“Black Women Just Aren’t Qualified to Work Here.”
I wrote this in January about the impending nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and this week marked the Senate confirmation hearings. As exciting as this has been for me, I couldn’t watch the hearings. I knew it would be triggering.
Ask a Black Woman
When the speculation about President Biden’s pick began, so did the feelings of wanting to be excited but also protecting ourselves from potential disappointment of a political promise falling flat.
Then came February 25, 2022. We saw the quality, prestige, brilliance, and experience that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson possessed. We also had our armor on, a necessity for Black women – especially those of us who aspire to leadership positions.
The concrete ceiling is a familiar experience. We knew what was coming: Badgering, spin, microaggressions, doubt, and misogynoir … among other insults.
And being scrutinized, underpaid, mistreated, and ignored.
I Don’t Have to Imagine It.
“Black women just aren’t qualified to work here.”
It wasn’t that long ago when an HR manager said this to me. Verbatim.
I used to work in a place where women were the majority. I met many of them on my first day on the job; it was someone’s birthday and everyone was socializing and celebrating. My initial relief, having left a place that was run by white men, quickly faded as the women fell silent. Some avoided making eye contact with me. Others exchanged knowing looks and smirks, as if there was an inside joke they were communicating to each other.
They were all eating cake, so I awkwardly ate mine and looked at the floor until two women decided to talk to me. They were nice, but I’ll never forget that day.
Throughout my six years of employment, the demographics of the place barely changed: White, middle aged women with high school educations. I don’t write this to shun anyone who does not have a degree. I recognize the value in everyone, and college might not be accessible or even desirable for some.
However, with my credentials (degrees, professional certificates, awards, certifications, etc.) …
- I was rejected for an interim marketing director position. The person who got it only had a biology degree from the 90s. I earned my master’s degree in mass communication in 2006 and had several years of experience under my belt. This person only managed programs but wanted the position … and got it. Just like that.
- My name was removed from a regional award nomination by a person who felt someone else “deserved” an opportunity. I’d been there only a few short years and had double digit wins. This person had been there for double digit years and had never even been nominated.
- A former supervisor attempted to disregard a deadline to submit my promotion documents to HR. I resorted to scheduling a meeting on a public calendar, putting everything in writing regarding previous conversations and the impending deadline. This person also blocked me from moving into a much larger office by putting my direct reports there. It was more than a year before I moved in. This is the same person referenced in the first bullet.
Back to the racist HR manager: This individual was pulled from accounting to fill the HR position due to the previous manager being on a months-long leave of absence. Therefore, this person was hired out of convenience, not based on qualifications.
Nevertheless, an implicit bias can go a long way, especially if it’s held by those in power. It can be devastatingly harmful and oppressive.
“You Are Worthy”
The first votes for Judge Jackson’s confirmation are expected to take place April 4. I’ve been engaged in the hearings via news digests and social media accounts (from credible sources). She has been gracious and graceful, poised and professional. The way her daughter beamed at her reflects how many Black women feel right now.
But there’s that familiar feeling of discomfort, restraint, and uneasiness as I watch and read recaps of the hearings … and flashbacks to my own experiences and those of other Black women.
We know we’re exceptional … because we have to be.
We know people will not want us at the table … but they know they need us.
We know our value … even when others try to devalue us.
We Are Proud
To the Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson … thank you for being the unflinching epitome of excellence as you prepare for the role of a lifetime and showcase what we all know: Your worth and qualifications are untouchable because you are extraordinary. You belong in all places. See you at the top!