With #MLKDay around the corner, I’m bracing myself for the many misinterpretations and misuses of Dr. King’s life and legacy. But one of the main misrepresentations of his life that I would love to see corrected is the pivotal role that Coretta Scott King played not only in his life, but as an autonomous and powerful woman in her own right.
Coretta Scott King is always invoked in pop culture and real life as a symbol of the kind of woman who will support you through the ebbs and flows of life, even if much of that ebbing is due to your misdeeds (looking at you, Jonathan Majors 👀).
How did we allow the legacy of arguably one of the most pivotal individuals in the Civil Rights Movement to be reduced to the likeness of a mule that bears the weight of the ebbs and flows of life? That narrative begins with how we think of Black women and labor.
The legacy of chattel slavery has created a culture both in the workplace and within society where we believe that Black women are somehow capable of handling more abuse and mistreatment and should be gracious while they are actively being harmed. In the workplace especially, this looks like Black women being expected to not react to blatant acts of racial aggression, to take on heavier workloads without compensation, and to do the necessary grunt work of their role while their colleagues who are men and, or are White receive the recognition, praise, and promotions.
So how can we use #DEI strategies to reverse this narrative and create workspaces that reward and recognize Black women just as they are? It can begin with a few steps/critical questions:
What systems do you have in place that reward employees for their hard work?
As turnover inevitably happens, how do you adjust for the additional projects your team will take on? Removing the expectation that one must grin and bear it through busy seasons on the job can allow for more authentic and productive dialogue on improving systems and day-to-day tasks without sacrificing well-being.
How can you create the space for your team members, and in particular those who are Black women, to express when there is an imbalance in their workload without questioning their competence or work ethic?
How can you facilitate a reciprocal working relationship with the Black women on your team? While shout-outs in team meetings or sharing positive feedback is a great step, how can you go a step further to support their long-term goals and professional development?
As we head into MLK Day and #BlackHistoryMonth soon after, remember that Black women are so much more than your mule. We are autonomous, creative, and powerful individuals in our own right, and our workplaces should support that.
(Now run that Jonathan Majors interview back with this lens and tell me what you think 😅)