working in retail while white, fit, tan and privileged

abercrombie-and-fitch-ad-campaign-courtesy-fo-abercrombie-and-fitcholiver lee bateman’s recent article for salon chronicled his experience as an assistant manager for abercrombie & fitch and is an eye-opening account of bias and discrimination. according to bateman, the company recruits people who are “quality and collegiate” and define such to almost exclusively include college-educated white people who are physically fit and tan.  the elitist environment is condoned by regional managers and corporate executives who want to build a brand based on “you can’t sit here” type of marginalization, and bateman’s account of how a black employee was treated at his store made me cringe:

the regional manager’s adoration didn’t extend to our finest worker, a tall, chubby, and openly gay african-american who had bright green braces.  although we tried to avoid scheduling him when we knew the RM was due to visit, chronic labor shortages on account of the company’s low starting wages and obsession with brand representative beauty ensured that he was often working 30+ hours per week.

“you have to get that guy off the floor,” he’d tell us. “he’s a fucking disasterpiece.”

this piece resonated with me not because of bateman’s revelations about the company — absent his article, one can figure those out by the racial discrimination lawsuit, nearly all-white models in in the company’s advertisements and extremely loud techno music in the stores — but because i could relate to the black employee who faced microaggressions by his all-white peers. i worked retail after college and as an assistant manager in a high-end store, i helped supervise a store that lacked staff and customer diversity. one day, i was written up by my manager because i hurt the sales representatives’ feelings by not building a more “personal” relationship with them (i’m not making this up). despite the fact that after sitting down with each employee no one could give me a clear answer about what i had done to offend them, i internalized my manager’s criticism, seeing myself as the stereotypical angry black women. i now know the real issue was that i didn’t fit into the store’s “brand” or dominant culture, and for me this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because i had goals to achieve that were much larger than my co-workers’ microaggressions.

you can read the rest of bateman’s article here.

this isn’t about v. stiviano

donald and vnba commissioner adam silver came down hard on clippers owner donald sterling for his racist comments about not wanting black people at his games.  on the audio recording of sterling speaking to his girlfriend v. stiviano, sterling admonishes her for posting a picture with magic johnson on instagram and embracing her blackness when the world sees her as “a latina or a white girl.”  as the owner of an almost all black team in a sport played overwhelmingly by people of color, it was necessary for sterling to get more than a slap on the wrist and the nba acted accordingly by fining him $2.5 million and banning him for life.  whether or not he will be forced to sell the clippers is yet to be determined.

i wish i could say that the story ended here; however, patriarchy and misogyny don’t take a day off, even when faced with rank white supremacy.  i’ve been inundated by tweets and jokes from both news pundits and sports commentators about how donald sterling’s life has been ruined by a conniving sidechick.  in fact, in a time article condemning donald sterling’s actions, basketball legend kareem abdul jabbar had this to say:

and now the poor guy’s girlfriend (undoubtedly ex-girlfriend now) is on tape cajoling him into revealing his racism. man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. she was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the sambo.” she blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.

this analysis is not only a red herring because the issue at hand should be donald sterling’s racism NOT v. stivano’s actions, but elucidates a larger point about the harmful tropes women of color face.  unfortunately,  jabbar is not the first man to blame a woman for a man’s actions;  black women have faced this narrative for centuries.  words like “cajole” (to persuade someone with flattery) and “sexy nanny” evoke the stereotype of black women as licentious beings who use their uncontrollable sexual prowess to bait and hook their lovers.  for v. stiviano, a black and mexican woman who is decades younger than donald sterling, this narrative makes her the assailant and him a “poor guy” victimized by her intoxicating ways.  i’m not buying it. in fact, a man with as much privilege and power as donald sterling should not be seen as the victim in any situation, absent torture, where he reveals his personal beliefs.

kareem abdul jabbar isn’t the only person who has described v. stiviano as a shady temptress; sterling’s wife filed a lawsuit against her claiming stiviano “engages in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose.” (here goes that word cajole again.)  the lawsuit further states stiviano’s “feminine wiles … overpowered the iron will of [sterling] who is well known as one of the most shrewd businessmen in the world.”  the fact that a black man and white woman in her lawsuit are depending on the same stereotype of a woman of color to deflect a white man’s responsibility for his actions is powerful and proves the impact of patriarchy, misogyny and white supremacy on women of color.  stuck at these intersections, v. stiviano, a woman who arguably helped to protect an entire sports franchise from a bigoted owner, is not applauded, but mocked and blamed. 

