Tragedy of Black Female Leadership

The Unimaginable Dilemma of Black Feminine Management: The Tragedy of No person Seeing Us Even When Everyone’s Watching – Non Revenue Information | Nonprofit Quarterly

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Picture credit score: Yermine Richardson /

Editors’ notice: This piece is from Nonprofit Quarterly Journal’s spring 2024 difficulty, “‘Stop Drowning Us, and Stop Making Us Disappear’: A Critical Report on the State of Black Woman Leadership.”

The very presence of Black ladies leaders within the workforce is fugitive. We had been by no means supposed to perform in it past our traditionally designated roles in “agriculture and domestic service.”1 Black ladies are systematically suppressed throughout the labor economic system by means of power underemployment and a permanent exclusion from “employer-provided retirement plans, health insurance, paid sick and maternity leave…[and] subsidized child and elder care.”2 We’re overwhelmingly current in low-wage, rigid service work, however there’s a small contingent of Black ladies who’ve one way or the other transgressed this common sentencing to unprotected, low-wage oblivion, and have crushed the chances solely to seek out that the reward for his or her efforts is an inconceivable dilemma—a option to drown or to vanish. In my essay assortment on the interiority of Black ladies, The Black Subaltern: An Intimate Witnessing, I write, “If we allow ourselves to be as Black as we are, they will drown us in the darkness. If we refuse to be as Black as we are, they will make us disappear.”3

A Black Girl Chief Drowns

Any Black lady deemed to be an Offended Black Girl will rapidly discover herself shunned for this deadly flaw, castigated for the way in which it impacts the entitled contentment of her setting and the folks in it.

In predominantly White areas, a Black lady is anticipated to code-switch, mimic White tradition, and both explicitly or implicitly affirm dangerous propaganda about Black folks, with the intention to sign that she could be trusted by the institution. Past that, she can be anticipated to show a blind eye to the presence and implications of institutional racism and its influence on herself and different Black folks, each throughout the group and with out. If she is prepared to do this stuff, she will probably be rewarded with each upward mobility and proximity to the gatekeepers that maintain energy inside that ecosystem. Take Candace Owens, who in 2007, with the help of the NAACP, sued and settled with the Stamford Board of Schooling for failing to guard her from hate crimes motivated by racism.4 By 2019, and now functioning as a number one voice throughout the Republican Social gathering, not solely did Owens denounce the NAACP as “one of the worst groups for Black people”5 but additionally—in 2020—insisted that Ahmaud Arbery’s loss of life was unrelated to his race, even after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported that his killer referred to him as a “fucking n—r” earlier than killing him.6 Her willful and irrational denial of overt White supremacy—even in cases through which it’s categorically simple—demonstrates, if on a farcical stage, a realizing willpower to barter race blindness and denialism for continued preservation of her transgressive management as a Black lady inside a White institution politic.

Past such absurdly problematic Republican celebration pandering, Black ladies who lead throughout industrial constructions are routinely discovered taking part in the identical kind of alternate. If, nevertheless, a Black lady in management decides that the worth for the goodwill of the institution is simply too excessive and too chopping of a self-betrayal, she’s going to rapidly discover herself forged within the function of any variety of prejudicial tropes—and none so pervasive because the “Angry Black Woman.” In 2022, the Harvard Enterprise Evaluation printed an article concerning the workforce politics that reinforce the lore of the Offended Black Girl, discovering that the imagery dates again to the period of enslavement—which is sensible, for the reason that trope justifies the idea {that a} Black lady’s anger outcomes from an innate character defect slightly than from a dangerous scenario.7

An Offended Black Girl should be put again in her place—stripped of her desires and her dignity, and left on her personal. She is going to drown, as a result of no one’s coming to save lots of her.

Any Black lady deemed to be an Offended Black Girl will rapidly discover herself shunned for this deadly flaw, castigated for the way in which it impacts the entitled contentment of her setting and the folks in it, incessantly denied the help she deserves to mitigate the problems she is contending with, and left enduringly alone, as a result of she is insupportable and understood to be exiled to an isolation of her personal making. Even the only a few who can see that she is being framed by this mythology, and accordingly sympathize together with her situation, will proceed to keep away from her, as a result of her social standing is contagious and harmful for their very own sociopolitical situating throughout the institution. So, the Black lady who leads in service of Black folks, whose circumstances are in reality deeply upsetting, will invariably discover herself drowning in an ocean of White discontent—and even these for whom she is sacrificing herself is not going to come to save lots of her, as a result of they know her destiny is definite, and they’re combating to outlive.

