We have the honor of speaking with author, social worker, and community activist Feminista Jones about the importance of supporting black women at the workplace and the ways in which people can help lift up and advocate for them. We also talk about her new book, Reclaiming Our Space, and announce a giveaway of some free copies!
Patricia Hill Collins’ catalog: Amazon
Ade: “An extensive survey of hundreds of books, articles, and white papers concludes that women leave the tech industry because they’re, quote, treated unfairly, underpaid, less likely to be fast-tracked than their male colleagues, and unable to advance. A study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that 20% of women in tech feel stalled in their careers and 32% are likely to quit within one year. 48% of black women in tech feel stalled.” This excerpt from Rachel Thomas called The Real Reason Women Quit Tech (and How to Address It) speaks to the ever-present challenges women, especially those of color, face at work. The common narrative is that diversity and inclusion drive innovation. If so, why are black women so often on the short end of the stick, and what does it look like to effectively support them? My name is Ade, and this is Living Corporate.
Zach: So today we’re talking about supporting black women at work.
Ade: Yeah. So why do you think we’re focusing specifically on black women and not talking about women as a whole?
Zach: Well, one I think because the reality of intersectionality is real, right? The fact that we exist in multiple spectrums, not just one or the other. I think that when you talk about–when we have conversations about gender, they often can be overly binary in a way that really erases the very real experiences and perspectives of millions of people, particularly when it comes to black women. You know, often times we ignore the fact that, historically, the feminist movements of the early 1900s ignored or aimed to kind of like neutralize and minimize black women’s voices. We ignored the fact that black women have endured a history of abuse and negligence by our country. I think that we really often enough just don’t talk about and really seek to empower black voices and experiences, particularly black voices and experiences who are women. So that’s why I think we’re talking about–we’re zooming in on black women today.
Ade: So you can’t see me, but I nodded so hard throughout all of that. I want you to know that if I have whiplash in the morning, I’m billing you directly.
Zach: Don’t bill me. Don’t bill me please.
Ade: No, thank you for sharing that. To kind of expound and share some of my own personal experiences, I mean, I’ve been in situations where I had my bonus docked at work, and I’m asking for concrete reasons as to why I don’t have all my money, because I earned this bonus, and the manager is making excuses like, “Oh, well, your computer failed, therefore you didn’t get this deliverable in on time,” and I’m like, “Okay, so you acknowledge that this was something that this was not within my control and I’m still being punished for it anyway?” And I had no allies. Like, I had plenty of people who were nice to me, plenty of people within that space who would listen to me and bring me coffee and acknowledge that I would be, you know, one of the few people who would show up to work on Sundays to get work done, which I’m never doing again. But nobody felt the need to go to bat for me the same way that they did for other people, and I think in retrospect there were a lot of people who were like, “Oh, she’s got this. Oh, she’s strong enough to deal with this. Oh, she’ll speak up for herself.” I mean, and I did, but nobody was listening to me, right? And that’s just one of several occasions in which I felt alone. I felt like I was being punished for things that were outside of my control, and even when I spoke up for myself people would treat me as though as I was overreacting or disturbing the peace by just asking to be treated fairly, right? And I found that ultimately I have had to be my own best advocate, and I think in ways that others don’t even have to think about, right? Thinking about ways in which I am communicating. For example, I have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor.
Ade: Thank you for backing me up. But I found that there are situations in which I have consciously dialed back, because I recognized that there were people who would say that I am being mean or that if I am not relating to the topic at hand–for example, people are just kind of talking through experiences that I’ve never experienced. I’m not gonna get up every day and wash my hair. That’s not how my hair functions. And so if I’m quiet in that conversation, people will report that I’m being standoffish. And so there are all of these things and all of these micro-aggressions that ultimately lead to me feeling isolated and unsupported in various workplace scenarios and situations. And so ultimately I want a world in which I don’t have to feel different. Like, I want to feel as though I can bring my whole self to work, my whole self, whether my twist-out is bomb or not, whether I feel like I need to go on every single coffee run with every single one of my coworkers just so that I feel like I belong. But that’s a conversation we can have a little bit later. Can you think of any situations that you’ve observed in which you felt that the black woman or black women in your spaces weren’t being taken seriously or were being treated differently?
Zach: So for sure, right? Interestingly enough though in my career, I have not–I haven’t really worked with a lot of black women who were not actually much more senior than I was, right? So, you know, my first experience when I think about it was I was in industry. I was in the oil and gas industry, and she’s now a mentor of mine. She’s easily one of the most learned, most educated people that I know period. Like, she has an MBA, a Ph.D. She teaches. She’s a college professor. And it was interesting watching her navigate these spaces, like, despite her education, people still, like, kind of, like, looking past her or, like, looking through the things that she would say and kind of just cutting her off and making a lot of very presumptive statements.
Ade: Ooh. Cutting her off? Good lord.
Zach: Cutting her off. Cutting her off, yeah, and watching her handle those situations with a lot of poise and grace and a still certain level of, like, firm confidence. Like, “Okay, nope. I got it.” And she’s–you know, she’s about, like, my mom’s age, so certainly she’s had a litany of experiences that I would imagine have, you know, helped her kind of deal with what it means just to be who she is in the spaces that she exists. But yeah, I think–I think that that’s been, like, the most common experience that I’ve seen, like, black women in the workplace who would be directors, senior managers–again, they were always senior to me–and they would be–they’d just be dismissed. Like, their opinion would be kind of, like, taken with a pound of salt, slight eye rolls and things of that nature, or kind of to your point, even I’ve seen situations–and this has been my experience as well, but we’re not talking about Zach’s experiences, we’re talking about black women’s experiences–where people will–you know, they’ll smile and they’ll nod, and then they’ll go off and they’ll do exactly what they want to do anyway.
