by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Most of us know this rule in corporate America: When you get identified as a trouble maker, you’re in big trouble. Most of us have seen this, especially since African Americans are the greatest victims of corporate racism in the country. What’s also true is that there are few remedies in place for those who experience racism in the workplace. But I don’t need to tell you that.
But this kind of corporate backlash doesn’t just happen to black folks. Xuedan “Diana” Wang says that when she sued her company for an unpaid internship, she was unable to get a job anywhere. She says that when her employment prospects would google her and find the lawsuit, they would lose interest.
Wang says that Hearst Publishing, the parent company for Harper’s Bazaar, didn’t pay her for the work she did, so she had the right to file a lawsuit.
“Without taking the time to get to know me, I can see why they would write me off,” she said.
Johanna Workman, a former psychologist with The University of California, San Francisco, also found that when she demanded her compensation, she was stigmatized as well.
In case you’re unaware, there are legal restrictions on what you can and can’t do with interns in your company. For example, unpaid interns can’t replace paid employees and the internship must benefit the intern in some way. Internships are a great way to get good experience to help you break into a field. I was able to get my writing career started by agreeing to write for AOL Black Voices for free, which surprised them since I had a PhD. But I knew that this would be the kind of start that could get me where I wanted to be.
With regard to being blackballed and stigmatized, I definitely experienced this when I raised a stink over my tenure situation at Syracuse University. I was trained by Rene Stulz and Andrew Karolyi, two leading scholars in my field. I had more solo authored research publications than anyone in the history of my department. When I went up for tenure, I had the support of a lot of leading black scholars, including Michael Eric Dyson, Julianne Malveaux and Cornel West. I even got support from Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to testify to the impact that my work has had on the black community. Unfortunately, however, my department has never tenured a single African American in its entire history and the “radical negro” wasn’t going to be the first.
I don’t tell this story to whine and complain about Syracuse University: Racists are going to do what they do. I am saying this to help you understand that racial ostracism can occur at any level (Cornel told me that he had a similar experience with Harvard) and the best way to protect yourself is to have multiple streams of income. Had I not owned my own business, I would have been a) afraid to speak up against injustice in my workplace, and b) watched all of my credentials and education go down the drain. Don’t let any institution define you; sometimes, it’s better to go out on your own.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance PhD and the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money”. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.