Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had the nerve to fix his mouth to say that he couldn’t hear a word Rep. Maxine Waters was saying because he was distracted by her wig. Incidentally, I can’t hear a word Bill O’Reilly says over the sound of my skin crawling at the sight of his face. Auntie Maxine was unbothered and used the opportunity to remind all us women to keep doing what we do. In the same news cycle, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (who, however inadvertently, accomplished the impossible feat of making SNL funny again) told reporter and grown-ass woman April Ryan to stop shaking her head while he was speaking. And as Hillary Clinton noted while rocking a leather jacket (welcome back, Hillz), April Ryan and Maxine Waters are both women, both Black and were both simply trying to do their damn jobs.
Then, #blackwomenatwork began trending on Twitter.
I have spoken a number of times in this column about the injustices and slights I’ve experienced on the clock, such as earning less than my white men and white women counterparts. When I read those Tweets, I wondered how Black women haven’t collectively just given up on society and forged our own brand new world elsewhere. The type of place where the only thing we fight over is which Knowles sister album we want to listen to. Where we spend our days complimenting each other’s melanin and try to forget every last memory we have of our former lives where we went largely unappreciated as a demographic. That hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, I do believe I will not hesitate to leave all of this misogynoir behind.
In January, I decided to go full-time as a freelance writer. I got tired of the place I was working at taking up all my time and being funny about my raise. Luckily, I didn’t have to create a GoFundMe or anything. Various outlets decided they were cool with paying me to write things for them #blessed #ThankSDCityBeat #MamaIMadeIt. I basically hang out in threadbare Forever 21 dresses all day and make up excuses to leave the house so all my selfies don’t have the same background. This has greatly reduced the work-related nonsense I deal with, but has not completely eliminated it because, apparently, there are tons of white dudes on the Internet who have even less reason to be away from their laptops than I do. Their number one calling in life is to track down Black women enjoying the fruits of their labor and trample all over them.
I took a 4,000-mile road trip, visited four national parks, spent more than six months writing a nearly 3,000-word personal essay about the casual racism I endured along the way and went through the process of pitching it and having it accepted by a noteworthy publication. I put in work. But did that stop some rando who probably still uses dial-up from barely reading more than the lede on my piece and tweeting at me that when he went to Uganda—which he oh-so-helpfully informed me is one percent white—he didn’t feel oppressed, but rather, he felt unique. Well, Chet, maybe it’s hard to simply feel “unique” when the reason I feel unsafe in this country is because of its long history of violence against Black people.
I know on some level, that’s just how Twitter works. People feel entitled to throw their two cents at you 140 characters at a time. But it was symbolic of the Black women at work experience. There’s just this constant diminishing of our perspective and our accomplishments. Here’s the thing about Chet: He somehow thought that I had lived this entire experience and wrote this well-thought out piece about it without possibly once considering any other perspective. He believed that because of his whiteness and his maleness, he had the de facto authority to speak on something that could not be further removed from his life. And so many Black women writers far better than I—such as Roxane Gay, Toni Morrison and Feminista Jones—have spoken on what a time-consuming and creative drain it can be having to push back against these men.
I’m not really sure there’s anything I can do to change this reality. I just have to listen to Auntie Maxine and keep doing what I do. What does help though is when other men see this sort of thing go down, they actually speak up. So, shout out to my new Twitter follower from Idaho who saw something and said something and the various men in my work life who have made sure I got credit where credit was due. But most importantly, thank you to the men who have been on the verge of wrecking a Black woman’s workday, then took a moment to consider if what they were going to say really needed to be said. Those dudes are silent heroes and more men should join them in their heroics.