Ade: Oh. Oh, my God. This is–this is just bringing back so many different flashbacks.
Zach: [laughs] No, but it’s real though. I’ve seen that, like, where it’s like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, okay. Yeah, no, for sure,” or like I said, you know, they’ll say things–they’ll be very nice, but then, like, they don’t really support you, and I think that kind of, like, speaks to a larger phenomena of people who think that you being nice is in some way you being an advocate, right? Like, no. Like, you’re just being nice. Like, there’s a difference, and I think to your earlier point about, you know, people saying you’re overreacting, I think people–it’s so funny. Like, when it comes to–in my experience when it comes to people of color, particularly women of color, folks are really able to see the implications of their decisions with folks’ careers when it’s their career.
Ade: Mm-hmm, say that.
Zach: But they don’t understand–like, they don’t understand the reality of your decision when it comes to my money, right? So, like, when you sit back and you say, “Oh, okay. Well, yeah, you know, your computer didn’t work, and so we cut your bonus.” You understand, like, you’re taking away my money? You’re taking away my livelihood. We live in a capitalistic society. Like, I need bread to live.
Zach: So when you sit back and you make decisions that are gonna impede my promotion, they’re gonna impede my ratings, they’re gonna impede my bonus, like, you’re actively taking money out of my pocket. So if you’re gonna do something like that where you’re gonna take money out of my pocket, you need to have a quantitative, valid, ethical and legal reason–
Ade: Have an ironclad reason.
Zach: An ironclad reason to do so, and it’s just crazy that people don’t grasp, like, you know, you’re talking about my bread. We’re gonna have a problem. But guess what though? I bet if somebody came at you like that, you’d be the first one to run to a lawyer, to run to whoever you’re gonna run to who’s gonna listen to you.
Ade: You’d be on the phone with [inaudible].
Zach: On the phone [inaudible] lickety-splickety. So, like, why are we playing?
Ade: [laughs] Lickety-splickety.
Ade: But yeah, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I spoke only of my own experiences, but there’s, like, a litany of experiences of the women in my circle and the women who are well above me who are just dealing with things that I don’t think they would be dealing with if they were white men, right? Just being excluded or people being condescending to you or people either treating you like you’re the third rail and they can’t speak to you like you’re a regular human being, or when they do speak to you it’s with this air of condescension like they know better than you what to do when you’re the subject matter expert, and it’s just–I can’t list literally every single one of things, but I do know this. I know that the tide is going to have to turn, not just because that it is so, but because people who have been studying and working and putting in time and effort to elucidate just what it means to be a black woman in America have extended themselves, right? And so I know that the work is being done. I know that I am just a small piece of a much larger universe of women who are like, “Yeah, this is cute and all, but we’re not having it. Thank you.” And of those, I think you had the opportunity to speak to one very, very amazing writer. You want to introduce her?
Zach: Yeah, so absolutely. So I got the opportunity, or rather Living Corporate had the opportunity, to speak with Feminista Jones. For those who may not know her, she’s an activist, she’s a black feminist. She’s a wonderful person, great writer, and she actually has written a book called Reclaiming Our Space, and we’ll get into that in the interview. The next voice you’re gonna hear is in the interview that we had with Feminista Jones, and we’ll talk to y’all soon.
Ade and Zach: Peace.
Zach: And we’re back. And as we said before the break, we have Feminista Jones on the show. Feminista, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Feminista: I’m doing well, thank you. How are you?
Zach: I’m doing great. Now, let me–let me ask you this. For those of us who don’t know you, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself?
Feminista: Sure. For those who don’t know me, I am a writer. I am a social worker. I am an activist. I am a speaker, I am a mother, and I am a really amazing friend.
Zach: Let’s go, yes.
Feminista: I do a lot around really advocating for girls and women, advocating for racial justice. I do a lot of anti-poverty work. That’s, like, my main primary focus is anti-poverty work. And I’m located in Philadelphia. I’m a native New Yorker, but I moved to Philadelphia a couple years ago because I really wanted to do work to fight poverty, and this city has such a high poverty rate that I wanted to come here and see what work I could help, you know, get done while I’m out here.
Zach: So today we’re talking about supporting black women in the workplace.
Feminista: Mm-hmm. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] I am familiar with your content and your work through social media. We’re excited to have you here because of your thought leadership in this arena. So what do you think are some practical ways black women can be better advocated for and supported in their 9-to-5 jobs?
Feminista: This is a really great question. I’m someone who is in a senior management position in the social work field, in the community activism fields, and a lot of people have misconceptions about, you know, community work and social work and think that it’s just about low-paying work all the time. And some of it is, but there is a lot of opportunities to move up, and when you’re in a senior-level position you’ve got to use multiple skill sets. And I think, just for black women, you know, people make a lot of assumptions that we can do so much all the time, and they rely on us to do that. So I think a lot of times people take for granted the contributions that we make or they take advantage of them, and they may expect that, you know, black women will just handle it, you know? Whatever the fires that need to be put out, black women come with an extinguisher. You know, we’re the problem solvers, and a lot of times, you know, we have no choice. We have to because we’re looked at, you know, one as being black, two as being women. We’re looked at it being doubly, you know, incompetent, and I feel like we’ve worked so hard to prove otherwise. And you’re working alongside men or alongside white people or reporting to men or reporting to white people. You have to, like, be mindful of how you’re gonna be perceived, and I think one of the biggest challenges facing black women in the workplace is this idea that people make assumptions about our attitude and our personality and just based on our affect, or, you know, they say we have attitudes or we have issues with communication. And that’s one of the things that I struggle with, because I feel like men are celebrated for being, you know, direct and blunt and forward and aggressive. I feel like white people are celebrated for, like, not taking no for an answer and, you know, really kind of just putting it out there and taking risks, but it’s like when black women do it, you know, people kind of look at us like, you know, we just tried to suggest something really radical. They kind of look at us like, “How dare you?” almost, and it sucks because we are smart and we are capable, we are talented, and sometimes it’s just we’re not appreciated simply because we’re black women.
