'Obama Effect' for Black Women?

Will the multiracial administration mean a boost for less-visible black women?

U.N. ambassador Susan E. Rice and the other "Obama women" are redrawing the portrait of power.
Photograph: Illustration by David Cowles.

Not feeling that you have to go in fighting the power is a luxury afforded us Hybrids. And it makes for a very different work experience from that of, say, broadcast pioneer Cathy Hughes, chair and founder of the Radio One and TV One networks, who was born in 1947 and came of age in the Black Is Beautiful era of the 1960s and 1970s. For her generation of black boomers, Hughes says, the mere sight of a black man on a date with a white woman was enough to ignite all sorts of hurt and resentment. “We would confront a white woman in the bathroom, or say something under our breath about the brother,” she recalls. “That certainly translates over into the workplace. There’s that bitterness. My generation was constantly in a defensive posture: ‘Did I not get this promotion because I’m black?’ ”

I can’t help but feel that, conversely, my Hybrid peers and I are sometimes too slow to recognize discrimination, whether it’s based on race, gender or both. “You all might be slow on the uptake, but we were overly paranoid,” Hughes says. “Maybe the next generation will find a happy medium.”

Ah, Generation Next. Thanks to the rap industry, African-Americans like Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, Jay-Z and Damon Dash got seriously rich building businesses that were, to steal a phrase from a hip-hop clothing line, “for us, by us.” And female entertainers such as Beyoncé and the rapper Eve, as well as Simmons’s ex-wife, the model Kimora Lee Simmons, have done the same. The result: a new generation of entrepreneurs. According to Hughes, whose organization conducted a study of black consumers, the hip-hop generation (that is, twenty- and thirty-somethings) doesn’t care so much about making it in corporate America: “They’re saying, ‘Oh, no, I’m going to college so I can work for myself.’ ”

“Maybe we need to redefine what we mean by success,” says Fox’s Andrea Berry. “Who’s defining it as, ‘Woe is me, we don’t have any numbers in corporate America’? Who gives a shit? If they’re not going to give it to us, then we need to create our own.”

And be so visible doing it, the world will no longer feel compelled to remark upon our uniqueness. If that happens, the black women of Generation Next will not find themselves weeping in front of their TVs just because a smart black woman is having a prime time moment.  

Originally published in the October 2009 issue of MORE.

Teresa Wiltz is a senior culture writer for TheRoot.com. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is writing a book about race.

African-American women are a major force in the Obama administration: The New Face of D.C. Power. But how are they faring in other parts of the workplace?

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