen as the aggressors creating a hostile environment, rather than being supported through the hurtful process of experiencing racism and gathering the courage to call for it to stop.
Racism is a part of my life, and especially if it’s part of my workplace, I need to be able to express my frustration with it without being seen as “attacking” white people.

6. I’m tokenized as the ‘Only One in the Room’

Many of the examples I’ve discussed so far have come up for me in white-dominated work spaces. Having more Black leaders and co-workers of colour isn’t a guarantee of better working conditions, because we can be guilty of these behaviours, too.
But there’s something special – and by “special,” I mean “oppressive” – about being the only Black person at work.
Even employers making an effort to diversify make mistakes when it comes to tokenizing, hiring one person of a certain race and expecting them to represent everyone from their community.
It’s a lot of pressure.
It comes with knowing that your every move, every misstep, every blunder will be used to judge everyone like you. When I’m in this situation, I feel like any small failure will confirm someone’s racist ideas about Black people being incompetent or lazy.
I know this fear doesn’t just come from my imagination, because of how often employers come right out and ask Black employees to speak for all Black people.
For an idea of how well that works out for me, refer back to what happens when I’m judged as excessively angry. As the only Black person, I feel the pressure to make sure others see me as a “good” Black person – as in, one who won’t call out racism or get angry or “make” white people feel bad about themselves by naming oppression.
In the end, even if I’m being tokenized as the only Black person, I’m still expected to conform to whiteness in a way that’s simply impossible for me. But it can feel like the financial support I need to survive is at risk if I don’t suppress my pain and try.
These are some of the struggles of not just being Black in professional settings, but especially of being unapologetically Black. I’m essentially more likely to be accepted at work if I’m ashamed of who I am.
I can laugh at racist jokes instead of admitting that they hurt me, to try to avoid being labelled as an Angry Black woman. I can straighten my hair to avoid the negative stereotypes about what it means to be a Black person with natural hair. I can change my name so my ethnicity isn’t clear on business cards or on a CV.

But I don’t have to do any of these things in order to get my work done, and I shouldn’t have to do them to convince anyone else that I’m an effective worker.

I should be able to be myself – and to be proud of who I am – while I’m at work.

The expectation of conformity with upper middle class whiteness means fewer job opportunities. It can also mean having to work at a job that requires me to put time, money, and effort into changing myself to fit in.

So pressure to conform put me at a disadvantage and adds the stress of knowing that if I slip back into my natural self, my financial stability could be at risk.

But being unapologetically Black doesn’t mean I’m incapable of doing my job. It means I feel free to be me, and that’s a feeling everyone deserves to experience at work.


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Realities and Racial Macroaggressions People of Colour Experience in the Workplace

 Just from speaking to other people of colour and reading around there seem to be an expectation of model and non –model minorities. Model minorities know their place and don’t stand out or shine.  Model minorities grin and bear micro and macroaggressions and call them coincidences.  Model minorities on the job are mediocre minorities who live out minority stereotypes.

I was not taught to be a model minority.  Instead I was taught to have a strong work ethic, to be prepared to work hard and to maintain my dignity and self-respect in the face of all forms of discrimination.  These were my instructions for survival as a black girl in a classist, capitalistic and patriarchal culture.  These were my safeguards as a black girl growing up.  I was taught that as a black woman oppression would be an inevitable part of my life but that I did not have to be defined by mistreatment.  My mother and other mothers taught me that I could defy misconceptions and handle my business.  They helped me understand that an acknowledgment of oppression is not acquiescence. From an early age I knew I had to fight oppression in its many forms.