Zach: That’s just–that’s so true, right? So, like, as a black man in the workplace–so I’m a consultant, and I don’t often really work with black women on projects. I don’t really work with other black people often, but when I do I notice that there’s this–there’s this pattern where if a black woman speaks up–I’ve noticed where if they speak up and they’re being assertive, it is taken completely different than when a white woman speaks up as being assertive and certainly when a man, especially a white man, speaks up and is being assertive. Now, speaking for myself as a black man, there’s also, like, a weird balance, right, because we–like, black men do participate in patriarchy of course, and we also–we also sit higher on the privilege pyramid than black women, and at the same time there’s a–there’s a certain level of balance in terms of not being too assertive but but not being assertive enough at the same time. It’s like you truly can’t win for losing, so I definitely–I relate to that, and I have–and I’ve seen it more than a few times with black women, especially if they’re, you know, a bit more seasoned in their careers. Let’s say if they’re, like, over 35 and they really know what they’re talking about, they’re often seen as a–they’re often seen as a threat as opposed–
Feminista: Absolutely, absolutely. And I just wanted to touch really quickly what you were saying about, you know, black men in the workplace. Like, I’ve had situations where I’ve been, you know, on the same level as a black man, and, like, he’s made mistakes, and I’m like, “I’m not trying to have this brother go down,” you know what I mean? Because he messed up, or I’m not gonna make him look bad in front of these white people that hired–you know, that are over all of us, but at the same time I’m looking like, “Bruh,” like, “I need you to get it together.”
Zach: And support me.
Feminista: “You can’t rely on me to fix all your things, you know?” Like, you know that I have a certain skill set. You know that I’m not gonna let you fail ’cause you’re my brother, but at the same time don’t take that for granted.
Zach: That’s so true.
Feminista: And then when you do have the space to advocate for me as, like, a woman, I need you to do that, and I think, you know, one of my colleagues, I had a great conversation with him, and he said, you know, “I can get the race stuff with the snap of a finger,” he said, “but every time you point out something about gender,” he said, “I think about it, like, what if this was being said about a white person?” And he’s like, “And I feel so stupid that I don’t get it,” you know? And so it’s–like, there’s work to be done, and he’s acknowledging that, like, some of his gender stuff is still real, and it’s almost like I have to compare it to race to help him to see it more, and he hates it. Like, he feels so bad, and he, like, resents it, but, you know, definitely he’s getting better, and I respect him for at least doing the work. But there are, like, those boys’ club kind of environments that while I know a lot of brothers say that, you know, they have their own experiences, they’re still invited into those clubs before we are.
Zach: That’s true. Absolutely, absolutely. So I’ve been married for about 5 years, 5 1/2 years, and being married has really helped open my eyes to male privilege. And again, like, it’s a–I think black men, like, we can get really sensitive about kind of broaching that topic ’cause it’s like, “Well, there’s still racism.” It’s like, “No.” Absolutely, like, white supremacy still exists, and it subjugates all non-white people. At the same time, there’s still a nuance, an element of privilege that we participate in because we are men, and it’s important to realize that. Also to your point around women helping–you said you’ve helped your colleagues in the past ’cause they’re a brother, and shout-out to the countless black women in my career who have pulled me aside and helped me and taken the time to just–felt the need to just educate me or mentor me. Really that’s really the inspiration behind Living Corporate, because I didn’t have a lot of those people in my family coming up giving me, you know, professional wisdom and insights, but it would often be black women pulling me aside and being like, “Hey, look now. [I know that you did this?].”
Feminista: [laughs] Yeah, I hear that a lot. You know, if my colleague listens to this he’ll laugh, because just the other day we were at the–we were at a conference, and we went to the bar, and I sat him down and we were drinking, and I turned to him and I said, “Look, I’ma need to get your ass together,” you know what I mean? Like, I really–he said, you know–and he got quiet. He’s like, “I know it’s coming from love. I know it’s coming from a good place,” but it’s like–it is, because it’s like, “Brother, I don’t want to see you fail, but, you know, some of the things you’re doing is like–I need you to do better,” and I said, “I’m gonna help you because I have the resources and I have, you know, the ability to do that, because I want to see you succeed,” and I think sometimes, you know, I think within our spaces, particularly as black women, it’s like we are so few when we’re in, you know, these upper spaces, it’s like we look to each other to build community, and it’s like that’s all we got, you know? That’s really all we got, and so it’s hard when there’s tension there, ’cause it’s like, “We shouldn’t have tension between us.” We can disagree on things, but honestly we all we got.
Zach: We’ve got to work together.
Feminista: That’s the approach I’d take, yeah.
