Auntie Maxine, 'Hidden Figures' And What It Means To Be A Black Woman In The Workplace

If you missed Bill O’Reilly’s reckless behavior a few weeks ago, then you have been hiding under a rock. No worries. I will gladly catch you up. In a nutshell, Bill O’Reilly foolishly tried to come for every Black woman’s favorite auntie in politics, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (to whom I affectionately refer as “Auntie Maxine”).

This was a huge mistake on his part. What egregious act did he commit, you ask? Well, he didn’t criticize her political views. Oh no, instead, he did what any coward would do, he made a disparaging, childish comment about her hair. Yes, her hair! Unbelievable, I know. Bill O’Reilly stooped to an all new low (who thought that was possible?) by referring to Congresswoman Water’s hair as a “James Brown” wig and mocking her appearance during a segment on “Fox and Friends” (click on the video below).

But it wasn’t what he said that deserves the attention, instead it was her classic, unapologetically Black response that was news and praise worthy in my opinion!

“Let me just say this: I’m a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody......And I’d like to say to women out there everywhere: Don’t allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are, do what you do, and let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country.” -Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Women everywhere, especially black women, applauded Congresswoman Waters for her words, and O’Reilly’s controversial statements sparked the social media movement, #BlackWomenAtWork. From Hollywood actresses to educators, black women began to share their work experiences and shed some light on what it means to be a black woman in the workplace all over social media and I, for one, am here for it! All of it! Below are just a few highlights....

So what exactly does it mean to be a black woman in the workplace? Well, nothing is 100%, but based on the social media posts made by some black women, Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s blatant disrespect of White House reporter, April Ryan, and my own past experiences, being both black and a woman sometimes means dealing with racism and sexism at work......simultaneously at times. How challenging is that? Sometimes being a black woman at work means working twice as hard for half as much. Let that sink in. Sometimes it means dealing with microagression (or what I like to call “Miss-Millie-from-the-Color-Purple-backhanded-compliments”). For example, I was once told by a non-Black person that I was so well spoken after I gave a presentation (she said it as if she was extremely surprised), to which I politely replied with a big smile on my face, “With a retired English teacher for a mother, an undergraduate degree in Biology and a Masters degree from Emory, I definitely should be, now shouldn’t I?” Her reaction was priceless and I think she learned a good lesson that day. It was a lesson that I didn’t necessarily want to teach but she had been making “Miss Millie” comments for weeks and I could no longer let it slide.

Sometimes being a black woman in the workplace means having your expertise second guessed. Sometimes it means having your voice silenced. Sometimes it means being unfairly judged by your appearance (or what I refer to now as being “Bill O’Reillied”). Sometimes it entails watching your non-Black colleagues try to take credit for your hard work. Sometimes being a “woke” black woman at work means tolerating those black people who are still “asleep” and in a “sunken place”. I could write an entirely separate blog on that issue alone but I digress. Sometimes it feels as though you cannot have an opinion, take a mental health day, or simply have a bad day without being labeled “angry”, “lazy”, or “difficult to work with” while your non-Black counterparts are given countless allowances. Sometimes being a black woman in the workplace means fighting to get the recognition you deserve after watching your non-Black counterparts be promoted ahead of you time and time again.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, being a black woman in the work place can be frustrating at times. Sometimes it means having your contributions completely overlooked. And when I start to wonder just how many contributions made by phenomenal black women have been discounted, I immediately think about the movie, “Hidden Figures”. This movie literally brought me tears. It is such a powerful and true depiction of how black women have been and continue to be treated, and the amount of strength, courage and restraint we often have to show in the workplace. This story of triumph is one that everyone needs to see and if you don’t believe in privilege, the fact that these 3 brilliant women were relatively unknown entities and their stories are still missing from our children’s history books today should undoubtedly change your mind.

Honestly, I could go on and on about what it means to be a black woman in the workplace but I would be writing for days. Simply put, sometimes being a black woman in the workplace is awesome and sometimes it is plain difficult and exhausting. However, despite the many trials and tribulations we are forced to surmount on a regular basis, there is nothing else I would rather be. There is an indescribable strength and an undeniable swag that comes with being a black woman in my opinion, and I hope we continue to make great strides towards achieving equality in this country. Until then, I encourage myself and other black women everywhere to wake up every morning, say a prayer, adjust your crowns, walk into the workplace with your heads held high, and repeat the words of Auntie Maxine to yourself, “I’m a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined.”