Silence is Violence/SDMNEWS
The introduction to this piece is what SDMNEWS publisher calls, the Silence is Violence factor. It means that all the things we are silent about ignite the volcano. When the pimple burst from being an unseen or an ignored comedone, everybody diguises their eyes behind mask as if they were at an masqurade party.
This article is from a study essay is not about the unvoiced, but the unheard and the sacrificial lamb for other’s benefit; mainly white men, then white women and then black men.~ Staff
Whiteness is a pervasive context in (post)colonial organizations that maintains its enduring presence through everyday practices such as the white gaze: seeing people’s bodies through the lens of whiteness. The white gaze distorts perceptions of people who deviate from whiteness, subjecting them to bodily scrutiny and control. Understanding how the white gaze manifests is therefore important for understanding the marginalization of particular bodies in organizations. We therefore center Black women’s narratives to examine the following research question: How is the white gaze enacted and experienced at work? We conducted a critical discourse analysis of 1169 tweets containing the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork and identified four mechanisms of the white gaze whereby whiteness is imposed, presumed, venerated, and forced on Black women’s bodies. We conclude with a discussion of the white gaze as an apparatus to enforce gendered racialized hierarchies vis-à-vis the body and how foregrounding whiteness deepens our understanding of marginalization at work.
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” This imagery appears in Zora Neale Hurston’s (1928) essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” wherein she discusses how she experiences her body as she entered majority-White spaces. Hurston realizes that she does “not always feel colored,” especially during her childhood in a mostly Black town, but does when thrown against a sharp white background, as was the case when she enrolled at Barnard “[a]mong the thousand white persons” (Hurston, 1928).
Nearly one century later, Hurston’s imagery resonates with many Black women across the diaspora, especially those living and working in predominantly white communities and organizations. For example, Claudia Rankine (2014) references Hurston’s essay in response to the media scrutiny lodged against tennis prodigy Serena Williams, whose “body, trapped in a racial imaginary … is being governed” by a pervasive white gaze that determines which bodies are valid, legitimate, deserving, and civil (p. 29). It is only when these bodies are thrown against a sharp white background and fail to blend in that they are “deemed threatening and in need of containment” (Bloodsworth-Lugo & Lugo-Lugo, 2010, p. xiii). Thus, how bodies are gazed upon and evaluated depends on how (and where) they are situated in larger power structures.
This pervasive white gaze was also apparent when two prominent US Black women were thrust against a sharp white background on the public political stage. On March 28, 2017, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and veteran White House Correspondent April Ryan were chastised on national television. Then Fox News host Bill O’Reilly insulted Rep. Waters’ hair, saying: “I didn’t hear a word she said, I was looking at the James Brown wig” (Edes & Taylor, 2017). That same day, then Press Secretary Sean Spicer scolded Ryan for shaking her head in disagreement while he spoke (Edes & Taylor, 2017). Within hours, two White men scrutinized the bodies of two powerful Black women in professional settings. These events resonated with activist Brittany Packnett who felt like she was watching her own experiences with the white gaze mirrored on the public stage.
After Packnett tweeted, #Black Women At Work became a trending hashtag on Twitter, generating over 200,000 original responses and reactions within 48 h of Packnett’s initial post. With this hashtag, she encouraged thousands of Black women across the world to share their own workplace experiences on Twitter. It quickly became evident that Black women were keenly aware of—and eager for others to learn—how others perceive, scrutinize, and punish their bodies at work, especially in the context of sharp white backgrounds that characterize so many organizations. Before long, Packnett’s thread catalyzed an archive of narratives illustrating the many ways that the white gaze deems Black women’s bodies “out of control” at work.
In this article, we analyze this emergent digital archive of Black women’s everyday workplace experiences amidst sharp white background(s). We use an embodiment perspective and critical approach to understand how Black women’s bodies are seen through the lens of the white gaze. Embodiment refers to our “being-in-the-world” (Young, 1980, p. 142), or how we experience our bodies across time, space, and place (Acker, 1990). Our sense of being-in-the-world is inextricably linked to how others view us, such as the white gaze (Fanon, 1986) through which Black women are often viewed. Packnett demonstrates how embodiment is essential for understanding which bodies are deemed “acceptable” versus “out of control” in contexts where whiteness is embedded and normalized. We therefore also use an embodiment perspective to help us understand how power is built and maintained in racialized organizations (Ray, 2019)—namely, by leveraging the white gaze to determine which bodies are safe versus threatening; worthy versus undeserving; valid versus illegitimate; acceptable versus deviant; valuable versus expendable.
The central research question guiding this work asks: How do Black women experience the white gaze at work? We contribute to theories related to embodiment, intersectionality, and critical whiteness studies in at least three ways. First, we use an embodiment perspective to advance what is already known about workplace inequality by demonstrating the integral role of the body in maintaining power relations and inequality. Specifically, we focus on whiteness as a system of power and identify the mechanisms and practices that maintain this racist system through regulation, punishment, and control of Black women’s bodies. We therefore build theory about how whiteness permeates workplaces by advancing our understanding of the mechanisms and practices that authorize control over those who deviate from whiteness. Second, we use an embodiment perspective to expand ongoing research about marginalized employees’ experiences. We build on theory about the embodiment of race and gender within multiple systems of oppression and implications for perceptions of people (and their bodies) in the workplace (McCluney & Rabelo, 2019a; Rosette & Livingston, 2012; Smith, Baskerville, Ladge, & Carlton, 2019). Finally, we spotlight the often-invisible role that whiteness plays in the working lives of marginalized workers. By drawing on an embodiment perspective and Big Data approach to qualitative research (Bisel, Barge, Dougherty, Lucas, & Tracy, 2014; Mills, 2019) that centers Black women’s experiences, we illuminate whiteness as an invisible yet pervasive force in contemporary organizations. In foregrounding the context of whiteness, we also theorize the white gaze as a set of practices by which whiteness regulates people’s routines, rituals, rules, roles, and relationships (Saldaña & Omasta, 2017). Our aim in spotlighting the sharp white background against which non-White people are constantly compared is to better understand the ideologies and power relations in organizations that constrain Black women’s bodies and, by extension, their agency and dignity.
Read the entire study here: “Against a sharp white background”: How Black women experience the white gaze at work
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