This drowning of Black ladies leaders isn’t unique to organizations led by White figureheads however—owing to the pervasive energy of Whiteness in its underpinning, resourcing, and defining of the tradition of the economic panorama—can be current even in organizations with Black ladies on the helm. Within the case of Black Ladies Code, CEO Kimberly Bryant, who based the group in 2011, was abruptly denied entry to her electronic mail in December 2021 and later realized that she had been indefinitely suspended by her board of administrators—after her firm had been valued at $30 million in philanthropic funding.8 Accused of making a poisonous work setting—little doubt a thinly veiled nod to the broadly acceptable typecasting of the Offended Black Girl—Bryant (by her personal account) was eliminated “without cause or an opportunity to participate in a vote…[and denied] severance, healthcare assistance, or a vacation payout,…which she is entitled to by law in California.”9 Equally, in 2019, Kim R. Ford was introduced as the brand new president and CEO of Martha’s Desk, following her service to “President Obama’s Administration, where she helped lead the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, distributing more than $350 billion in recovery funds to spur economic growth.”10 A brief three years later, Ford unexpectedly resigned, publishing the next assertion:

All through my tenure, the board has been extraordinarily abusive in the direction of me…. They’ve publicly threatened and humiliated me on many events, manipulated the group, sabotaged the group and spoken very negatively concerning the neighborhood. I used to be informed that the behaviors can be addressed, folks can be held accountable and issues would get higher. As a substitute, the behaviors bought worse. I requested for assist repeatedly. I used to be even uncharacteristically weak in telling them a number of instances about how a lot their therapy had harmed my psychological, emotional and bodily well-being, and I even gave particular examples of the influence—however that was ignored.11

It is extremely straightforward to malign and mistreat an Offended Black Girl ready of energy—even when that categorization is predicated solely on imagined characterizations and conjectures which can be bolstered by means of cultural media and the vagaries of recent public discourse. An Offended Black Girl should be put again in her place—stripped of her desires and her dignity, and left on her personal. She is going to drown, as a result of no one’s coming to save lots of her.

A Black Girl Chief Disappears

In The Black Subaltern: An Intimate Witnessing, I clarify the speculation of disappearance to indicate how the Black feminine inside self could be absorbed into the system to which she is trying to realize entrance—on this case, the workforce. If a Black lady chief decides to play the sport of racial self-denial with the intention to ascend institutional constructions, my concept holds that she will probably be unable to recuperate what she has hidden of herself and can, in reality, be misplaced.

Within the nonprofit-industrial advanced, this sometimes appears like Black feminine leaders adopting what Makeba Lavan refers to as a perception in “apolitical multiculturalism,” or the White ventriloquism of non-White individuals who refuse to take care of race.12 On this approach, Black ladies who disappear lead from a hole place, parroting what they’ve noticed to be the appropriate rationalizing language of the institution over and towards the pursuits of their folks each time essential.

Many Black ladies in positions of management earnestly imagine that they can’t afford the luxurious of a extra integral ethical ecology as a result of they’re being made to decide on between their livelihoods and their beliefs. Many additionally really feel that slightly than an act of self-betrayal, it’s an act of resigned fatalism—one which merely acknowledges that the destiny of Black ladies won’t ever change, and thus self-sacrifice is as meaningless as it’s expensive and subsequently not well worth the cut price. They’ve noticed the various Black ladies champions who’ve carried generations of racial turmoil and hurt on their backs solely to be put out to pasture and labeled “indefensible,” and so they have determined as an alternative to outlive an unsightly system the one approach they see attainable: in hiding.

It will be a mistake to contemplate this option to be tensionless; however, it’s a type of give up. There are but different Black ladies leaders who cause that the tempo of change, though gradual, is bound, and rationalize their assimilation as strategically useful in the long term. Some sincerely imagine that admittance to influential rooms is a sign that someday within the illusive future they may earn acceptance and the ability to drag others up as they climb.