Zach: Absolutely, and you know–I don’t want to get on too much of a tangent, but your other point around there is, like, this desire and, like–’cause I cape for black women every day. Like, I have to. My mom is black. My wife is black. Like, I have black sisters. I love–I love black women, right? And what I realized is a lot of times I do believe that there has–there is a pattern of black men, like, using up black women, like as means of support and encouragement and all these different things and really taking them for granted. And I’ve seen it–I have seen it in the professional workplace. Of course I’ve seen it in the workplace. We see it in relationships. We see it–we see it in a variety of spaces, and I do believe to your other–to your point around black men need to play a more assertive part for advocating for, speaking up, and supporting black women as well. Okay, so let me ask you this. I do feel as if language is becoming more inclusive but at the same time not as explicit when it comes to centering blackness, specifically black women. So as an example, we hear things like “person of color” or “women of color,” but often in my opinion our race is the uniqueness of black identity and black feminine identity. So my question is one, am I tripping, and if two–if not, what are ways to affirm and assert intersectional identity, do you think?
Feminista: Mm-hmm. Well, you’re not tripping, and I think, you know, anti-blackness is, you know, a quite valuable currency, even among black people. We have all internalized the idea that black is bad, and it’s going to take generations, centuries of work, to collectively divest of that idea that blackness is tarnishing, blackness is a blemish. And so there are people who will say women of color, people of color, rather than just saying black, because people have been afraid to say black. And, you know, of course for some people, you know, black means a black American, but for me, you know, when I say black I mean, you know, inclusive of everyone in the diaspora, whether you are from the continent, whether you’re from South America, North America, Asia, wherever, Europe. For me that’s just a unifier. For others it means different things, you know? So a lot of times people shy away from that, and then when they say people of color or they say women of color, in many ways it does dilute the focus, and what happens is this. So much of what happens to women, like, say, in a negative way, happens to black women, and so people want to use our statistics to make their points. And so they’ll say “women of color,” right, but of those 10 women of color, like, 7 of ’em are black, and so they can say, you know, “70% of women of color experience this,” and it’s like, “Yes, seven black women experience that.” [laughs] We see that in the feminist movement. We see that in the queer movement. We see that wherever black people exist. Folks want to use our statistics to push their agenda, and I have a problem with that. I have a very serious problem with that, and I agree with you. Like, we need to name blackness for what it is, or if you want to say African-American or Afro-Latino, whatever you want to say. They need to name it for what it is, because it’s real. Like, if you look at some place like Brazil, it’s–like, you can’t say there’s 55 million, you know, women of color in Brazil. No, there’s 55 million black women in Brazil, you know? And that’s more black–there’s more black women there than there are black people in the United States. So no, we have to name these things, and it’s powerful. It’s powerful when you name blackness for what it is, for its achievement and success but also for its struggle, because it puts the focus and the spotlight on us. So, like, when you’re talking about black women and black feminine identity, particularly, like, in the workspace and beyond, we have to focus specifically on that, because an Asian woman is not facing the same hair issues. She may have similar name issues on her resume, right? But she’s not–she’s not facing the hair issues, right? An Indian woman may be seen as, you know, she’s super smart with tech, because that’s an assumption that is made, you know? It’s very different for us, you know? Either a biracial woman, you know, may not have the same issues with color if her skin tone is lighter. You know, there’s a–there’s a lot of things that are going on there that we need to name explicitly.
Zach: And see, I think–and my anxiety about even bringing that question up is that people will hear that and say, “Oh, okay. Well, now you’re excluding other people,” when not at all. Really what we’re trying to do is push that we’re explicit with identity language across the board, right? So you just gave three examples, right, of why it’s important to be specific when it comes to speaking to identity and intersectionality. I believe that we see it at a larger point, and we talked about this in season one, around the pay gap, and we talked about–we talked about that from the perspective of, you know, when you conflate gender across the board and you say, “Well, women believe this, and men are like–” Well, no. Like, that’s–I mean, just being a very, like, initial cut, black men and white men do not have the same experiences. Black women and white women do not have the same experiences. Asian women and white women don’t have the same experiences. So it’s really empowering across if we can have the courage to just speak explicitly to who we’re talking about.
Feminista: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean, the experiences are different. People will say, “Oh, women make 77 cents on the dollar,” but that’s not true for a black woman. A black woman is more like 56 cents, 54 cents or something like that.
Zach: It is, yeah.
Feminista: Like, it’s different. Again, but that’s, like, padding the numbers, and things like that to bring down the average, ’cause I believe, like–I think I read something like Asian women are on par with white men, and white women are, like, 80% or something like that. Like, they’re–
Zach: So it’s crazy. Like, the numbers absolutely agree [inaudible]. Like, you know, I’ve seen numbers that are, you know–so, like, white men are 100%, and then white women might be at, like, 77 cents. Black women are at 64 cents, and black men are at, like, 67 cents or 68 cents. But, like, we never talk about–we never talk–not we never talk about, that’s not fair, because there’s plenty of people driving those discussions, but when you talk about, like, the major narrative talking points in the media, we don’t ever talk about the fact that, like, white women make more than black men. Like, that’s–I’ve never heard that, right?
Feminista: Oh, I’ve heard that discussion quite a bit. I mean, it just–we may just be in different circles.
Zach: I defer.
Feminista: You know, I’ve heard quite a bit, and it is important, you know, to discuss, because, I mean, it’s the truth, right? So it’s like–you know, but black women just kind of sit back and be like, “Y’all have at it,” because you’re either gonna bicker over the race thing or you’re gonna bicker over the gender thing.
Zach: It’s never both, right?
Feminista: And we’re both. We’re the ones that are saying it’s both, you know? [laughs] And nobody wants to listen to us on either side, so you all hash it out.
