So, There Are Black Women.

Both Ta-Nehisi and Adam thoughtfully respond* to my post from last week about black men standing in for black people in the Dec. 1 Michael Luo New York Times story about race and unemployment.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, I had a brief Twitter conversation with Luo, who explained — as I suspected — that the focus on men was due to the extremely high unemployment rate within that demographic.

Let me be clear, I think focusing on black men is fine, but I also think that should have been explicitly stated in the article, because without it, the piece merely continues to erase women’s voices from the narrative of black life. Especially since this was the nut graf: “That race remains a serious obstacle in the job market for African-Americans, even those with degrees from respected colleges, may seem to some people a jarring contrast to decades of progress by blacks, culminating in President Obama’s election.” There’s nothing in there that speaks solely of black men.

On Friday, Dec. 5, the Times posted another story by Luo, which included voices of women who are ‘whitening’ their resumes:

Yvonne Orr, also searching for work in Chicago, removed her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, a historically black college, leaving just her master’s degree from Spertus Institute, a Jewish school. She also deleted a position she once held at an African-American nonprofit organization and rearranged her references so the first people listed were not black.

I do wonder, however, why stripping one’s resume of signs of blackness equals “whitening” it. By not advertising that she went to Hampton, Orr is attempting to take blackness (and the potential negatives which accompany it) out of the equation, not add whiteness. What I mean to say is, whiteness isn’t the opposite of blackness, and it certainly isn’t the baseline ethnicity — or, at least, it shouldn’t be considered as such.

*Adam also added a question that has bothered me in the past: amidst the Deval Patricks and Cory Bookers, where are the superstar black women politicians? (Note, I know there is an overrepresentation of women in the Congressional Black Caucus versus all women in Congress, but I theorize that this mirrors the overrepresentation of black women in the workforce.)

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  • Scipio Africanus

    “whiteness isn’t the opposite of blackness, and it certainly isn’t the baseline ethnicity — or, at least, it shouldn’t be considered as such.”

    It shouldn’t be, but in much (most?) of the US, it probably is. Using the example in the article, Yvonne Orr knows she won’t be mistaken as an Asian or Latino with her name. Therefore once she scrubs the black off her resume, in most Americans’ minds, all that’s left is white.

    And almost everything about the aggregate of US culture points to whiteness being the baseline ethnicity/culture/experience.

  • belleisa

    I think it’s less about “whitening” and more about “avoiding blackness” whatever that means on an individual level.

    But this woman, as she is profiled, is definitely subscribing to the thought that “whitening” is what is required to obtain a job in this market.

    • LaJane Galt

      Unfortunately, it is more than a “thought.” Good luck to her.

  • What Scipio and Belleisa said.

  • Ladyfresh

    I agree with Bellisa. Maybe we should look at the target audience (um…everyone else) in the field she is looking to apply to.

  • where are the superstar black women politicians?

    What about Shirley Franklin? She doesn’t get much in the way of press, but she got a big write-up in the Times a few months back…

  • Lisa

    I read Ta-Nehisi’s reply and though I love his site and find him very thought-provoking at times, he has disappointed me yet again on a racial issue. Particulary when he highlighted what was in my mind a very racist post by a white woman who claimed that black unemployment for the college educated couldn’t be racially based b/c her “conservative” law firm was always “dying” to find qualified blacks and she even gave an example of one black female who was either a partner or on a partner track who she said got extra-special good treament b/c of her race and b/c she was a nice fun person and she pointed out that she herself, the white lady, was fun but was never sent to the Caribbean or other places to wine and dine clients, never thinking of course that it could solely be down to the woman’s skill as a lawyer and her ability to woo clients. It really bothered me, especially since everyone sort of nodded their head like this woman’s assinine comments were some great gospel. Then again, this is the same site that had a long discussion of how for white people being called a racist is as bad as being discriminated against for blacks and everyone acted as though that was some deep point and they lauded some jack-ass who said that the most heartbreaking thing for him as a little kid was being at an all black school and being called racist for no reason. Maybe I’m a meanie but I call bullshit on that. Wasn’t really in the frame of mind to get into it on that one and I tend to lurk and when I do comment it is so late that I usually don’t get a response. I love the brother but I feel like sometimes he just doesn’t get it, or maybe it is just me.

    • Lasker

      As a fellow lurker at TNC’s blog, I have to say that I had a completely different understanding of those two posts/threads.

      As I saw it, the point of the post from the lawyer was actually that her law firm had failed to help the black woman succeed because they promoted her beyond her abilities and let her flounder there. Maybe I missed the part about the Caribbean vacations in comments, but that certainly wasn’t the part highlighted by TNC.

      And as for the threads about the equivalence of black suffering due to discrimination and white suffering due to being labeled “Racist”, I also had the opposite understanding from you. I felt that just about everyone at the site clearly realized that that assertion was absurd. Correcting that idea was the whole reason TNC posted on the subject, If I remember correctly.

    • CK

      Lisa – I read that differently than you. I thought he was highlighting her post to show that she DIDN’T understand because she “almost never encounters racism.”

    • Brixton

      I think you’re projecting your dislike of his commenters onto him. He’s acknowledged the way his active readers shape the way he writes and thinks, but I think in a lot of cases it’s because they have very different perspectives than he does.

      I mean, are you suggesting that he should ban or moderate the commenters you mentioned? Even if he does that, how does it affect his own views and how he presents them other than to make him seem closed off and intolerant?

      • Angel

        I don’t think anyone is suggesting ban the commenters. I think others like Lisa can provide the other side. It just seems like TNC should acknowledge there is a disconnect on these issues that are rooted in the institution of racism. Not that these commenters are virulent racists, but there is an ignorance to their remarks that can be stunning sometimes.

    • LaJane Galt

      I was disgusted by that racist commenter too. 2 [black] WOMEN called her out on that bullshit. I like him too, but at some point we have to realize that we.are.on.our.own.

  • Angel


    I understand your frustration with TNC on racial issues sometimes. In my opinion, I think he feels that if he doesn’t air white people like those cited in your comment, his blog will become mraginalized as a “black blog”. You can engage the people your really need to reach if they feel they aren’t being heard, but we’ve been treated like the racism we’ve seen is some sort of mass delusion. So, I wouldn’t have a problem passing on some of these suspect claims of “reverse racism”.

  • Angel


  • shani-o

    Guys, this isn’t the place to discuss Ta-Nehisi’s blog except as the discussion pertains specifically to my post. This thread seems to be veering away from that. His blog is the place to talk about his blog. Please don’t post about it here; I will delete such comments from this point out.

  • k mayo

    Back to the topic at hand…I dig Luo, generally. But bravo to you Shani-O for reminding all of us that the default position that black men=black people is flawed, if not dangerous. Will we ever NOT need this reminder? Love your style girl. I just stumbled on this blog and have found a home–me, a post-everything type of chick. On another note, I went to Hampton with Yvonne Orr. People I’ll tell you what can erase blackness–Hampton.

  • ptp

    I wonder if the fact that this discussion happened over twitter might be responsible for why Michael Luo’s response seems to lack any sort of mea culpa.

  • Lisa

    Sorry Shani-o didn’t meant to start a derail.