How Qualified Does a Black Woman Have to Be?

Thoughts on two high-level examples of disrespect

Hello friends,

A couple of news stories struck me in the past week. The first was about the CBS 60 Minutes program on racial bias in algorithms, where they somehow failed to talk to Dr. Timnit Gebru, Joy Buolamwini, or Deborah Raji, founders of the Algorithmic Justice League, who are experts in this field. Instead, they used them as background resources, then did an on-camera interview with a white man that used their work as a basis for what he had to say. (There’s a petition asking CBS to apologize that tells the whole story.)

Now, many will say, and they’ll be right, that you can’t talk to everyone. But as a former journalist, I know that your story is going to be much better if you get first hand information from the experts rather than second-hand information. So from that point of view alone, leaving out their perspectives was a questionable decision.

The disrespect is staggering, and this is an example of what we mean when we say white supremacy is everywhere. Basically, it subtly reinforces the view that white men are more believable and competent than Black women.

Many of us have had similar experiences - minus the whole being on TV thing - in our daily lives.

It’s the view that leads our bosses to ignore what we say until it’s repeated by one of our white colleagues.

It’s the view that lets white colleagues and bosses steal our great ideas and take credit for them.

And it’s the view that means that when we talk about racism and inequity, we’re only believed if a white person co-signs.

Frankly, it’s disrespectful - and can even be dangerous. (Think about how many Black people have narrowly escaped being hauled off by the police only because a white person vouched for them; and think of how many Black people have been arrested or killed because a white person pointed the finger at them.)

The second story was about the creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, being denied tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill (her alma mater) despite being more than qualified. She’d done the research, had the field experience, even has a freakin’ Pulitzer and a Macarthur Fellowship “Genius Grant”. Colleagues with lesser claim to excellence already have tenure, but they’re white, or perhaps they’re not talking about racism.

I’ve talked before about how credentialism affects the prospects of Black people, and this is a clear example. As a Black woman she’s being held to a higher standard than her white colleagues, and though she was recommended for tenure, a board (whom I’m willing to bet includes not a few white men) chose to deny her that well-earned professional accolade. It stinks!

Again, this is something many Black women in majority white spaces are familiar with. I know Black women who have produced award winning marketing campaigns and corporate identity exercises who have been unable to get promoted despite their excellence.

It’s why Black people often have to change jobs, and even that can be difficult. Because, let’s not forget that those same algorithms can stop your resume or CV from ever crossing a desk. Making it to the interview stage is an achievement in itself; getting through it is a marathon as people surveil you for “culture fit” - aka “is she too Black?” (I could - and might - write another whole article about that).

For every story that makes the news, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of similar experiences affecting global majority people operating in predominantly global minority workplaces.

It’s just wrong.

The truth is that Black women always have to “bring their A-game” (though I don’t like the phrase). When they are experts in something, you know they have managed to succeed despite the obstacles of white supremacy. So respect their competence, their expertise, and their knowledge - after all, you might learn something.

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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.