Zach: You’re absolutely right. No, you’re absolutely right, and so–and no, I defer. I would trust that if you’ve heard it then it’s–then those conversations are happening in the right places. So I believe that leads us well into your book, Reclaiming Our Space. Can you talk a bit about the book and how you arrived at that title?
Feminista: The title was really interesting. It took us a while to get there. I didn’t know what I wanted to call it. What I did know was, you know, shout-out to my editor, Rakia Clark at Beacon Press. She’s amazing. She’s fantastic. She helped me along the way. On–okay, so if we talk about the book, I–she came to me, right? I guess she was among a bunch of folks who thought I had already written something like this, because my first two books were self-published and did really well, and so I was never–like, I wasn’t looking for a publishing agent or a publisher or anything like that. I wasn’t looking for a literary agent. I was like, “I can just do it myself,” you know? And cut out the middleperson, but when she came to me and approached me it was like, you know, “Have you written anything like this?” And I was like, “No.” She was like, “Well, do you want to?” Like, “We’re interested in this,” and I was like, “What? Sure, okay,” and the idea was really to write about not just modern black feminism but specifically kind of speak to my experiences and those of my peers of existing as black feminists in these digital spaces. So ultimately the book is about how black feminists and black women, even those that don’t openly identify as feminists, have been able to build community by using digital platforms and how social media has been a–you know, basically a change agent in how we do activism or how we connect across the world and how it’s changed our ability to get our messaging out and to change the face of feminism, and we’ve been able to educate people and influence popular culture and shape laws and everything, you know? I talk about our political influence. I talk about our, you know, influence on television and, you know, this whole live tweeting thing came from us. And, you know, we’re talking about black women voting. We’re talking about critiquing white feminism. We’re talking about–even things down to, like, quote tweeting and threading tweets and things like that. Like, all these things really became popular because of us. So I do a deep dive into that, but I start off with basics of, you know, what is black feminism? I wanted to write a primer for black feminism that was accessible to people of today. We know that people have shorter attention spans. They really want the hot takes. They want the summaries and things like that. They’re not going to sit down with a thick Patricia Hill Collins book, although they should. They’re not going back and reading, you know, everything from bell hooks, everything from Toni Morrison. They may not even know who Florence Kennedy is, right? But they need to, and so I was like, “Well, how do I tell our story? ‘Cause I need to show how we got here,” and so I do give a very straightforward quick primer on black feminism, and I go back, like, 125 years or so, and then I bring us to the present, and I’m like, “Well, here are your modern black feminists of today,” and so I’m talking about, like, my sister Jamilah Lemieux. I’m talking about Imani Gandy. I’m talking about Zerlina Maxwell. I’m talking about, you know, these really–CaShawn Thompson, who created Black Girl Magic. You know, I’m talking about these women who, right now, in present day, are making history. I’m talking about Trudy, you know? And just a bunch of others. They’re currently making history. Not just black history, not just women’s history, but they are making history in the ways in which they are transforming these social media platforms. We are creating campaigns. We are, you know, changing literally the world and culture, and I’m writing all about it, ’cause I felt that it needed to be documented. We needed to have something that encapsulated this entire moment right now.
Zach: So for our audience, I think many have heard of the term feminism, but the modifier black is still new for a lot of people. So would you mind explaining the difference between what we often think of as feminism and black feminism?
Feminista: That’s a great question. I get it a lot, and I think the difference is just we are directing people to our identity as black women, which we believe is important in every discussion about our womanhood, and I think, as I said earlier about kind of looking at the both sides of things, the gender and the race, there’s a really great collection of works that really references this idea that, you know, all of the men are black and all of the women are white. When we think about, within our black community, you know, blackness really is depicted through a black man, and those are our leaders, and those are the people we care more about when they’re killed by police and all these other things, but when it’s for a woman, when we think “woman” it’s white women, right? But some of us are–we exist in the middle, and to say that we are feminists is–you know, it’s a collective idea. All people, women–all women of all races can be feminists, but when we say that we are black feminists, we are saying yes, we believe in women’s rights, yes, we support gender, you know, equality, and yes, we support equity, but don’t forget that we’re black and that we have different issues on top of all of these other issues that women deal with, right? So we have all the feminist issues AND those that come with being not just black but black women within the black community.
Zach: You know, it’s interesting that you say that because, you know, I have a colleague who is a very senior leader, and she’s a white woman, and she said, “Yeah, Zach. I mean, I’m a woman, but I’m white, right? Like, I don’t have it that bad,” and so–and she kind of chuckled about it, and she was like, “But let’s be honest, I don’t.” And I said, “Okay.” You know, with that being said–
Feminista: Well, she’s right.
Zach: She is right. I said, “Yep.” [laughs] Yeah, and I laughed. I was–you know, kind of as an aside, I laughed because I was so shocked because she’s so senior and she was being–she was speaking so frankly that I said–I laughed and I said, “Well, you know, you’re right. You’re right,” and so it leads me to this question. What are some practical ways you believe white women can support black women generally and at work? And what have you seen be helpful in your journey?
Feminista: If I say get out the way, is that too harsh? [laughs] Nah.
Zach: It’s your energy.
