By Dr. Sandra Miles
In the wake of the 188-day tenure of Dr. Claudine Gay and the untimely death of Dr. Antoinette Candia Bailey, a number of calls to action are being issued and think pieces are being thunk about the experiences of Black women in the academy. As a Black woman who completed dissertation research more than 10 years ago that identified the social exclusion of Black women and who has experienced high highs and low lows within the academy, I struggle to understand how so many people can be horrified after the fact, but silent as they watch it happen.
Every person I have talked to about this can name a high achieving, confident, competent, and uncompromising Black woman who has been treated so poorly that the memory of the person or the situation makes them feel sad, angry, or ashamed. And yet, the willingness to do anything about it before it is too late seems nonexistent.
Does this type of workplace bullying only happen to Black women? Absolutely not. What is unique to the experience of Black women is that it happens disproportionately to Black women AND that when it happens, Black women rarely have the social support within the academy to overcome any degree of mistreatment. In short, Black women can’t afford to have a single person not like them because they don’t have a single person to come to their defense when the stakes are high. They may have lots of people to tell them they’re strong or quietly encourage them to keep taking the abuse, but very few if any supporters who will intercept the abuser. Most people don’t even recognize these events as bullying due to the perception that the person is strong enough to take it.
Diverse workplaces do not work when only certain people are protected and respected. We are all good people trying to do our best work. This is not about invoking sadness, anger, or shame. This is about interrupting toxicity, preventing the continued resource, potential, and human drain that occurs when we let talented people succumb to the whims of those with bad or misplaced intentions.