Mammy in Corporate America


One of the most exciting things I have recently observed in the media is the evolution of the portrayal of Black women. Although this development seems slow, arduous and definitely long overdue, it is somewhat encouraging to see these early signs of progress. TV Shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure or Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar are making steady contributions to this cause, and creating a space for Black women to exist freely, without archetypes. You see, dating back to…hell, forever ago, Black women in real life and consequently in the media have been typecast into one of the following categories: The Jezebel, The Angry Black Bitch, and yes, The Mammy.

The Mammy (noun): The obedient, doting caretaker who often nurtures others even better than herself or her family. We’ve all seen these roles and images repeatedly.

The Mammy unfortunately lives beyond the TV and movie screens. She is alive and well. Even in Corporate America. It is most interesting to discover that many Black women play this role in their Professional lives without even realizing it.

When you first entered the Corporate workforce, yes, you wanted to excel. But you also wanted to fit in. As the only Black woman at the companies you worked for, you wanted to be liked by your White colleagues. You wanted them to find you relatable and approachable; to counter the negative impressions you knew they had of Black women in general.

Yes, there are genuine interracial friendships that develop in the workplace. But many are not. Here are some tell-tale signs to watch out for:

1) You laugh at their humorless, even off-color and inappropriate jokes. We all know they think we don’t smile or laugh. The kind of laugh that haunts your soul later once the mask is off. Like, why did I laugh at that?

2) You spend hours listening to stories you care nothing about. Stories of their rebellious kids and drunken ski-trips. You go well beyond the normal expectations of interpersonal workplace interactions. You know, the obligatory 1 minute small talk as you share the elevator ride down to your cars after work. You have become unduly emotionally invested in their lives. At least they trust you, you’d think to yourself.

3) You look out for them. You let them take credit for work you had done and for which they had zero input. You let them “piggy-back” on your ideas, pretending not to notice.

4) You are always having your “brain picked”. Expertise you have gained, courses you have paid for on your own dime are being leveraged by them, for no reward. You may even be the person who trains everyone else. The “subject-matter expert”. You train them, they get promoted, leaving you behind.

5) You even let them get away with throwing you under the bus a few times. To avoid being seen as aggressive, you wouldn’t object.

6) You are the go-to, resident Black token. Essentially hawking your Black skin and culture for their acceptance. Whatchu need? Black skin for the company brochure? A Black employee to parade around when trying to attract a Black-owned client? The “Black take” on the latest Beyonce album? Or even someone to decode “urban” quips? You know I gotchu!

I could go on and on.

Here’s the kicker.
These friendships, if one can call them that, are entirely one-sided. They don’t take a genuine interest in getting to know you. They don’t really care what you do on the weekends or vacations. They ask you the same questions over and over, indicating they really aren’t listening to your answers. When you get passed over for promotions you’ve earned, and still have to come in the next day, they don’t notice the subtle change in your demeanor, the heaviness of your feigned smile. They bypass it and go on to talk about the next concert or beer tasting. Their acknowledgement of you is entirely superficial, as they judiciously notice changes in your hair length or style but nothing else.

And worse yet, issues affecting communities of color, issues you care about, such as police violence are completely avoided since it makes them uncomfortable. And it’s all the same to you, though. Right? Seeing that as a Corporate Dual Citizen, you don’t really trust them with your true thoughts and feelings anyway.

I have been where you are and I know the feeling. If any of this resonates with you, contact Intelle Coaching Solutions for a free consultation. You too can begin benefitting from interpersonal workplace relationships instead of being sabotaged by them. Visit Intelle for more details.