I remember Paul Matavire- a Zimbabwean musician and songwriter singing in the 90s about how women were expected to sleep with the boss in order to get a job or a promotion at work.  Mind you this was happening in the world of work and still is. I also remember in high school male teachers making vulgar jokes about female students and the boys laughing. These male teachers enjoyed sexual jokes not at the expense of all pupils but only us girls. I remember, I remember….. The list is endless. And from an early age I knew I had to fight all forms of discrimination then and as an adult woman, at home and in the workplace.
Here is a list of some macro aggressions in the workplace but the list is endless,

1.     You are expected to speak for and on behalf of people of color everywhere.  You are sometimes expected to be the barometer of racism.  If there is a conscience in the workplace, you are it.  You carry the burden of calling out discrimination when you see/experience it with the risk of retaliation which can be anything from being overlooked for a promotion, to losing your job altogether for creating a “hostile” environment.  If/when you don’t call out racism, you emotional turmoil and guilt, feeling like a sell out for not standing up for yourself or others.

2.     You are routinely accused of being hostile, aggressive, difficult and/or angry.  In one organisation, I was told ''oh don't mind so and so she has a Central European temper and the lady in question chuckled and people clapped their hands in support but if I dare show my anger even when it's within reason , OMG , I am accused of all sorts.  You are told that your colleagues/students/co-workers/customers are intimidated by you and are afraid to approach you.    You are encouraged in evaluations to “smile more,” and “be friendlier.”  You practice a fake ass smile in the mirror on your way out the door and practice all the way to work.  You fear that your resting face pose makes people think you are mean. In one of my jobs I was told I had a glazed look that they didn't understand. Up to now I have no idea what this was all about. All it was about was they wanted to portray me as different from my white colleagues.

3.     You are required to be the diversity on committees and in meetings because black is the only diversity that matters.  Your blackness makes it easy to “see” that a diversity quota has been met.

4.     You feel unappreciated, undercompensated and overworked.  You are afraid to ask for compensation, a promotion, praise or affirmation.  You have been socialized to be satisfied that you have a job.  You feel guilty for not feeling grateful.

5.     You are regularly nominated for or assigned extra tasks and responsibilities for things no one else wants to do (especially things involving other people of colour).  You are encouraged to work with other people of colour, join people of colour groups, attend people of color activities, etc.

6.     Your absence (at work, at meetings, at parties) stands out with no regard to how exhausting it is to be the only black person in the room.  You are encouraged to not think of yourself as black when you are the only black person in the room.

7.     You are often vilified and/or criticized for doing your work (too early or on time, well or not good enough).  You are labeled as either an overachiever or a slacker, as too ambitious or lazy.  You struggle to find the balance between these things.

8.     You feel that no matter what you do or how hard you work, you need to do more (or sometimes less).  Nothing is ever (good) enough.

9.     You feel the need to constantly prove yourself worthy of your job or opportunity.  You know that some people assume you got your job, promotion, award, or special recognition, not because you worked your ass off or deserve it, but because you are black (there goes that damn black privilege again, because you know affirmative action causes folk to get jobs they are unqualified for.

10.  You feel isolated, misunderstood, misrecognized, misrepresented, and missing in action.  You wonder how you can feel invisible and hyper visible at the same time.

Food for thought!


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Exploring the angry black woman 'stigma'

Loud, rude, inarticulate, aggressive and defensive.

What would you do if you woke up every day knowing you're about to face a world that labels you these words at first glance?

Would you: A, overcompensate in order to defy those stereotypes? B, get angry and risk proving them right? Or C, accept defeat just to save your energy?
If you are a black woman, these are all difficult questions.
There is no correct answer. Each option sends you on a whirlwind resulting in the same solution: none.

I've repeatedly tried all three and felt like a broken record. But really, the solution shouldn't be our burden, but the burden of those who reinforce these ideas.

If you habitually choose option B, I don't blame you.

Until the stigma associated with being a black woman changes, we have every right to be as angry as we feel. The very least we should be afforded is the right to be noticeably frustrated with how we are treated in society.

The last person who should be blamed for any black woman stereotype is a black woman.

Most stereotypes of the black woman were created by white men in the 1830s.

They would dress in black face and perform on stage mocking black women and portraying them as loud, masculine and unattractive. White audiences not only found these acts amusing, but they accepted these representations as truth.

The "jezebel" stereotype of the black woman stems from the over-sexualization of black women in the media.

It's successful at degrading and exploiting black women, while also encouraging young girls to play into this character and ignore safety precautions while engaging in sexual behaviors. This has played a role in the growing rate of African American girls contracting HIV.

