Get Your Knee Off Our Neck

by Yvonne Chase on June 22, 2020

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about systemic racism and white privilege. In my last post, Your Silence Speaks Volumes, blogger Lauren Sparks agreed to continue the conversation with me and Calvonia Radford, another blogger. She sent me a series of questions which she turned into a blog post titled A Conversation on Race. One of her questions was about stories around this conversation of white privilege. In this post, I will share how I’ve been affected by it in the workplace. Unless you hear our personal stories, I don’t think you will ever understand what we go through. So, here’s what happened at my first job in TV…

I was sitting at my desk one day when my Executive Producer asked me to come in. I grabbed my notebook because I was sure she called me in to give me show notes. Instead, she told me to close the door then asked the following questions:

“How come you speak so well? Did you grow up in a white neighborhood…do your parents hang around white people? And how come you dress so nice? I don’t pay you enough money to dress so great.”

Her phone rang.

She answered then looked at me and yelled, I have to take this call. Get out of my office and close the door. I left, closed the door, and stared at it in total disbelief.

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In another instance, we were working on a show about being black and single. This was long before I became a dating coach. Of course, being the only black person on staff, I was the black correspondent for all things black. This time was no different.

My producer asked me and Melissa to go to three popular black spots all of which I frequented to find single black professionals. It was a Monday night. I knew those spots would be empty. They’re usually packed beginning on Thursday after work and straight into the weekend. It’s a ghost town on Monday. I shared that with her, yet she insisted we go and so we did. As I expected, we came back to the office with nothing because like I said, those spots were empty. The show still had to be taped the next day so I stayed in the office late that night and well into the early morning calling all my black friends and asking them to call everyone they know to help me find guests. Mission accomplished. The show taped and it was fantastic as a matter of fact, it was one of our highest-rated shows.

Later in the week, the executive producer called me in her office again. She said I hear you’re giving my producers a hard time. She went on to share the scenario to which I explained what happened and she said, oh, ok, that makes sense. Thanks.

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A couple of days later, she called me in again and told me she was sending me downstairs to book the audience which meant I was demoted and would no longer work as an Associate Producer. I went downstairs and began working with Barbara the audience coordinator.

One day she asked me to sit in the audience in the front row. I would’ve done it, however, I wasn’t feeling well and did not want to disrupt the live taping. P.S. staff members never sit in the audience unless we can’t find people. There was never a shortage of people for this popular show, as a matter of fact, we constantly turned people away and saved contact information for future shows.

By the end of the week, I was called into the executive producers’ office yet again. This time when I arrived, Barbara, Cyndi, and the entire executive producing team was present. A sea of white people stared me down. I’m not gonna lie…I thought they were gonna stone me or throw knives at me. It was scary!

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Here’s how the meeting went; the EP talked at me in a very condescending tone and said, “You gave my producers a hard time up here not wanting to do what they say and now you’re giving Barbara a hard time downstairs. I’m going to give you one more chance to show me you want to work here. Do you want to go back downstairs?”

Yes. I’ll go back downstairs.

After a brief pause, she looked me up and down and said, “You know what, I don’t like you. You’re fired. Get out of my office.”

She jumped up out of her chair, yanked opened the door and threw me out. I walked out and down the hall to the elevator. When I got downstairs to my desk, CBS security was waiting for me to pack up my things and escort me out of the building.

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This is what many black women go through trying to make a living in America. Here’s how actress Amber Riley explains it when discussing her experience of working with white women in TV. She says, “White women feel empowered to behave like this because they are essentially unfireable. They know they are not fireable and they use that privilege to terrorize their counterparts.” Terrorize is the perfect word! Those white women I worked with knew they wouldn’t get fired and they didn’t. Many got promotions with big salary increases. It’s the reason an unqualified white woman can be an Executive Producer on a major TV show by the time she’s thirty or younger.

There’s a name for white women who terrorize black women in the workplace. We call her “Karen” which is a pejorative term used in the Western world for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a racist white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others. Watch the video below to learn more about “Karen.” Fast forward to the 12:00 mark to get right to it.

Black America In Crisis

Jada, Gammy and Willow address the state of emergency within Black America – from racism to police brutality, white supremacy to “Karens” and even cancel culture. Joining this special RTT: Legendary Civil Rights leader Dr. Angela Davis and the woman who gave the most powerful speech of this generation – activist Tamika Mallory.

Posted by Red Table Talk on Friday, 19 June 2020

The title of this post came about after seeing the officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. When Reverend Al Sharpton eulogized George Floyd, he said the knee on the neck is symbolic of the black experience. I agree! He continued with, “We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. Get your knee off our neck!” “Karen” had her knee on my neck and would not let up until she killed my existence. Black women/black people…men and women deal with this type of behavior, not only in the TV industry but across all industries. What’s the solution? Dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism.

Something to think about…

What say you? In the video, Jada Pinkett Smith asks, can we honestly expect white people to dismantle white supremacy? Can we? Have you ever had an encounter with Karen at work? Have you ever been a Karen at work? 

Here are 2 things I’d like you to do now: 

1. Leave a comment below

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