Feminista: You know, I mean, ultimately–the bottom line is this. There is no single person I believe that is willing to totally divest of whatever privilege they have if it means staying alive and it means that their children are fed, and I don’t care who you are. You will cling to some privilege, whatever privilege you have, to make sure that you can stay alive and that your children are fed. With that said, there are white women who I have really come to know and love and respect, who value my opinions, my thoughts, my work, and amplify it without adding qualifiers to it. They’ll share my work. They’ll share information about my articles and my books, and they’ll direct people to events that I’m having or things like that. They’ll use their platforms to really kind of boost, you know, the work that I and other people are doing, which is super important. In the quiet spaces that I don’t even have access to they’ll stand up for me and folks like me. They’ll call out people that are close to them, you know? Even at the risk of losing those connections. Those are women that I find to be truly amazing when you’re talking about in the corporate space. I’m coming from, you know, the social work/non-profit field, and we know that that field is ripe with white saviors. Many liberal white women, and men, you know, kind of get into this work ’cause they want to “do good” and they want to “help the needy,” and sometimes that can really be actually racist, ’cause the assumptions they make about, you know, people in need or poor people or black people or things like that under the guise of wanting to help can be rather violent. So I’ve had my share of run-ins with white women in that space, ’cause I’m like, “You’ll never tell me that you know what’s better for a black child than I do.” [laughs] I don’t care who you are. We have the same education and experience. But what you can do in that space is really just listen, and I think that, you know, social media definitely has made it a lot easier to listen and to access the voices and experiences of marginalized folks, whereas a lot of white women never really had exposure, you know, in such even and equal platforms. I can tweet just as much as you can, so we have an even playing field right there, and you can listen and you can read and you can learn from me as I’m telling you my experience that I just had today. You don’t have to pick up a book later on in the year of anecdotes. You can see right now that I am telling you that 20 minutes ago my white boss did this, you know? And I think that that’s really helped white women come to understand more about the daily experiences of women of color and black women specifically. So a lot of women are actually–you know, especially millennials. The younger folks are really kind of just, like, “Eff it. I’m just gonna say what I need to say.”
Zach: Yeah, we with the smoke. Yeah. [laughs]
Feminista: “I’m gonna stand up for this–I’m gonna stand up for this black woman right here, ’cause this ain’t right,” you know? And I love the energy. I mean, you know, for an older person like myself, I really love the energy that I’m seeing. So maybe we’ll see some major changes coming.
Zach: Maybe so. That’s my prayer for sure. Before we get out of here, let me ask you this. What was the process like for you writing this book? I know you talked about that you were self-published before. This was a different journey. You know, did you learn anything about yourself from this journey?
Feminista: Oh, my gosh. Yes. This is totally different. My first book I wrote over the course of 2 years. The second one I actually pulled some pieces that I had written before and wrote some new ones, but it only took me a few months. This one I was on a deadline. I had, like, “You need this by this time and this by this time, and you need to get this in, and you need to review this, and we need this back by this day,” and I was like, “What is happening?” I’ve been the kind of person who, if you give me a deadline it starts to feel like work, and sometimes when it starts to feel like work it doesn’t come as–you know, it doesn’t flow as well. So I struggled a little bit with that. I had 6 months to write it, and the first 2 months I just was like, “What?” I was like, “What is going on?” I had just had, like, a really bad breakup. I was depressed. I was like, “I don’t want to do anything with anyone ever, and I don’t want to talk anyone, and I don’t want to do–” I couldn’t write a word, and then my editor gently nudged me and reminded me of that first check that I got, and I was like, “I should probably write this book.” The other thing, you know, I’m also, you know, a mental health consumer and advocate, and I realized that part of my writing struggle was the medication that I was–that I had been taking. It evens my mood so much that I’m–like, I can’t–I’m not creative. I don’t think of things. I couldn’t–I literally couldn’t write, so for about a month I stopped taking my medication, and I’ll tell people, I wrote about 80% of the book in a month, that month, and it was, like, kind of–it was such a negotiation for me because I knew that without the medication I would be a bit manic, I would be a bit frenzied, you know? I would have these bouts with, you know, depression or whatever, but I knew I could get it done. And so there were days where, you know, I would write until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and just write, like, brilliant stuff, like, that I don’t half-remember now, so. But I knew it was a risk, you know, and I am being very transparent about it because, you know, I just think it’s important to do that, but it was a risk, but I was able to get it done. And so what I learned–it helped me really learn how much of my, you know, mental health experiences have been tied into my ability to write, and it’s been a fascinating, fascinating discovery. So after the book was done, you know, I went back on my medication, and I’ve been in therapy and what have you, but as I was doing rewrites and things like that and reviewing it, I was reading it, like, for the first time. I was just like, “I wrote this?” I just couldn’t remember writing so much of it, and then I was like, “I actually wrote this,” and I was like, “This is pretty damn good.” [laughs] But that’s–you know, so that is a very, very unique writing process, and it’s funny ’cause this is the first time I’m talking about it. A very unique writing process that I won’t recommend to anybody else ever, but you know what? The easiest thing I’m gonna have to say is this – I enjoy writing about my friends and myself, ’cause that’s really what I was doing, and if you can imagine–let’s imagine we go back to the Harlem Renaissance, right? And we look at all those people that we group together as, like, these collectives from the Harlem Renaissance. Imagine if one of them had been documenting what they were doing at the time. It’s kind of like the crisis, like, I mean, you know, these other papers and stuff that they had, like, imagine if somebody actually wrote a book in real-time kind of documenting, you know, what was happening and that we were able to read it in their words. That’s what I wanted to do, and so I get to write about all these women that I love and respect and love reading their writing, love having drinks with them, love–you know, and I’m privileged. I’m privileged, and it was an honor for me to be able to document their contribution to black feminist work.
Zach: That’s amazing, and–I’m certainly taken aback, and I’m excited and honored with the fact that you’re able to–you’re transparent enough to share your journey in putting this work together. The book is called Reclaiming Our Space. Before we let you go, do you have any parting thoughts?
