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Editorial: You Mad? Black Women, Work and the Normalcy of Disrespect

The assumption that professionalism, is actually uppityism, and thus the need to diminish or minimize who we are, for some, is downright irresistible.
Rep. Maxine Waters Holds Press Conference On Russian Ties To Trump Administration
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) speaks at a press conference on Capitol Hill January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. Waters called for investigation into Trump administration ties to Russia. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

When Congresswoman Maxine Waters and White House Correspondent April Ryan were each disrespected by Fox News Commentator, Bill O’Reilly and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the same day, merely for doing their jobs, like Black women everywhere, I found myself completely unsurprised.

You see for us, it’s all too familiar.

The fixation with our hair. The assumption that professionalism, is actually uppityism, and thus the need to diminish, demean, or attempt to in some way minimize who we are, for some, is downright irresistible.

So they make that joke that ain’t funny or that cutting remark that’s clearly inappropriate. And then after it all goes down, it’s immediately followed by that “you mad?” look; or at most, a half-hearted apology.

We’ve all been there.

We can’t educate our way out of it. Our competence, hard work, and drive for excellence don’t inoculate us from it. In fact, it seems at times, it only exacerbates the problem. It’s as if the better we are at what we do, the more our presence is unnerving to those who at base believe we don’t belong there in the first place.

Related: If Big, Natural Hair is In, Why Don’t We See it On Television?

So we navigate a world of constant indignities. And in spite of it all, we still find a way to shine.

I work with Black women every day who face this reality. This 'Working While Black and a Woman' thing ain’t easy.

We do the work and others take the credit.

Our focus and passion are constantly misperceived as anger. And far too often, our competence is questioned and authority, undermined. Yet, we produce over and over again, only to be overlooked when it comes time for promotion.

So when we see April chastised for doing what good reporters do—asking penetrating questions—it rings familiar.

And when we see the intelligence, and full Black Girl Wizardry that is Maxine Waters, within seconds both reduced to her hair and compared to a man, we get it.

Here’s the secret to this insanity. It happens because they’re intimidated by your brilliance. Because they fear actually having to compete on a level playing field, with no privileges allowed.

It happens because they must attempt to diminish who you are in order to even have a chance at outshining you.

But in spite of all, keep doing you, Boo. In the end, the cream always rises to the top.

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Solutionist, Career Reinvention Strategist and the Author of the Award-Winning Book, How Exceptional Black Women Lead. Find out more at

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