March 28, 2017, was a big day for small white men with too much power.
(Then again, when is it not?)
Instead of listening or responding to her points, Bill O’Reilly stopped in to “Fox and Friends” to make a racist joke about Rep. Maxine Waters’ hair. Barely hours later, Sean Spicer told respected White House correspondent April Ryan not to shake her head during a press briefing.
It’s infuriating. And as a black woman, I know men (and women) like O’Reilly and Spicer are not anomalies.
We are constantly told what to wear, how to style our hair, to soften our voices, and how to behave by people who have no right to make those decisions.
But it’s never about the hair or the facial expressions. It’s the need to control, denigrate, and dismiss black women.
If we don’t fit into their idea of blackness or womanhood, then we’re described as “difficult,” “a poor fit,” or the old standby “angry.” That makes it a lot easier to fire us, keep us from getting promoted or paid fairly, or not hire us in the first place. Score one for white supremacy.
Time and time again, we’ve reminded the powers that be that we are not here for their bullshit.
What Waters and Ryan experienced was an all too common occurrence. Like many black women, educator and activist Brittany Packnett had had enough.
“I felt like, ‘You are not going to come for these respected, important, committed black women,'” Packnett says. “I felt very much like they were coming for … two family members and that there has been entirely enough of that.”
She added, “I also was sort of simultaneously realizing that there would be … the assumption that these were exceptional events. But black women know better.”
So Packnett started the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork and invited black women to share their experiences.
Listen to black women. Trust black women. And believe black women when we tell you: This happens all the time.
1. It happens to doctors.
2. It happens to attorneys.
3. It happens to professors.
4. It happens in meetings.
5. It happens with co-workers.
6. It happens with managers.
6. It happens when you’re just trying to get your work done.
7. It happens when you’re auditioning.
8. It happens when you’re interviewing.
9. It happens to women who are in too vulnerable a position to do anything about it.
10. It happens everyday, and it is exhausting.
11. It happens every day, and it feels awful.
But in struggle, there is solidarity. There is resilience. There is hope.
Maxine Waters, the legislator who inspired the hashtag, even got in on the social media groundswell. She also had an inspiring call to action on “All In With Chris Hayes” last night.
After the hashtag’s overnight virality, many black women returned to Twitter this morning renewed, energized, and more determined than ever to confront this daily injustice.
12. Because black women won’t be defeated.
13. Won’t be denied.
14. And will never stop grinding, pushing, and working…
15. …to show you what we’re made of.
For Packnett and many others involved in activism and resistance work, this hashtag is just the beginning.
All of us have a responsibility to create inclusive work environments where everyone, particularly women and femmes of color, have a chance to succeed. Reading and listening to the stories black women shared last night is a great starting point.
“I hope people recognize that black women deserve dignity in the workplace whether they’re a congresswoman or a domestic worker and everything in between,” Packnett says. “I hope people who read this have a duty to not let this be their workplace, to not let this be their team. And to not let these stories be invisible.”