Life with Gracie: What’s it like being a #blackwomanatwork?


Oh, the stories I could tell.

There are so many I hardly know where to start, but any old place would do. Mississippi where I grew up, Texas where I first fell in love with column writing or here in Georgia where I’d longed to be since graduating from college.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Each have borne in me both goodness and pain, but I found myself reliving one bad incident after the other soon after first witnessing Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly mock Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), saying he was too distracted by her James Brown wig to listen to anything she had to say about President Donald Trump. That incident was then followed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer scolding White House correspondent April Ryan and telling her to stop shaking her head during a televised broadcast on national TV.

Waters responded later in an interview on MSNBC, saying she is a strong black woman and “I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined.”

She went on to encourage women everywhere to not allow themselves to be intimidated either and to be themselves. Even Hillary Clinton leaned into the controversy.

Waters and Ryan are more than able to defend themselves, but like a lot of African-American sistahs — perhaps misery really does love company — I found activist Brittany Packnett’s hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork in response to the disrespectful way they were treated encouraging.

RELATED: Bill O’Reilly, Maxine Waters controversy sparks #BlackWomenAtWork trend on Twitter

Packnett said that both incidents were unacceptable, but also unfortunately familiar.

I’ve suffered my share of slights and insults both in the workplace and in society in general, but a couple always stand out.

One I remember, back in Texas, was my Monday morning phone message from a man who without fail called to lob insults at me in a recorded message. Once he’d called me a liar and a racial epithet, he’d go on to say “y’all breed like rabbits.”

It got so bad — he promised to put a noose around my neck — a security guard walked me to my car at the end of my workday.

It didn’t get any better when I came here.

I will never forget the day I arrived at a home in Dunwoody to do an interview wearing a dress, hosiery and high heels.

It’s how I dress most days, but that’s why I found the man of the house’s comments particularly insulting.

I rang the door bell, and one look at me, he said, “I thought you were the maid.”

And as if that weren’t enough, once inside, he continued to quiz me. Where did I go to school? How long had I been a journalist and on and on until finally I had to remind him I was there to interview him and his wife.

You could argue that he was just curious, but he showed no such interest in my white female colleague who arrived minutes later to take photos.

But it’s not just what white men do to black women. It’s what African-Americans sometimes do to each other that makes my blood boil.

I once had a black male supervisor refuse for years to give me a week of vacation promised me when I was hired even though his two white subordinates had signed off on it.

Would he have treated a white reporter the same way? I doubt it very seriously.

Packnett, who encouraged black women online to share some of their real-life experiences at work, said she wanted the “hashtag to make the invisible visible, to challenge non-black people to stand with black women not just when this happens on television, but in the cube right next to them.”

Mechele Dickerson, a 54-year-old law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, gets it and for years has encouraged her black female friends to find a white male ally willing to stand with them.

“It can’t be just me and my 12 black sistahs talking and running our blood pressure up,” she said. “I don’t care how high you think you’ve risen in the organizational chart, you’d better have the white male ally who will speak up when you ask the same question he would’ve but you get a different response sort of like April Ryan.”

Dickerson said that while her reality is quite different today, she remembers very early in her career as a lawyer when a judge asked her if she were really a lawyer.

“Granted I looked younger, but I was in court at the podium,” she said. “What else would I be?”

Even now as a law professor, Dickerson said she regularly receives emails from students who address her as Ms. Dickerson or assume they know more than she.

“I have never had a male colleague, and I’ve asked them, be addressed in any other way than professor,” she said. “They don’t call them Mr. Jones.”

Pamela Ware of Sandy Springs believes much like Dickerson that “folks have been given a green light to vocalize what they already felt or wanted to say, but in the civilized world of political correctness, they hadn’t been able to let loose.”

“Black women have had to deal with this behavior and attitude always,” Ware said.

And unfortunately always will.



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