Bullying is often not acknowledged within the workplace; it’s brushed under the rug, and its victims are told to grow a thicker skin. Workplace bullying is the targeted mistreatment by individuals who exploit their position, power, and privilege to emotionally harm those in marginalised positions. Black women are victims of workplace harassment and bullying, often rooted in systemic anti-Black, patriarchal, and capitalist systems that use microaggressions to bully Black women out of their positions.
Historically Black women have been victims of racial discrimination and misogyny (alongside other socio-political factors). The intersectionality of their identity makes them vulnerable within capitalist systems, which use their gender and racial power to undermine the working capability of labouring Black women. As a result, Black women face the unique discrimination of misogynoir, a term coined by Black feminist Moya Bailey describing “the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women.”
Though top educational institutions like Edinburgh University advocate for greater social equality by promoting applications from ethnic minority students, they maintain white power structures by turning a blind eye to acts of racism. Black women experience microaggressions at higher rates than any other group, and universities do very little to make their institutions inclusive, leaving Black women vulnerable to bullying.
The workplace is no different. Though the majority of workplaces in the UK have clauses stating they have a ‘no bullying policy’ for any of their employees, workplace bullies prey on Black women’s vulnerable societal position and use their privilege to push them out of employment. The bullies’ repetitive use of micro-aggressive terms like ‘aggressive’ when describing the Black female employee or labelling her as ‘assertive’ when she expresses an opinion in a corporate setting is tone policing. This is based on the racial stereotype that Black women are angry and silences the Black woman from wanting to engage in office conversations and freely express her opinion in meetings. Although some unknowingly use these microaggressions towards Black women, it is racial discrimination and the use of such microaggressions promotes a racist working environment. In addition, due to the subtle, passive-aggressive nature of microaggressions, the bully’s supporters (employees in higher positions) often dismiss the racist undertones in these damaging gender microaggressions.
These bullies intentionally ‘opportunity shame’ Black women in high-powered roles by interrogating them on their work experience, ultimately trying to sus out if they are worthy of their roles. The corporate world is rife with tokenism, falsely perceived as a strategy to diversify the workplace when in reality, it isolates Black women. Opportunity shaming is used to humiliate Black women and make them believe that their successful efforts of breaking the glass ceiling are redundant, as their roles are only a result of affirmative action rather than hard work. Adding to the complexity of workplace dynamics, direct comparisons are often made between Black women working in the same company, promoting the idea that the workplace is not made for Black women, and so in order to survive, one must go.
Additionally, for Black women, these workplace bullying experiences damage their aspirations to advance in their career paths. They face unfair demotion and threats of job loss, forcing them to change jobs in an effort to escape office misogynoir. However, moving from one workplace to the next causes future employers to perceive these Black women as unstable job candidates, thus ruining their chances of ever gaining power over those beyond the glass ceiling.
Realising how Black women are mistreated in the workplace proves that society today’s impression of workplaces becoming more egalitarian is a privileged assumption and a reality that is only granted to white straight men. Women, people from working-class origins, and non-white people face discrimination in the workplace. Further, Black women are victims of a long-running hatred deep-rooted in anti-Black capitalist systems that exemplify and promote misogynoir behaviour.
Inspiringly, Black feminist scholars like Moya Bailey, Patricia Hill Collins, and Joan Morgan are speaking out and explaining how misogynoir in the workplace impacts Black women today. However, it is up to predominantly white spaces to take responsibility for their racial and gender biases to truly make the workplace an inclusive space for Black women.
Image Credit: “New office” by Phillie Casablanca is licensed under CC BY 2.0.