Gendered Racism or the Treatment of Black Women who Speak Out

This afternoon I read an article about what I would call Gendered Racism in an online magazine called The Root.  The article is titled “What Really Makes Black Women Angry at Work.”  It is about a black meteorologist (Rhonda Lee) who was fired for speaking out on for an attack on her looks and about Susan Rice’s anger over her treatment by Republicans.

Ms. Lee was a TV meteorologist at KTBS-TV in Shreveport, LA who respectfully responded on the TV station’s Facebook page to attacks on her looks and how she wears her hair.  Her statement appeared after the station refused to respond to these attacks. This refusal was a very different response than that taken by another ABC affiliate in LaCross, WI that allowed Morning Anchor Jennifer Livingston—a white woman—to defend herself on-air when she was attacked in a similar manner.

Ms. Rice, the current US Ambassador to the United Nations, told President Obama and the nation last week that she would not accept a nomination to be the next US Secretary of State once it “became clear that [her] potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle.”

Here’s a snippet from the article in The Root:

The reception and treatment of black women can be vastly different, as evidenced by Lee’s case and the railroading of Rice. Race can complicate an already complicated situation and perhaps add another layer of stress to the workplace. Why should Lee have to endure criticism about her appearance that is directly related to her racial and cultural heritage as opposed to being evaluated on her performance?… Rice had to bow out of the running for the secretary of state position in order to avoid the difficult prospect of defending herself — and perhaps being perceived as coming off as belligerent — against a campaign aimed to block her from the job.

That Rice can be discouraged from pursuing the position — a job for which she perhaps has prepared for some of her adult life — is troubling. In a similar way, there’s Lee’s reality — a black woman who got fired from a job because, God forbid, she stood up for herself. Even though Lee used a friendly tone and took the road less traveled by many Americans — a respectful response — she has been
punished and portrayed as an angry black woman. When it came to Rice, she faced harsh assessments about her competency and ultimately had to stand down.

Gendered racism is the intersection of two forms of discrimination—that of sexism and racism.  It is the discrimination of a subset of people within each of these groups of color and gender. It can also be called double discrimination.

The actions by the GOP on Ms. Rice’s work and by KTBS-TV on Ms. Lee for standing up for herself are both acts that are, as The Root article states, attempts to silence black women in the workplace.

Acts like these are hurtful to women of color.  They send the wrong message that bullying is ok; that prejudice is ok; and that when women, particularly women of color, stand up for what’s right, it’s ok to silence them in any manner you can think of.  This, in my opinion, is discrimination pure and simple.

As part of The Root article, there is a link to a petition to the KTBS-TV calling for them to rescind that decision.  I signed that petition.

I also went searching for a petition that condemns the GOP attacks on Susan Rice.  Although the petition was created before Ms. Rice said she would not seek the Secretary of State position, I still think the petition is apropos. So here’s the link for that one in case you want to sign it as well.


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