Former First Woman Michelle Obama was broadly criticized for her completely White-adjacent hairstyles whereas within the White Home; however following her tenure, she defined that she believed “America wasn’t ready to accept her natural hair…[and] she didn’t want the focus to be on trivializing her hair but [rather] on the work that needed to be done for the American people.”13 Now freed from the burden of the Oval Workplace, she has begun experimenting with sporting her hair because it naturally happens. Solely the previous First Woman would be capable of confirm whether or not the selection to disguise herself in White-adjacent hair for eight years felt like hiding and whether or not her present shift in hairstyling is in reality an expression of her private autonomy and never merely a brand new kind of ventriloquism looking for self-recovery and approval. None of us can say. What we do know is {that a} Black lady in management who has refused to drown will invariably discover that all the concessions she assents to quantity to her disappearance.

These deeply painful losses—of desires and promise and life itself…are telling us a precious reality about what it prices to be a Black lady who leads. It’s a reality we now have been ignoring for a really very long time, and a reality whose time has come.

Fixing Issues for Black Ladies Leaders

The query stays: What would make management higher for Black ladies? Cease drowning us, and cease making us disappear. The Offended Black Girl is a harmful fiction, and as soon as utilized, we’re not seen, heard, or attended to. Black ladies can not cease its software, however somebody ought to. When pressured to decide on between self and survival, even when just for the good thing about all the individuals who rely on us, many people will elect to outlive. We can not reorder the situations of the labor-industrial advanced, or, frankly, some other institution, to make ourselves acceptable as we’re—that’s not our work. But when that work continues to be uncared for, we are going to proceed to lose our hair, our minds, our souls, our our bodies, our voices, and our futures—and oh what a tragedy that will be.

After I had completed writing this text, Dr. Claudine Homosexual, the primary Black lady president of Harvard College, additionally grew to become the primary Harvard president to serve a time period of solely six months and two days.14 In a visitor essay printed within the New York Instances, Homosexual defined her departure, saying that she “fell into a well-laid trap.”15 Simply days later, Dr. Antoinette Candia-Bailey, the vice chairman for pupil affairs on the traditionally Black Lincoln College, died by suicide,16 sparking widespread outrage and a spread of conversations concerning the inconceivable job of enduring ready of management throughout the academy. These deeply painful losses—of desires and promise and life itself—each throughout the predominantly White neighborhood and the traditionally Black neighborhood, are telling us a precious reality about what it prices to be a Black lady who leads. It’s a reality we now have been ignoring for a really very long time, and a reality whose time has come.



  1. Nina Banks, “Black women’s labor market history reveals deep-seated race and gender discrimination,” Working Economics Weblog, Financial Coverage Institute, February 19, 2019,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Shauna Knox, The Black Subaltern: An Intimate Witnessing (New York: Routledge, 2022),
  4. J. O’Connell, “Schools pay $37,500 to Owens family,” The Hour, January 29, 2008,
  5. Blue Telusma, “Candace Owens claims she’s never had ‘race issues,’ but apparently has selective amnesia,” TheGrio, November 14, 2019, com/2019/11/14/candace-owens-claims-shes-never-had-race-issues-but-apparently-has-selective-amnesia/.
  6. Kali Holloway, “Candace Owens Is a Willing Tool of Republican Racists,” Every day Beast, final modified October 11, 2020,
  7. Daphna Motro et , “The ‘Angry Black Woman’ Stereotype at Work,” Harvard Enterprise Evaluation, January 31, 2022,
  8. Natasha Mascarenhas and Dominic-Madori Davis, “Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant has been fired by her board,” TechCrunch, August 17, 2022, com/2022/08/17/black-girls-code-founder-kimberly-bryant-has-been-fired-by-her-board/.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Martha’s Desk, “Martha’s Table Announces Kim Ford as New President & CEO,” information launch, March 18, 2019,
  11. James Wright , “Martha’s Table CEO Kim Ford Makes Sudden Departure,” Washington Informer, February 9, 2022,
  12. See John Blake, “When hope becomes a four-letter word: What’s missing from today’s TV shows that deal with race,” CBS Information Detroit, July 17, 2023,
  13. Jailynn Taylor, “Breaking Barriers with Braids: Michelle Obama’s Natural Hair Evolution with Hairstylist Njeri Radway,” Essence, final modified February 22, 2023,
  14. Claudine Homosexual, “Claudine Gay: What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me,” New York Instances, January 3, 2024,
  15. Ibid.
  16. Daryn O’Neal, “Lincoln University Administrator’s Suicide Sparks Conversation About Mental Health,” The Hilltop, January 29, 2024, com/2024/01/29/lincoln-university-administrators-suicide-sparks-conversation-about-mental-health/.


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