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#BlackWomenAtWork Highlights the Racism Black Women Encounter in the Workplace

Topics: Work Culture

On Tuesday, Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly claimed he couldn’t concentrate on a clip of Rep. Maxine Waters speaking on the House floor, because he was distracted by her hair (which he referred to as a “James Brown wig”). Later that same day during a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer chastised reporter April Ryan, the Washington Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks, for “shaking her head” while he was speaking. A month prior, President Trump asked Ryan to set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus, despite the fact that she’s a reporter, not a member of congress.

If you were surprised by these incidents, you’re probably not an African-American woman.

“It isn’t new. It is the daily experience of black women in the work place — at all levels — laid bare for the public to finally see with naked eyes,” activist Brittany Packnett told Mashable. “These women at least deserve respect as humans, let alone as professionals. They received neither. It is absolutely unacceptable. They deserve the respect that their humanity, their accomplishments, and their work demands.”

She continued:

Every day we are told that our body language is wrong, that both our silence and our speaking are ‘combative,’ that our mere presence is intimidating, that our looks matter more than our work, that our natural hair is ‘unprofessional,’ that we couldn’t possibly have attained our station by our merits, are looked over and ignored, or endure a worse pay gap than our white women counterparts.

It happens to black women of every station, whether we’re wage earners or pull in high salaries, whether we are domestic workers or in the C-suite. Black women have been at work since the dawn of this nation and have worked ourselves to the bone. We deserve dignity and respect. We have earned no less. No matter what, we will show it to ourselves and each other.

Maxine Waters’ Response

On MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, Rep. Waters responded to O’Reilly’s comments.

“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,” Waters said. “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.”

O’Reilly later apologized for his comment, which he characterized as a dumb joke.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

#BlackWomenAtWork: Stories of Racism at Work

Packnett is encouraging women to share their experiences of racism in their careers using the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork. On Twitter, thousands of women have responded:

Tell Us What You Think

Have you encountered racism at work? We want to hear from you. Tell us your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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I worked in Wall Street selling financial technology services. Not one, but TWICE the same white male sales manager made comments about me being from Jamaica. Mind you, I have NEVER once been to Jamaica. I am a Latina who wears my hair in dreadlocs. Despite having been corrected the first time with an emphasis that I have never in my life been to Jamaica, in his mind my hairstyle spoke to him that I must be Jamaican.


Packnett did not create this hashtag it has been around for at least 3 years. She just revived it. Essence magazine other organizations have been using this hashtag way before this and created initiatives around the subject. Organizations such as Black Career Women’s Network – and Black Women of Influence have been an advocate for black women with these issues for years. Glad that it now has some national attention!


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