Black women have also been deemed emasculating and overbearing, which affects our romantic relationships with men, as well as how we're viewed in the workplace.

During slavery, black women were stripped of their femininity to be considered able to do slave work. Femininity was assigned to white women, so they could remain valued and believed to be in need of protection. Black women were, in many ways, lumped in with black men as far as labor.

In other ways they were able to one up black men by winning approval to manipulate the system in order to provide for her family. The pinning of black women and men against each other pushed forth further the idea that black women are domineering.

The list of stereotypes and effects each has on black women could go on for hours. The only thing more exhausting than explaining our adversities is living with them. Many may argue that by allowing ourselves to express our anger, we share responsibility in emphasizing the angry black woman stereotype.

I disagree.

This specific stereotype is a clever trap. It highlights a warranted response that would otherwise be accepted from privileged cultures in the face of injustice, and applies it to one specific group of people (black women), thus making it nearly impossible to defy.

Every black woman has experienced the "I don't want to be the angry black woman" scenario.

We have internalized this stigma, and find ourselves at a crossroads every day. What if we're provoked? Which road do we take? If I turn the other cheek or flash a fake smile, the best case scenario is that I'm viewed as one of the "good" ones.

Racist stereotypes are so resilient, even when you prove them wrong, you're only viewed as the exception to the rule. Everyone else who looks like you doesn't get a pass. And even if you do, what good is it if you'll still be judged by someone new tomorrow?

Many of us find ourselves in predicaments that challenge our dignity, though perpetrators and witnesses downplay it as if we're only fighting for our pride.

Pride and dignity are often confused as one in the same.

Pride and dignity are often confused as one in the same, but pride revolves around ego and dignity is the core of our character and self-worth. When we defend ourselves, it has no relation to our ego. We are fighting for the right to be treated as equal human beings deserving of the same opportunities as everyone else.

Pride revolves around ego and dignity is the core of our character and self-worth.

Our character is tested daily. Many of us are faced with a choice: accept humiliation or fight back. Be silenced or take the bait.

Well, here's one thing we need to remember: We are not responsible for the stereotypes forced upon us. Allowing myself to be fed up with discrimination and mistreatment should not trigger another count against me. And if it does, I will not let anyone convince me that I am at fault.

Living our truth and expressing our feelings are two things we have that cannot be taken away.

My challenge for everyone who is not a black woman is to stop guilt trapping black women into pretending as if everything is OK. The last person who should be blamed for any black woman stereotype is a black woman.

And as for the "angry black woman" stigma? When I am angry, please understand that I have every right to be. Just like anybody else!

And never feel ashamed of that.




Friday, 29 September 2017

Racism, what racism in 2017?

Martin Luther King Jr once said,

It is not possible to be in favour of Justice for some people and not in favour of justice for all people.
I thought if I don’t write this article I might remain miserable for the rest of the year.  Recently I was having a conversation with somebody and just happened to mention this year‘s Black History Month lecture with entitled racism in the academy.
The response I got was mind boggling. ‘There is no racism in UK unless of course you want people to stop having a life. And what is racism anyway? they asked. For a minute I thought they were joking. As far as they are concerned racism doesn’t exist anymore. They haven’t heard anyone being racist or saying racist stuff to anybody.  This means we have done it. Great, no racism anymore! But really?

Mind you, this person was white, how would they know what people of colour experience on day to day basis. I was quick to say ‘excuse me, I have lived the experience what are you talking about?’ and she frowned and I realised I had to stop the argument, it want going anywhere.

Let’s go back to history a little bit. An ideology of white racial and cultural superiority was developed by the British, and other Europeans, to justify colonialism, slavery and empire, and this ideology created a social order for centuries in which whites were at the top and BME people were at the bottom of society. There is a legacy of white superiority from this history, which if you challenge you will be ignored all accused of having ‘chip on shoulder’.

Evidence and research has shown that racism is as strong as ever, even if overt, easily identifiable discrimination is difficult to find- although of course this is manifested from time to time.

