Some people would call it bitterly ironic that the Supreme Court decided to uphold the state of Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action just days before hearing Donald Sterlings’ racist, antebellum views on race relations in this country.
However, African-Americans and other minorities who experience professional racism on a daily basis would summarize these two happenings as chapter 1 in the book of “Such is life, if you happen to be anything but a white man in America.” Racist acts that make white mainstream folks react in shock evoke nothing more than a fatalistic yawn from most minorities.
We’ve seen our bosses wear Blackface, later to call it a harmless Halloween costume and not get fired. We’ve heard our White-but-think-they’re-down-with-Latinos-colleagues tell their Mexican co-workers to cut their grass during board meetings. And not get fired. We’ve also trained recent, White college graduates for months, only to see them get the plum managerial position we worked two years to position ourselves for—and then suddenly we’re fired because we had the audacity to complain about it.
The Donald Sterlings of the world are nothing new for us. If we had a tape recorder handy for all of the racist remarks we’ve heard from the mouths of our white colleagues and managers, we’d struggle to find enough civil rights lawyers to file discrimination lawsuits on behalf of us all.
Mainstream America, for the moment, has tapped Donald Sterling as racist bogie man Number 1; Minorities see him as the Bob, Jim, Sarah, and John we must report to each day, all the while maintaining our dignity. When SCOTUS voted to uphold Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action, they also voted to empower a man who was forced to settle a lawsuit from Black and Latino tenants who claimed that he had refused to rent to them.
As a young, African-American reporter who has struggled to expand my professional network beyond my mostly-Black group of friends, I have run into many manifestations of Donald Sterlings in the media world. Needless to say, so have my Black colleagues.
I ran into a mini-Sterling several years ago while I was unemployed and pursuing a fulltime job in media. The company, I was told, was looking for a strong minority candidate because much of their work focused on—guess what?—minority media. Having returned from Ukraine where my journalism project focused on African Diasporas, two masters degrees in hand—one in Russian studies, with a focus on ethnic conflict, and the other in Journalism, also with a focus on minority issues–, and several years of freelance reporting experience in Black media, I believed I fit what the organization needed.
During the interview, one of the hiring managers went into a long talk about why diversity is so important to his organization. Mind you, I am a Black man from inner-city Detroit who spent the first twelve years of my life growing up in a crack house, only to go on to graduate school to earn a degree in Russian studies, and spend four years of my life in Eastern Europe—including two years in Georgia, Joseph Stalin’s homeland. So I hope you appreciate it when I say I really didn’t need this person’s lecture on diversity.
Anyway, it didn’t matter. I was told I wasn’t the “best fit.” Note to white people: when you say we’re not a “good fit,” that’s code for “we’re not comfortable with you.” A blue-eyed white woman, of course, ended up being the “better fit.”
I was told by someone on the hiring committee after the fact that some members thought I was “aggressive” and “intimidating.” “Aggressive” and “intimidating,” at least for me, were code for “scary, 6-foot-0 black man, with deep voice.”
I don’t have a single minority colleague who hasn’t had similar experiences.
Listen to Sterling recording below:
A Black female reporter colleague told me she struggled to find employment at small market TV stations because, in very few words, she was told that a station could only have one black female on staff at a time. Another black colleague of mine applied for the position of editor at a top New York magazine, and passed the take home editing tests, only to face awkward, uncomprehending silence from the hiring manager during her in-person interview.
(She told me she felt he was surprised that a Black woman would actually make it to the final part of the interview process!)
She was asked to take another editing test—which was not supposed to happen—and passed it with a perfect score. But it didn’t matter. She didn’t get the job. When she asked if there was anything she could have done better during the interview process, he told her, “There was nothing you could have done.”
This same woman said that during her first week as a lead editor at another job, her white colleagues reported her to management for being “aggressive.” There’s that word again: “Aggressive.” Minority men and women are accused of being this quite often. She was told her managerial duties would be taken from her until her white colleagues “learned to feel more comfortable around her.” Not only were her duties not returned, she was let go months later!
That editor who let her go may not have been an, “I don’t want black people coming to my games” racist, but he was most certainly an, “I don’t want a Black woman in my newsroom telling my white writers what to do” racist.
Like the Clippers players who have to step on the court to play for Sterling, minorities who face racism in corporate America are forced to suck it up and perform with as much dignity as possible–or quit and face chronic unemployment while dealing with mouths to feed at home.
Clippers stage silent protest: