‘Arrive to keynote. White faculty ask me to get them some water. I get it. Then tell them why I’m really here.’
A social media movement went viral on Tuesday, after two public incidents of racism against women in the workplace forced the internet to act.
The first incident involved Maxine Waters, US Representative for California’s 43rd congressional district. The 78 year old was the subject of a racist comment by Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who mocked her hair, announcing that he couldn’t focus on what she was saying because of her ‘James Brown wig’. Rep Maxine Waters later tweeted: ‘I am a strong black woman. I cannot be intimidated, and I’m not going anywhere’.
Then just hours later, respected journalist, April Ryan, was mocked by the White House Press Secretary, who demanded that she stop shaking her head.
These are just two of many instances of mistreatment against black women in the workplace that occur everyday but this time, activist Brittany Packnett was compelled to take action.
‘I’m surrounded everyday by brilliant, confident, incredible black professional women who get demeaned despite their prowess. Today I was over it’, she explained to The Huffington Post.
In response, she created the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork, encouraging black women across the globe to stand in solidarity, sharing their own experiences of racism in the workplace. Understandably, it went viral.
American actress Jurnee Smollett tweeted about being a black woman in the film industry, posting: ‘Me: hey I really loved this script…is that role open? Them: Oh we aren’t willing to “go ethnic” on that role’, changing the hashtag to #BlackWomenAtWork in Hollywood.
Well known film director, Gina Pince-Bythewood, tweeted ‘pulling into my own reserved parking space and being told by a random WW that cleaning people can’t park there’, while top attorney, Imandi Gandy, shared a personal experience: ‘There was the time I ran into a judge in court in downtown LA and he assumed I was a defendant and not a lawyer.’
Some talked about having to hide their real looks in the workplace with one woman tweeting, ‘Having to wear a straight wig to the interview instead of your fro to even get the job’. Another Twitter user wrote, ‘Arrive to keynote. White faculty ask me to get them some water. I get it. Then tell them why I’m really here.’
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Hillary Clinton was quick to call out the incidents that prompted this movement, referencing them during her speech at the Professional Businesswomen of California Conference that day.
‘Just look at all that’s happened in the last few days to women who were simply doing their job,’ she announced. ‘April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivalled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question. One of your own California congresswomen, Maxine Waters, was taunted with a racist joke about her hair.’
She continued: ‘Now too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride. But why should we have to? And any woman who think this couldn’t be directed at her is living in a dream world.’