Two weeks into my first college job, my white female supervisor pulled me aside and had a talk with me asking if everything was “okay” because she claimed I had an attitude since starting the job.
I think she gave me that label because I was quiet. Shy. And not very bubbly or friendly with her. Which is something it seemed like she wanted. That talk really shook me. I went home and cried because I thought I was going to get fired.
She owes me an apology.
This interaction I had with that supervisor at eighteen years old exemplifies that as Black girls and women, we are not even allowed to mind our business without someone placing a label on us.
This is why Serena’s demand for an apology is so important and necessary.
Laugh if you will, but watching Serena demand an apology from someone who was abusing his position over her, in a racist and sexist manner actually brought tears to my eyes. Not because the specific situation was particularly compelling. I mean, losing your cool or becoming frustrated during a sporting event is not rare. It’s quite common actually. She did what many athletes do when they get unfair calls so that in and of itself isn’t what moved me.
What moved me was how eerily familiar that frustration in her voice was. It reminded me of all the times I was unfairly labeled as having an attitude or being mean but kept quiet because I did not want to perpetuate the “angry Black girl” stereotype. It felt like Serena’s demand wasn’t just for her at that moment but for all of the Black girls that have been unfairly labeled as mean, bitter, or angry for simply existing.
Even when just doing our jobs, or minding our business, its almost like we have to put on a face to make others around us feel comfortable. I’ve realized that now, as a 26-year-old young professional, in all of my workplaces I have unknowing put on a more “pleasant” demeanor because people often label me being reserved as me being mean or mad. These fake pleasantries often consist of forcing myself to smile and chat with or exchange pleasantries with people I don’t really feel like talking to.
We live in a society that vilifies Black women, and particularly those of us with darker skin. We are often disparagingly labeled as mean or angry even when anger is an appropriate response to a situation.
Thank you, Serena, for being brave and courageous enough to call it out. We love and appreciate you.