Denial is the new phenomenology of racism

 For the purposes of this argument, I assume that (1) all societies are racist to some degree (2); racism is ubiquitous at least at the level of attitudes and its presence is not necessarily visible at the level of social behaviour (3); the existence of racism is widely denied across cultures, with varying degrees of disguise (4); acknowledgement of racism is a prerequisite (but not at all a guarantee, or a bridge) to overcoming it.

 The concept of racism is meant here in the entirety of its broad scope and polysemy (plurality of meaning). "Racist" can be a description of attitudes (mental states of individuals or groups), ideologies (sets of socially constructed and politically functional ideas of whole societies, classes, cultures, etc.), social practices, institutions, etc. Of these, human rights advocates and international organisations have addressed issues of racism mostly in respect to social practices. This is understandable. While racist beliefs and attitudes can be present in a person's mind with varying degrees of conviction, awareness, scope and intensity, we can define somewhat less vaguely, and prohibit by law, racist acts as acts which contribute to ethnic or racial inequality in society.

 Critical race theory, a recent legal philosophy, the inception of which can be traced to a 1989 workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, understands racism broadly. "Racism is viewed not only as a matter of individual prejudice and everyday practice, but as a phenomenon that is deeply embedded in language and perception. Racism is a ubiquitous and inescapable feature of modern society, and despite official rhetoric to the contrary, race is always present even in the most neutral and innocent terms.
Here is a list of a racist denial that I have come across. The list is not exhaustive.
Presenting race/ethnicity problems as only a social and economic problem.
We are not racist, and do not discriminate. We have no problem with the race or ethnicity of BME, but this group is economically and socially weak.

The "equality before the law" argument. Somewhat opposite to denial by presenting race problems as solely socio-economic problems, this one lays a stress on the existing allegedly equal protection by the law. The claim is: "Racial minority members are equal before the law, or are entitled to equal protection by the law, and therefore do not suffer discrimination in my country; anything that would favour them over others is unfair."

The "equal opportunity" (meritocratic) argument. This denial is similar to the "legal equality" argument, but in this case the claim goes like this: "BME members  enjoy equal opportunities with everyone else in our society. How they use these opportunities is up to them.

Denial by "the positive example" argument: "Look at those minority members who made it to the top of society, the company, etc." Accordingly, in social practice, a policy of tokenism is often used to fight back allegations of racism and discrimination.

Denial by disclaimer: "Some of my best friends are blacks".

Individualization and self-exclusion from the mainstream: "I love my black neighbour and her friendship is dearer to me than that of others; and such personal links are more important than race relations in the larger society".

The overstatement of historic optimism, the reference to historical progress in race relations: "Compare and consider how much has changed in the last 20 years; see how much the situation of BME has improved.

To become aware of existing denial and to acknowledge the presence of racism may become the beginning of a transformation, at a personal as well as political and cultural level. Acknowledgement may lead to reduction of racist attitudes and to anti-racist action. But it may also lead to acceptance.
I shall not say more but I am sure you get the picture. Racism still exists and the worst part is people hardly call you names now but make so subtle you can go home crying because you can’t report it to anybody. And even if you do they will say ‘you are a bit sensitive’.

All I can say is as Harper Lee said,’’ You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.I am a Black woman of African descent and I know how it feels to be racially discriminated against.  But if one has never left the comfort of their country or continent, never been in any minority situation, how then they can boldly say there is no racism?

Disclaimer: I am not whinging but responding to what was said to me on Wednesday the 27th September.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Why do we Label people?

A long time ago while I was in my last year in primary school my male teacher decided to hold a beauty contest in class. Yes in class, the panel of judges being my male classmates. Since we were nearing exam time there was not much teaching taking place. So here is how he decided to do it.

5 girls were to be chosen and of the 5 only one beauty queen was to be crowned. There was no price to be won but when one is at that age, everything matters, right?

To my dismay, I was one of the chosen five and I didn’t like the idea of us girls paraded in front of the whole class.  As we stood in front of two combined classes waiting for our fate, the teacher belted, who is the ugliest of the 5. Again to my horror my name was called out and I was to sit down.

