Working with White Women is the Bane of My Existence
White women’s racism will cut you in the dark and then ask you why you’re bleeding.
By Rachael Edwards
It was the thick of Black History Month and I worked as an art administrator for a program in Baltimore City. The site I was assigned to was managed by a white woman who cloaked her racism with a bright smile and photos on Facebook with Black students that garnered “ooo’s” and “ahh’s” from the white liberal peanut gallery in the comment section. I once told her that since we celebrated Latinx Heritage Month, that we should celebrate Black History Month with our students. Her response, dripping with anti-Blackness, was that celebrating Black History Month would be “too overwhelming”. I was stunned and felt my stomach knot up in the most horrific way.
At most of our team meetings, I was the only woman of color. Since the students we were working with were minorities, one would think that I would be the voice they tune into the most. My ideas and suggestions were often met with a, “Yes, Rachael we hear you, but that is not quite what we are looking for.” I later found out that the white woman running these meetings told another white woman colleague that “the stereotype about Black woman was true”, and she topped off her racist statement by saying Black women are “difficult to work with”.
White women have harmful biases about Black women that bleed into the workplace and beyond – white women are far from innocent of perpetuating racism. The narrative around white women is one that paints them as America’s poster child, void of any wrongdoing. In my conversations with Black men about racism, white women are overlooked with regard to how their racism affects Black women specifically. We always end up talking about “the Man”.
Beloved, “the Man” ain’t the only one keeping us down. White women are able to exercise their racism just as freely as white men.
Creators like Issa Rae are bringing conversations about white women in the workplace to the forefront. In her show Insecure, Issa (Issa Rae) works with a white woman named Frieda (Lisa Joyce), in the pilot episode, Issa and her co-worker Frieda are in a meeting presenting an idea to their co-workers at the non-profit that they work for. Frieda thought it be a good idea to jokingly mention Issa’s love life, then present statistics about how Black women find happiness in their work more than activities outside of our careers. She was illustrating some ole’ missus type shit right there.
This racist mindset plays directly off of the romanticized happy slaves/mammy myth. This form of racism likes to pretend it came up with the idea when you know damn well you suggested that idea three days ago while you all were on lunch break. White women have a way of assuring us that we are visible while simultaneously burying us in what they believe oppresses them. Girl, do you know the wage gap between Black women and white women? According to the Guardian, in 2016 Black women earn 19% less than white woman, that’s a 13% increase in the wage gap from 1979 – that’s right. It’s getting worse.
Related: YES, PORTLAND IS RACIST AF.
The prevalent images and ideas of white womanhood makes their racism cozy, their womanhood gives them the privilege to ignore intersections of race and gender that can lead to untimely deaths of women and femmes of color – our Blackness and womanhood are a “threat” to their humanity.
We see it in how they talk to us, how they reprimand us versus our white woman colleagues. We see it in their performative Blackness, in passive aggressive emails and in-person micro aggressions and the list goes on. They would rather see us down than to see us uplifted, especially if this means standing alongside them in a way that does not serve or center them. White women’s racism will cut you in the dark and then ask you why you’re bleeding.
White women need to address and take responsibility for their role in the oppression of Black women. Their feminism might not demand this of them, but our feminism does. White women are still white. This means that they have the capacity to operate in their whiteness to the harm of women of color. White women echo the sentiments of the white feminist hero, Susan B. Anthony when she said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Cut it off, girl.
Black women cannot escape this reality. We work with white women and will be for the rest of our lives, so how do we deal with them in workspaces? I believe it starts with transparency. We are worthy of respect and common decency. We have the right to call out racist white women, no matter what their position might be. Calling them out or even reporting them will expose who they are and more importantly, who we’ve known them to be.
Taking this on does not come without consequence.
We know the lashes of white supremacy are swift when challenged, but how else do we expect to change work culture? Reform will not happen with us keeping our heads down. Zora Neale Hurston so fervently puts it like this, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Author Bio: Rachael is a writer based in Baltimore who loves to disrupt society and engage in conversations that challenge us to be better humans. Rachael’s work centers Black women and our experiences. On her down time she performs, floods your Instagram timelines with selfies and eats fish tacos. You can find her here: Twitter Website Instagram