Congressman John Conyers was the
first politician to leave his job after the “Me Too” hash
tag galvanized women to speak up about sexual misconduct, harassment
and more. Too bad that impetus did not float up to the top, when an
avowed grabber of women’s genitals was elected to lead this
country. Too bad, too, that the many members of Congress who have
paid accusers out of a taxpayer-funded slush fund have not been
unmasked. We know some of the names. Texas Congressman Blake
Farenthold (R) arranged to have his former communications director
paid $84,000 (a fraction of the $27,000 Conyers is said to have
paid). He has not resigned, nor have Congressional Republicans,
including leader Paul Ryan (R-WI), called for his resignation. He
says he will pay the money back. Right.
a woman I am cheered by the #MeToo movement, although I am also
chagrined by the myopia about women of color and sexual
harassment/rape/more. In 1944, Recy Taylor was viciously raped by
seven white men who never paid a price. Our 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 (Vintage, 2010). And 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 an
African American woman, Michelle Vinson, 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”.
I quibble, but this overwhelming stand against sexual misconduct (and
more – getting nude in front of your staff is not misconduct,
nor is forcible kissing, nor is grabbing by the you know what) 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, one abusive grope?
Why do nooses get to be seen as “jokes”, while unwanted
kissing is seen as an occurrence of zero tolerance?
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 “just kidding” or “didn’t
know” when they are racially insensitive, and nobody calls it,
but they are willing to call it on gender. If you look at the Senate
and the House of Representatives, the paucity of people of color as
senior staff 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 for
Congress. Why aren’t members of Congress calling each other on
their racial myopia?
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’s rise up the hierarchy in corporate
America, politics, the media, and entertainment is slow, it 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. Too few white men and women, at the same time, have
been willing to apply the same “zero tolerance” to
employment matters regarding race.
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.