Fast forward 28 years later, I am still questioning ‘what beauty is?’ A social construct like the other many that has allowed us to box people who are different from us is my answer.

Thin privilege, hetero privilege, white privilege, male privilege, white female privilege financial privilege and now pretty privilege- all social constructs stereotyping and labelling people.

Usually we are unaware of our privileges. They are such a normal part of our daily lives that we don't even consider them privileges. So much so that when someone calls us out on any of them we feel attacked.

So is pretty privilege a thing? It seems a bit strange for a privilege to be based on something as subjective as looks. The other aspects of one's identity such as sexual orientation, race and gender are usually more easily quantifiable (for lack of a better word).

What is pretty privilege?

To put it in simple speak, it's part of the reason why celebrities are good looking nine out of ten times. This is not to say that actual talent and merit are negated, but rather looks can grant you access that isn't so easily attainable for others.

"Perceived differently" is an apt way of putting it. And it's because of this perception that socially attractive people get treated differently or rather, more favourably than people not deemed conventionally pretty by mainstream standards.

We’re more likely to view them as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good.

It's not even about getting attention, but about how you can thaw ice just by walking into a room and suddenly people warm up to you or laugh harder at your jokes.

There's an episode of the 2012 sitcom, Partners, where the guys explain to Sophia Bush's character, Ali, that she's not actually as funny as she thinks she is - people only laugh at what she says because she's pretty.

This episode actually partially addressed what was mentioned earlier about how privileged people are unaware of their high position on social hierarchies until they find themselves in a situation where their privilege no longer serves as an access card to various perks.

Often pretty privilege is associated more with how the opposite sex perceives you (as was the case in this episode of Partners), but even people who identify as the same gender as you can treat you like a special snowflake just because of the perfect symmetry of your face.

We see it with girl squads, where the Beyoncé of the group is usually the most socially attractive girl or how in school everyone wants to be friends with the pretty girl.

And the most physically fit boy becomes the head boy - this whole thing gets carried all the way up to adulthood.

What is this phenomenon even based on?

I'll always remember this quote by Leo Tolstoy; "It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”

Because this is what pretty privilege is essentially based on - the association of beauty with goodness.

A Harvard research paper titled, Why Beauty Matters, presented findings on "the beauty premium", which states that "if someone is easy on the eyes, the enjoyment we derive from looking at them colours our perceptions of other attributes.

The research says we’re more likely to view them as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good."

The study also mentioned how this may even start as early as pre-school and primary school, where cuter children are given more attention by their teachers. And this attention yields better grades and more confidence in the future.

So how do you know you've got pretty privilege?

Everyone is beautiful, whether you think so or not, so who decides who gets these pretty privilege card or not?
It's not necessarily an arbitrary omniscient being handing out these benefits, but rather a series of "coincidences" which start making sense once you join the dots.
Like you know you've got pretty privilege when...

  • When people can't wrap their head around the fact that your boyfriend beat you to death because you're too pretty to be abused. What this mind-set implies is that the murder of a less attractive woman is not worthy of outrage and that if you’re attractive, the people you date will never ill treat you.
  • When everyone agrees that you're not the most talented vocalist, but your music career still somehow thrives anyway.
  • When your looks can get you further (and richer) in life than a degree ever could.
  • You're just shopping and minding your own business in a store and a stranger offers to pay for everything in your basket just because you look good.
  • Oh, and your drinks are often covered like all the other things you get "on the house."
  • You get a promotion because you just finished a training course while others in the same situation have to look elsewhere.
  • People respond promptly to your texts.
  • When your default response to someone being favoured over you is "she's not even that pretty," because you're so used to life  making your lemonade for you because of your good looks that you become as sour as the lemon life decided to throw at you for a  change.
  • When you a get a leadership position because you are male
  • When you get hired because you don’t have an accent
  • When you are not given  s**t stuff at work because you are one of them
  • When you have no idea what it feels to be different but thinks other are too sensitive of they point out what they find offensive
    Don’t get worked up for you have no idea what I have gone through!