Feminista: I’m just really excited that the book is coming out and that people can read it, and I wrote it to make it accessible to teenaged girls all the way up to your mee-maw, your big momma. I really hope that it gets into the hands of people that need it, and then maybe it could start to shift this discourse a bit and get black women a little bit more respect for what we’re doing. [laughs]
Feminista: Yeah, that’s it. So thank you so much. Oh, my gosh. This was great.
Zach: No, this is great. So Feminista, something you should know is on our website we have something called Favorite Things, and that’s where we highlight books and even sometimes food and just other items, things that we really care for, and your book, Reclaiming Our Space, will be #1 on our Favorite Things list. So we’re gonna make sure that we push and encourage people to check it out, to buy it and to read it. So thank you so much, and we definitely consider you a friend of the show. We hope we can have you back.
Feminista: Oh, I would love to come back. Thank you.
Zach: All right, now. Peace.
Ade: And we’re back. Thank you so much, Zach. That was amazing. Enjoyed that conversation. I think it helped me really think through what it means to lift up the black women in your circle, not just your personal circle, ’cause it’s really easy to uplift your friends, but also thinking through how you’re uplifting the black women at work, in your corporate spaces, wherever you might hold sway or have some sort of influence that you might be able to use better help others. What part of the conversation did you really enjoy?
Zach: So we had a conversation there where we talked about the fact that really, for me, black women have always been, like, the core of my support in my career, right? So there was always some type of either kind of like motherly or kind of big aunt or big sister type figure around me. Like, they would chastise me, but it would always be out of love, right? It would always be in the spirit of “I want you to do better” or “I know you can do better so I’m holding you accountable,” and it was crazy because these women who would–again, who would help me, they were not getting the support that they needed, and yet they still found it in themselves to give me the support that they knew I needed, and, you know, I think there’s gonna have to be a day eventually–I mean, the day is now frankly, right–that black women are poured into, right? They can’t continue just to be the exporter of support and wisdom and empathy and effort, right? Like, they’re going–like, they need to be imported into. Like, they need to be given support. They need to be empathized with. They need to be heard. They need to be–and their words should be–their words should be adhered to, right? Like, they need–the things that they are giving they need to also receive.
Ade: Aye, reciprocity.
Zach: Reciprocity, thank you. No, straight up. That’s the word really, reciprocity. Like, they need that, because I think so many times–like, it’s so interesting. Also I’ve seen women at work, black women at work, who will eventually just get kind of fed up with, like, the BS and kind of call people on it. Like, in a professional way, but it may be, like, a more assertive way, and then the narrative is “Oh, she has an attitude problem,” or she doesn’t know how to handle things. Like, no, she doesn’t have an attitude problem. She’s tired of y’all treating her like this. She’s tired of–she’s tired of being the work mule for everybody, from a work perspective, from an emotional perspective. She’s tired of it. Like, that’s what it is.
Ade: And I just want to say how important that is, because very often you’ll hear about the trip of the angry black woman. I mean, it follows us everywhere, especially to Corporate America, and everybody wants to talk about the angry black woman, but nobody ever wants to talk about what y’all did to make her angry.
Zach: That’s so true, wow.
Ade: Okay, so one, anger is a valid emotion.
Zach: Right? [laughs]
Ade: I just–I don’t feel like running away from the trope. To be frank, so much occurs that we get to be upset about. Like, everybody gets to be upset about whatever it is upsets them, because that’s their right, so I don’t understand why it is up to black women–I mean, no, I do understand. I’m just saying that I’m done with that.
Zach: Facts. [laughs]
Ade: Women very often will be graded on likability, and black women will be graded on likability and your ability to swallow a whole bunch of nonsense and just grin and bear it, right? But if you decide that you are A. not going to grin and bear it and 2. not only are you not going to grin and bear it, you’re going to alert the folks who feel as though it’s your duty to grin and bear it that you see through the BS and you will not be having any portion of it. Suddenly you’re the bad guy, and so ultimately I think it’s important that we take away from this – if you feel as though the black women in Corporate America or in your spaces or at your jobs are angry, perhaps they have a right to be, right? There is this phenomenon I’ve noticed. I mean, I haven’t conducted a federally-funded study of this, so there’s that. Most of this is from my own personal experiences.
Zach: Right, right.
Ade: But I’ve noticed that, you know, these companies will bring in somebody who meets their diversity quota. So in this situation we’re talking about bringing a black woman in to your notoriously anti-black misogynistic spaces, and you just leave her to sink or swim, right? And so this woman is cataloging all the ways in which you could be doing better as an organization and saying, “Hey, I have noticed that this is trash, and these are the ways in which you could do better,” and instead of, you know, actually paying attention and doing better like the [inaudible] claim that you are, you ignore her. You shut her down. You make her feel as though she is imagining things or pulling things out of thin air or that she is in fact the problem, and then when she finally gets fed up and goes, “You know what? Y’all got it. I’m good,” suddenly she is the insane one in the scenario, or suddenly she’s the one that’s making a big deal out of nothing, or she’s playing the victim, and this mass gaslighting of black women in Corporate America 1. is trash, 2. honestly, I feel as though we can’t be the only ones who see it, right?
Zach: No. We’re definitely–no, definitely not. Definitely not.
