By Julianne Malveaux
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) was the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to leave his job after the “MeToo” hashtag galvanized women to speak up about sexual misconduct, harassment and more. Too bad that impetus did not float up to the top, where an avowed grabber of women’s genitals occupies the White House. It’s also unfortunate, that members of Congress have paid sexual assault accusers out of a taxpayer-funded slush fund have not been unmasked. We know some of the names. Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) arranged to have his former communications director paid $84,000 (a fraction of the $27,000 Conyers is said to have paid). Farenthold has not resigned, nor have Congressional Republicans called for his resignation, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Farenthold said he will pay the money back. Yeah, right.
As a woman, I am cheered by the #MeToo movement, although I am also annoyed by the myopia about women of color and sexual harassment, assault and rape. In 1944, Recy Taylor was viciously raped by seven White men, who never paid a price. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks was an NAACP investigator in this case, as chronicled by Danielle McGuire in her book, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.” The first case in which the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was brought by Michelle Vinson, an African American woman, in the case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986). The high-profile, White women who are talking about workplace sexual harassment and assault really need to acknowledge the many ways that African American women have been systematically abused, and systematically ignored (and sometimes conspired against) by their White “sisters.”
Perhaps I quibble, but this overwhelming stand against sexual misconduct and beyond (getting nude in front of your staff, forcible kissing, grabbing women by the you know what, etc.) makes me wonder when there will be a similar groundswell against racism and racial harassment in the workplace. Numerous cases of nooses being displayed in workplaces have been reported in the last decade, so many that a law journal published an article titled, “Does One Noose in the Workplace Constitute a Hostile Work Environment? If Not, How Many?” One isolated incident is not enough, the article opines. What about one unwanted kiss or one abusive grope? Why do nooses get to be seen as “jokes,” while unwanted kissing is seen as an occurrence of zero tolerance?
I’m not ever, ever, ever going to excuse sexual perfidy (and more) in the workplace, but I do wonder why we can wink, nod, and grin about racial workplace misbehavior while we stand our ground about gender. I wonder why so many say accept the “just kidding” or “I didn’t know” excuse when people are racially insensitive, but are now willing to hold press conferences and speak out against sexism in the workplace. If you look at the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, the paucity of people of color as senior staffers is amazing, as documented by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Surely, there is no shortage of highly qualified African Americans and Latinos who could work on Capitol Hill. Why aren’t members of Congress calling each other on their racial myopia?
Perhaps racism and racial harassment are a little more complicated than sexism and sexual harassment. Half of the population, after all, is female, and while women make the slow climb up the hierarchy in corporate America, politics, the media, and entertainment, the pace has been steady enough that powerful women are now able to call men out on their misbehavior, with women demanding resignations of (some) misbehaving men. However, too few White women and men have been willing to apply the same “zero tolerance” to employment matters regarding race.
There should never be another noose laid on a Black employee’s desk or displayed in a workplace. There should never be another intimidating Confederate flag flying in a Black person’s face. There should never be another opportunity for an employee (or fellow student, or faculty member) to talk about picking cotton. There should never be another blackface performance, anywhere. And there should never be another person who talks about zero tolerance around workplace sexism to accept any whisper of workplace racism.
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