We are forced to learn the cultural nuances of many with whom we come in contact in the workplace, but few people are willing to do the same in return. Consequently, we often find ourselves competing against the basest stereotypes about us that are circulating in popular culture. This is part of the reason why McCain, a man who chose Sarah Palin as a running mate, can get away with suggesting that Rice wasn’t that bright, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Rice had to bow out of the running for the secretary of state position in order to avoid the difficult prospect of defending herself — and perhaps being perceived as coming off as belligerent — against a campaign aimed to block her from the job.
That Rice can be discouraged from pursuing the position — a job for which she perhaps has prepared for some of her adult life — is troubling. In a similar way, there’s Lee’s reality — a black woman who got fired from a job because, God forbid, she stood up for herself. Even though Lee used a friendly tone and took the road less traveled by many Americans — a respectful response — she has been punished and portrayed as an angry black woman. When it came to Rice, she faced harsh assessments about her competency and ultimately had to stand down.
Silencing black women in the workplace, it seems, is as American as apple pie. Memo to America: That’s the real reason black women can seem angry.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.