A Black Woman's Perspective on Being In The Workplace

Writing is one of the hardest things to ever undertake. It is one thing to verbally communicate to a party of your choosing what it is your thinking and experiencing, but it is something entirely different to take pen to paper (or in the case these days - fingers to keyboard) to produce a post illustrating your opinions for an audience of complete strangers expressing your opinions. Due to this reason, I try my hardest to understand where a writer is coming from with their work before I go off the handle about it. If anything, the most important lesson I've learned from writing is that a writer's work will always say more about their biography more so than the philosophies and ideals they spew.

This is why I became hesitant to write a response to Chris Wilder's piece on Ebony.com, Being The 'Black Guy'. First of all, as much as I am surrounded by and love black men, I will never know what it is like to be in their shoes. After feedback from other black male friends and careful thought, I felt that I had no right to respond to Mr. Wilder's article discussing the difficulties black men face in the workplace. However, my feelings have gotten the better of me (as they tend to do) and I just have to say something about the points the author makes in this post. I am, by no means, trying to create a discrimination Olympics, pitting one marginalized group against another. However, as a black woman who currently works to aid unemployed/low-income people in her community (who 98% tend to be black) in their search for work and marketable skills, I believe that there are certain points that need to be brought to table, in addition to Mr. Wilder's narrative.

Mr. Wilder writes: I believe the problem is that people don’t want Black men in their place of business simply because of the images on TV. Rather than deal with all of that drama, they’ll just hire a Black woman so that no one can say they don't hire Black people.
I will not argue that black men are not having a hard time gaining employment given the breakdown of statistics. But, I do believe it goes way deeper than just stereotypical images on television. Although colleges are seeing more black faces, black women are outnumbering black men in places of higher education; meaning black women are most likely to gain the necessary knowledge and skills needed in the current job market. And to touch upon Mr. Wilder's claim that media images are currently doing more harm to the black woman's image than the black man's. With the explosion of reality TV shows whose casts are predominantly black women who enliven the Whore/Ghetto/Angry Black Women stereotype, I think it is fair to say a black woman who walks into an office for a job interview has a lot more going against her than for her.

Later on Mr. Wilder goes on to discuss office politics such as not being able to discuss his views on certain matters with his white co-workers. He explains:
Then there are the politics. I couldn't always talk openly about my opinions. For instance, when Michael Vick was first arrested, I remember this woman aproaching me to talk about “what an a*shole” Vick was. I couldn't really get into it with her because I knew I was the only one in the office in support of Vick.
I understand and empathize with Mr. Wilder's experience in this regard. I think we've all had a time where a co-worker said something that was insensitive and ignorant. The helplessness and hopelessness that may come with such statements can  be unnerving and infuriating. The bottom line is that matters pertaining to divisive current events, politics and religion have to be off limits in the workplace. At the end of the day, we don't go to work to hold debates on the leading causes of the day (unless you work for a racial justice think tank or in government/policy). Such discussions tend to get heated, leading to awkwardness and even disciplinary actions -- especially for black folks. Yeah, I know. It's not fair, but that's life. 

From Chris Wilder's work, I have only received a glimpse to what many black men may be experiencing day in and day out. Although, I still have mixed reviews about the piece (hence, this lil dissertation) I have no right to dismiss Mr. Wilder's account completely. There were times I found myself nodding in agreement (especially the part about the air conditioner), proving that the experiences of black men and black women may not be as different as we may lead ourselves to believe.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.

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