Ade: And even further, here are some concrete ways in which I believe everyone could reach a hand out to the women in your circle. One, it is not enough for you to simply have a diversity and inclusion program. I mean, that’s cool and all, but a lot of your diversity and inclusion programs are–flimsy is the word I want to use. It’s the one G-rated word that I have off the top of my head to describe your diversity and inclusion programs. They’re flimsy, and they do not actually take into account the needs and experiences of the populations that you want to actually address. So for one, every person that you hire, period, should feel like they’re able to bring their whole selves to work. And I don’t say–I’m not saying that they should show up to work in an unprofessional manner or that they should show up to work and bring drama or chaos to work. That’s clearly not what I’m saying, and I’m hoping that you people hear me when I say that. What I am saying is that I should not feel as though I have to decipher what it is that you want from me as an employee because you are uncomfortable just speaking to me like I am a regular human being. I should not feel as though I don’t know what the company culture is, because it is your responsibility as the company who creates the culture to communicate that clearly and honestly and fairly. Give me a fair shot to show that not only do I belong here, I can thrive here. And more importantly, do not put the onus on your individual employees to change the entire company structure. It is unfair. It is irrational to say that, “Well, they didn’t say that they wanted an employee resource group,” or “They didn’t say that they needed sponsorship programs that would, you know, put the black women on partnership track,” or “They didn’t say that they needed XYZ in order to be more successful.” It is–it is your responsibility as the managers, as the directors, as the partners, to reach out, because you are the ones with power in your hands to do something about the situation and the environment that your employees are in. And if you are a black woman who finds herself at work and incapable of really navigating your career to the best of your abilities, for one I am sorry. It’s trash. It is a terrible situation to be in, to feel as though you have walked a thousand miles, you’ve crossed deserts, you have swam oceans. You have done everything above and beyond where you felt that you needed to be, where everybody else needed to be, and you walk into the room and people are still questioning your right and your ability to be in there and succeed. That’s trash. Secondly, find allies. Find a safe space. Find somebody who is able to look outside of themselves and see you and really want to help you, and I am sorry that, again, it seems to be your responsibility to do so, but we gonna be alright. And thirdly, and I can’t stress this enough, find a therapist, and here’s why I say find a therapist. You will have days at work, some days, that make you feel as though it is all in your head and you really have no idea what’s going on, but when you write things down and you’re able to really talk through what happened and why you feel the way that you do at work it really helps. It helps you see yourself, see the truth of the situation, and also create, like, a plan of attack as to how you’re going to address the nonsense that you are–that you are facing. I wish all of you love and light. I think we said all of that–not to be performative, but in the show notes we’ll have a list of suggested readings for anyone who is interested in really learning about the crux of the conversation today, which was black feminism. We’ll have some books, including Feminista Jones’s book called Reclaiming Our Space, to help those who are interested in really helping black women at work. Zach, do you have any thoughts?
Zach: I mean, nah. You said everything right there. I don’t want to really encroach on your space. You did a phenomenal job. Let’s continue on with our Favorite Things. You ready?
Ade: All right, guys. Favorite Things. So this week, my Favorite Thing, it’s called The Self-Taught Programmer by Cory Althoff. Actually, let me read the whole title. The Self-Taught Programmer: The Definitive Guide to Programming Professionally, and I’ve been reading this book, I mean, for the last couple of days between studying, and it feels good. I mean, it’s giving some super actionable advice. It’s not, like, a code-heavy or an algorithm-heavy book. Instead it talks about many of the habits that you need to build to be–like, to be really successful and have a sustainable trajectory, and it’s been amazing. What about you?
Zach: Yeah, so my Favorite Thing right now is obviously Feminista Jones’s new book Reclaiming Our Space. It was a great, powerful, approachable read when you talk about around all items of black feminism. I love Feminista Jones’s work, and what’s refreshing about this book is that it captures the same unapologetic energy that she has, like, that’s really part of her brand, and it just captures it well in this book. I think a lot of times you can end up kind of reading someone’s book and it’s like, “Man, this does not really capture your voice at all.” It just doesn’t really, like, align with things that I’ve read or things that I’ve–other things that I’ve seen come from you.” This is not that, and it’s also really convicting, right? Like, it–again, I think–I know rather that black women are often—their voices and experiences are often minimized, even when it comes to inclusion and diversity discussions or equity discussions, often times with black men being the predominant character in the–in the narratives that we drive, right? So, like, even when you talk–like, a prominent example would be police brutality, and they always say, you know, “Black men are killed at XYZ rate that’s disproportionate,” and that’s true, black men are killed at ridiculously disproportionate rates compared to their white counterparts, but do you know who’s killed at even higher rates disproportionate to their white counterparts? Black women, right? But, like, we don’t–but when you talk about, like, the common talking headline, we don’t say that. We don’t say–we don’t even just say “black people,” we say “black men,” right? Like, there’s a desire to center them, to center us, in a space that–it’s not even accurate, right? It’s not even the whole truth, and I think that, you know, it’s important for black men to recognize–and we talked about this during the interview as well, but to recognize that yes, we are–we are on the receiving end of oppression and white supremacy. We also benefit from a patriarchal society, and there are ways that we benefit from patriarchy that black women do not, and it is important for us to leverage that little bit of privilege that we have to help black women, ’cause they don’t have–they don’t have it. And that reminds me, we actually have a couple copies of her book, and we’ll be giving them away. Yeah. So if you want to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Feminista Jones’s book Reclaiming Our Space, @ us a screenshot of a 5-star review on iTunes and caption Living Corporate, okay? So go on Instagram, take a picture, screenshot your 5-star review on iTunes, and then tag us in it, and we’ll make sure to put you in the drawing so you can get the book.
Ade: Dope. Well, thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through www.living-corporate.com. If you have a question you’d like us to answer and read on the show, please make sure you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s it for us today. This has been Ade.
Zach: This has been Zach.
Ade and Zach: Peace.