donald sterling’s racist beliefs have nothing to do with v. stiviano, and while mainstream society may have taken a bold step against tolerating individual racism, gender-based discrimination against women of color is still business as usual.


i never watched snl…until now

i don’t watch saturday night live.  i remember being in high school, and when my mostly white classmates would reenact scenes from the show i’d be totally lost and slightly bored.  however, it’s not that i’m not a fan of sketch comedy, but i don’t typically watch television shows that, as a black woman, i find unrelatable.

recently,  snl has faced lots of scrutiny for its lack of diversity and kenan thompson’s comments that the black actresses who auditioned “weren’t ready.” black folx thought thompson’s comments were insane and the show was simply failing to meet the responsibility of creating a diverse cast.  writing for slate, tanner colby’s analysis of the show’s not only mostly white cast, but racially homogenous writers, staff and work environment is the perfect description of the difference between diversity and inclusion:

maya rudolph, for instance, has no shortage of talent, but her success on the show probably had as much to do with her ability to form relationships with white people as it did her ability to land a joke. because that’s what working at saturday night live is. it’s not performing live on television at 11:30 on saturday night. it’s hanging out with a peer group of mostly white writers, producers, and crew members and forming the relationships necessary to be given the opportunity to perform live on television at 11:30 on saturday night

according to colby, it takes not only a black actor or actress being invited to have a seat at the snl table, but for he or she to have the ability to form relationships with peers aka assimilate into the dominant group. then sasheer zamata happened.  she’s 27, has a drama degree from the university of virginia and will be joining the snl cast on january 18th.  oh, did i mention she’s black? and hilarious?  check out her standup comedy and see for yourself why i’ll be tuning into snl for the first time in my life next saturday night at 11:30.

the day after

the day after an injustice you wake up and wonder if it was a dream.  you search your memory to recall the events from the day before.  you remember the news reports, the twitter feed, the facebook posts.  they all remind you of the verdict: not guilty. the day after an injustice you feel restless.  rally? prayer vigil? scream? no solution to mend a weary soul comes to mind.  the day after an injustice you go to church and wait for the pastor to deliver a message that will make sense of hundreds of years of oppression and violence, but it doesn’t come.  you walk around the city aimlessly, looking for something, anything to help numb the pain.  the day after an injustice you think about your grandparents and ancestors who experienced injustice with no retribution their entire lives.  you think about all the stories they told you about segregated schools, lynchings, white mobs and backbreaking labor and know that nothing has changed.  the day after an injustice you turn to your mentors, james and grace lee boggs, dorothy roberts and bell hooks to help explain this world.  the day after an injustice you feel the blow to your will to fight, but arrive at a renewed spirit to continue the struggle in the name of those who fought before you.  the day after an injustice you re-dedicate your life to ending inequity because that is the only reason you were born.


rest peacefully dearest trayvon.  we will always remember.

a little link love

just a few links from around the web that made me angry, giggle and feel inspired:

o-GOLD-GRILL-5701. i have to admit that miley cyrus’ new look is giving me life. although it’s rihannaesque, she’s owning a fierce ass haircut and impeccable styling. however, her blatant appropriation of black culture is so reminiscent of vanilla ice’s minstrelsy of the early 1990s until i’m shocked, appalled and confused. no one told her that this was in poor taste and at least a lil racist? the newest iteration of privileged-white-american-cultural imperialism first came to my attention when the root reported on miley cyrus’ article for rock city where she stated, “i want something that sounds urban. i just want something that feels black.” not surprising, as the former disney star’s new pastimes seem to include twerking and sporting a gold grill in her recent video. dondai did the intellectual equivalent of reading miley and all appropriators of black and brown culture over at jezebel: it matters who is doing the appropriating. if a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.

2. an ohio school attempted to ban afro puffs and braids because african-american hairstyles are the reason for failing schools, low literacy rates and subpar teachers. i totally made the reason up to sound just as ridiculous as the rule. thankfully, the school quickly retracted it once the media caught wind, claiming the rule was only meant for boys so they could appear “well-groomed.” wait. so boys with braids are poorly groomed? now we shift from racism to ridiculous gender norms. i’m done.