In a previous life before journalism, I worked for a company in which the management team consisted primarily of white women and men. There were a few ethnic minorities here and there, but for the most part, the leadership team was lily white.
When an opportunity arose for me to apply for a different position that would come with more pay and more responsibilities, I took it. It wasn’t a people management position, but it was a leadership role in which I would guide specific practices and training in the department for one of the billing and collection systems we used.
I was very familiar with the system, as I had run it at a previous company. I knew it inside out, and I knew how to use it in such a way that our department would be very successful in resolving outstanding consumer debts.
Another woman, who was white, also applied for the position. She had no experience with the system, and anything she did know about it, I taught her. She was not as proficient with it as I was, and she would likely require a lot of help if she were given the position instead of me.
Even with that knowledge, management had us both go through the extensive interview process. Because she and I were friendly with each other, we discussed our individual interviews, and I discovered that I was put through a lot more rigorous questioning than she was. I was asked about my knowledge of things that never came up in her interviews.
When they finally decided I was the one who was going to get the role, I was pulled into a private meeting with our department head who told me directly that those on the panel (mostly white men) wanted to give her the role, but it went to me because of my knowledge. He then went on to tell me how I needed to be “humble” and “not let it go to my head.”
After this conversation, I went to my direct manager — a Black woman — and told her what was said.
“Well, Mo,” she said to me. “You are a big, Black woman and that is intimidating to them.”
I knew she meant well telling me this, but it stung nonetheless.
The idea that I needed to somehow make myself smaller so that my white coworkers could feel more comfortable was insulting. The idea that my very presence was being perceived as a threat to them made me wholly uncomfortable.
It wasn’t the first nor the last time I had an experience like that at this particular company. Over the course of my tenure there, I was often called out for saying or doing things my white counterparts did — things they did without anyone blinking an eye. It was only an issue when I did it.
We didn’t have the language for it back then, but we do now, and I often reflect on that experience and wish I could go back and tell those people how demoralizing and reprehensible their treatment of me was. The thing is, would they even get it?
My former situation is not an isolated one, and I am not the only Black woman to endure the double standard that is the requirement that we shrink ourselves, be “humble,” and otherwise stoop, bow, stay quiet and present as anything other than ourselves so white people feel comfortable.
The situation with Angel Reese earlier this month brought this very necessary conversation to the forefront again.
Professionalism is a racist construct
I have discussed the idea that professionalism is a racist construct a number of times. It is a conversation that was initially started by attorney and housing justice advocate Leah Goodridge through her essay for the UCLA Law Review titled “Professionalism as a racist construct.”
In her essay, Goodridge notes that professionalism policies are put in place to police the appearance, presence, and behaviors of Black people. White people get a pass for doing the same things we get called “unprofessional” for.
When you think about it, Black women are the only marginalized group to have legislation put into place so we can wear our hair the way it comes out of our heads naturally. Think about that for a minute.
The idea of “sportsmanship” when applied to Black women in sports is an extension of professionalism as a racist construct conversation.
This is where the situation with Angel Reese comes in. She was denigrated in the media for doing the same type of trash-talking and ribbing that her white counterpart, Caitlin Clark, did in a previous game. When Caitlin did it, she was called a boss. ESPN did an entire segment on it and called her “the queen of clap backs,” which, ironically, is Black slang. She was celebrated for it.
Fast forward to the championship game when Caitlin and Angel face off. Angel does the same gesture, which has been attributed to professional wrestler John Cena and means “you can’t see me,” and she was villainized and called everything but a child of God.
The double standard was loud, yelling and glaringly white.
The need to humble Black women
There seems to be a pervasive need to “humble” Black women, especially accomplished Black women. It’s not just in the media; it happens within our own community. One look at the Twitter timeline and you will see at least one instance if not more of someone — usually a Black man — doing their best to try and put a Black woman “in her place.”
We think too highly of ourselves. We expect too much. We want too much. We won’t submit (to men or anyone else). We are too “masculine.”
On that last point, describing us as “masculine” is a way of demeaning women who are independent, can carry their own weight and don’t see themselves as needing a man. A lot of men have a problem with women who aren’t broken birds and don’t need fixing. If we have our own money, pay our own bills without help and live comfortably without male companionship, we are seen as having something wrong with us.
It’s disgusting to be sure, but it’s just one of the many ways in which Black women are torn down every single day in life.
The diminishing of our achievements
Jill Biden is on the record as saying, “I know we’ll have the champions come to the White House, we always do. So, we hope LSU will come, but, you know, I’m going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come, too, because they played such a good game.”
That statement went viral on Twitter, and we were all annoyed.
Since when has the losing team been invited to the White House?
It brings to mind the 2016 incident with Jasmine Shepard, a Black student at Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Jasmine had the highest GPA in her graduating class, yet she was forced to share the title of valedictorian with another student who had a lower GPA. It was the first time in the school’s 110-year history that there were “co-valedictorians.” And before you ask, yes, the other student was white.
Imagine how demoralizing that was for Jasmine. It completely diminished her stellar efforts in achieving the top honor for her graduating class.
Imagine how insulting it would be to the LSU women’s basketball team to have to share the spotlight with the team they beat in the widely televised national tournament.
Biden’s spokesperson later walked back the first lady’s statements, but the insult was and is still hanging in there.
It is something we as Black women are used to. Go back to the story I opened this column with. My work and my achievements were diminished in favor of coddling someone who did not have the same resume or qualifications as me.
We deal with this all of the time.
Enough is enough.
I personally plan to call out this type of thing each and every time it happens because I deserve better. Angel Reese deserves better. The LSU women’s basketball team deserves better.
Black women deserve better.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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