The day I was called an Uncle Tom by someone that looked like me made me evaluate myself, my fight for racial equality, and my leadership style not as a female, but as a black female.
As a black woman in the corporate world, there is a long list of items we have to maneuver through – it’s a jungle out there ya’ll! As a female, there is a somewhat quiet battle against my male counterpart, convincing him that I am assertive, not aggressive, and passionate, not emotional. As a female, a black female in the workplace, there is a louder battle against the other female in the workplace to let her know that I am not her competition, and show that we need to create a movement together for equality and parity. And if she is a white woman, at times, you wonder where the sisterhood is. Minda Harts, the author of The Memo, states that “People are not used to seeing us in positions that require us to lead.” Referring to “black females.”
I never in a million years thought I would have another black female question my “loyalty” to the black culture. As I have moved up in the corporate world taking different leadership positions, I soon was approached with, “how will you help me, my sista?” A mentor told me that it was coming! I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion and very active and intentional in diversifying the workplace, the department, even down to my team with all races, all genders identified, and talents.
However, there is one caveat – I will mentor, support, and promote individuals based on their talent, skills, and even potential, but not on race alone…not solely because you “look like me.” Being a black female leader does not mean that I will automatically give another black female the keys to the car and house. I will never forget when Barack Obama became the 44th President. Some members of the black culture forgot he was President of the United States, making decisions for The People – not “just the black people.” For there to be a test given only to black leaders with the expectation to only “bring up” the black people for that passing grade – well, I think many of us will fail in more ways than one.
In these current times, where the black community is trying to have solidarity and attempting to come together with allies and remove systemic barriers from the very core of this culture, insinuating that an individual is an Uncle Tom and not having “the receipts” as they say, can have hard consequences, especially when the individual placing the blame is a person of color. And when I asked the black female team member making the accusations if she really thought this – I got a shoulder shrug…a shoulder shrug? No…I want to hear your thoughts!
The story at hand or the situation happens to involve a white male and a black female team member. BOTH parties did not meet expectations of what we think are standard competencies of a team member such as communication, decision making, problem-solving, collaborating, etc. So, come to find out the project was floundering.
The one difference is that when the situation was finally brought to the attention of the two different leaders (me and another white male), the white male team member stated, “I could have done better with the handling of this project, and I see why she might have been frustrated. However, there are pieces of this story that are missing, as I wasn’t fully aware of what she needed and how to move forward as she didn’t communicate clearly. I do not think she understands what her role is. I should have brought it to you sooner.“ We agreed on how to move forward on the next project and how to avoid confusion next time. Isn’t this how typical issues are handled in the workplace?
The black female team member took absolutely 0% accountability, in fact – the blame was placed squarely on the leaders. It was said that the leaders should have known what was going on – yet she failed to communicate the details. She actually wanted to “see the white male” punished “because a person of color would never get away with this.” – yet she failed, again, to communicate what “this” was.
It was disappointing. Here ‘s the thing – history has shown that the race card was invented as a way to pacify the black community in thinking they had a “card” to play in this race game. However, if misused or used carelessly, the person playing the card, well…loses in more ways than one. Here is what I say: If you are going to use the race card, slam that sh*t on the table like the big joker at the end of a spades game (inside black culture thing). Can I honestly admit that this was said to the black female? Yes, I said it. Right or wrong, I wanted her to truly understand where I (and she) were coming from.
The strange thing is that she didn’t actually say “Uncle Tom” (yet, I heard it LOUD!)…. But she did feel that some sort of favor was given to the white male team member. I won’t take that feeling away…but she couldn’t say what that favor was. Again…no receipts.
In the end, there were performance expectations set in the workplace for all team members – no matter race or gender- at least for my team members. And these expectations were not met. This was called out as any typical workplace performance issue.
There was an attempt by the black female team member to get ahead of the situation. I received inappropriate texts from her with quotes from Minda Harts book (chapter 8 to be specific) in an attempt to “sista-girl” me. In the end, there was no favor given to the white male team member. If you know me…I consulted with my Human Resources Representative for guidance. Basically, an individual was frustrated in their lack of knowledge and how to do or handle a project. But instead of coming to me to help, an opportunity was seen to try and gain “an ally.”
A black female team member was involved, a white male team member was involved, a black female leader was involved, and a new book called “The Memo” was being highly promoted among the black women team members. A perfect combination, right? However, this beautiful blend was used as an evil potion, versus an opportunity to learn and knock this project out of the park.
I was “sista-girl’d” for the first time as a leader…as a black leader, and when that didn’t work, she Uncle Tom’d me…and that hurt me to my core.