Can Black Women 'Lean In' Like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg?

On the website In These Times, Tamara Winfrey Harris writes that while "leaning in" might be an option for white women, can black women use the same work strategy with success?

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Bossy black women stereotypes are plentiful in America, and on In These Times, Tamara Winfrey Harris asks if women of color can use Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's advice with success.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the self-described feminist manifesto Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, this disparity in power and achievement can be attributed to systemic gender inequality and cultural biases, but also to something else: the way women are acculturated to respond, often subconsciously, to these factors. Sandberg calls on women to "lean in": to act with boldness and confidence; to "sit at the table" where decisions are made; to choose life partners who support their careers; and to not put those careers on hold for marriage and babies before those things are a reality.

Whether Sandberg, from her perch at the pinnacle of a tech behemoth, is the right person to lead a revolution for less-privileged women has been the topic of much debate. But bits of the author's wisdom may "click" for particular readers in unexpected ways. Sandberg's message about choosing supportive partners made me blink, because it stands in stark contrast to advice directed toward a particular segment of professional women. Thanks to concerns about low marriage rates among African Americans, professional black women are bombarded with warnings about careerism and success. A burgeoning genre of advice books instructs straight black women to, in effect, "lean back" in order to attract men.

In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, (the basis for the film Think Like a Man), author Steve Harvey admonishes: "If you've got your own money, your own car, your own house, a Brinks alarm system, a pistol and a guard dog, and you're practically shouting from the rooftops that you don't need a man to provide for you or protect you, then we will see no need to keep coming around." Elsewhere, Harvey warns women that if they travel for business, their left-behind husbands might understandably stray.

Read Tamara Winfrey Harris' entire piece at In These Times.

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