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.

Come On No GIF by Shalita Grant - Find & Share on GIPHY

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

2. Share this post if you like it

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Enda Sheppard June 22, 2020

What a horrible experience. But sounds too common. However, I find it hard to believe that white women would be unfireable. Everybody is fireable where I live. That is not to take away from how you explain the everyday nature of racism. #GlobalBlogging
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Yvonne Chase June 22, 2020

@Enda,

Everyone is fireable where I live too, however, there’s a system in place to protect white women and men when they behave in disparaging ways towards black people. It’s called white supremacy. That’s why they don’t get fired and instead get promoted. That’s why it’s so easy for them to be terrorists in the workplace. They get away with it!
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Lauren Renee Sparks June 22, 2020

I am so sorry you had that job experience. I hope and pray that your “Karen” has had a big change of heart since then. That is my hope and prayer for so many. Another great post. And thank you for sharing this video. I had not seen it.
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Yvonne Chase June 23, 2020

@Lauren,

I wish I could say that was the only experience I’ve had with a “Karen” however, it’s not. Black men and women go through it every single day. As the ladies in the video said, we can’t show emotion, we can’t speak up or talk back or anything…I know so many black men and women who could be Presidents and CEOs of corporations yet they’re not because of systemic racism and racial inequality. It must end!
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Lisa notes June 22, 2020

I agree that white people are going to have to be responsible for dismantling white supremacy. I’m praying for an awakening that more and more of us white people will see and believe that white privilege is a real thing and make systemic changes to dismantle racial inequality across the board. I’m bookmarking the video to watch all of it later; I watched the section you highlighted for us, but I want to watch it all.

I’m sorry about your work experiences. People need to hear these stories to believe they exist so thanks for sharing them here.

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Yvonne Chase June 23, 2020

@Lisa,

I and other black women have stories for days because unfortunately, this is our experience. Every black woman I know has experienced something similar if not worse.

Thank you for calling a thing a thing…for acknowledging that white people are responsible for dismantling white supremacy and racial inequality. We can’t fix what we refuse to face and it’s time for white people to face the music.
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Lisa notes June 23, 2020

I just finished watching the video and shared it with my book club ladies to watch too. It was tough hearing some of those things from a lot of angles, but that makes it powerful. I’m not listening to feel comfortable with myself; I’m listening to see what I need to change. And toughening up is one of those things, to not give up speaking truth to my white friends, to not be afraid to speak up to my racist uncle at the dinner table (although with covid, big family dinners have disappeared for now), to not be afraid to see things that I need to repent of and ask forgiveness for.

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Yvonne Chase June 23, 2020

@Lisa,

I love you for listening and being willing to really see this for what it is. I’m glad you’re not listening to feel comfortable with yourself but to see what you need to change. That’s a great way to listen. I love your heart around this issue. Thank you.
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Michele Morin June 23, 2020

I am so sad right now. I need to read the stories of inequality and injustice and not look away. Feeling the sadness keeps me in prayer.

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Sharon Hazel June 24, 2020

Thank you for sharing your experience – thoroughly unpleasant people, and my instinct is to say, who would want to work for people like that – but as you say, it makes it so much harder to progress a career! Praying for a real change in attitudes.
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Susan Nelson June 24, 2020

I am so sorry that you’ve had those experiences. As a white woman, with two black grandsons, I am doing all I can to educate myself. I don’t want my two precious grandsons to grow up in a world where this type of behavior is not just accepted, but encouraged. Thank you for sharing your story.

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Calvonia Radford June 24, 2020

Yvonne, I wish I could say I haven’t been there, done that and bought a few t-shirts. However, I do have similar stories. I’m thankful God has used those experiences to make me stronger and better versus bitter. I live in Kentucky, an “at will” state, and as a supervisor, I understand anyone can get fired. Yet, I have seen the finagling that allows some people of color to be terminated much more easily than others. The way you so vividly recalled your experience paints a clear picture of “finding something” to hold against you and let you go. Unfortunately, these accounts are woven into our history.

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Yvonne Chase June 24, 2020

@Calvonia,

The players in my story are unique to me, however, my experience is not unique to black people. It’s what we go through every single day. Telling our stories informs those who don’t have this experience and lets them know it’s real. It happens. Everyday! Because of the systems that are in place, many black people like me are fired unjustly…but God! The way that story turned around is only something he could do! Perhaps I’ll share it one day.
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Sarah June 26, 2020

I’m stunned! I pray I have never been a Karen and certainly that I never will be! Thank you for sharing your experiences and I pray they never occur again. Thank you for contributing to the conversation and giving me examples to understand.

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Sarah-Marie June 26, 2020

For every account I read similar to yours, I have to pinch myself that this is 2020 and still happening. For my part, I hope that I can keep reading and educating myself about racism and white privilege so I can make a difference standing up against this prejudice. #ThatFridayLinky
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Dana, A mamanista Life June 26, 2020

As long as systemic racism exists we will never to know our full potential in life. I respect you and your accomplishments within such a hostile work environment. Sending love and respect x x #THATFRIDAYLINKY
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Deborah Davis June 26, 2020

Hi Yvonne, I really enjoyed and appreciated your “truth”! As an African-American woman “high-achieving, workaholic” who worked in management for major corporations, I have had similar experiences. I feel your pain. Been there. I am now working for myself, but I still carry the emotional scars. Thank you for sharing your truth. I appreciate it. I’m sharing your post on social media.

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Yvonne Chase June 27, 2020

@Deborah,

Thank you for reading and sharing. I look forward to the day when stories like this are no longer our experience. Change is on the horizon.
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Tracey Carr June 27, 2020

It is astonishing Yvonne to read your post and see that this type of inequality is still going on and that this happened to you in your place of work. It is pretty incredible and shocking and leaves me lost for words. Only to say that I certainly hope that real change is coming. Thank you so much for sharing this personal account with all of us at #globalblogging

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Yvonne Chase June 28, 2020

@Tracey,

I do believe real change is coming. I believe we are on the heels of real change. It’s unfortunate that it took such an egregious act against George Floyd to open the eyes of non-black people. That’s why I shared this story…to create awareness.
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Carolyn Seymour Thomas June 29, 2020

Stories like yours are what it takes, I think. Statistics & definitions are helpful, for sure. History–absolutely. But stories in the here & now & not-too distant past…stories that make white people’s jaws drop in ‘disbelief… The book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo helped me understand ignorance & the offensiveness of white people’s [sometimes] good intentions. Reading that opened me up to stories like yours–so that I can hear if for what it IS. NO EXCUSES.
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Michelle June 29, 2020

I am so sorry about what you must endure. The Karens sicken me.

Michelle
https://mybijoulifeonline.com
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Jerralea June 30, 2020

So sorry to hear your story. Until recently, I’d really believed we’d came a long way. As long as there are “Karens,” we really haven’t. It’s so sad!

Whatever happened to treating others the way we’d like to be treated? We are all made in the image of our Creator – there is nothing for us to feel superior about.
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Yvonne Chase July 5, 2020

@Jerralea

And Karens have gone wild! I’ve been reading the stories of how other black women are treated in the workplace. It’s unbelievable and sad! We have a long way to go, however, I believe change is here. Karens will no longer get away with the type of vile behavior!
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Enda Sheppard June 30, 2020

Back from #DreamTeam
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Debbie Wilson June 30, 2020

Yvonne, your mistreatment grieves and angers me. I’ve met my share of bullies, but they didn’t target me because of race. Thinkers threaten some leaders, especially when our logical observations and questions show holes in their reasoning. And in some cases, being a woman doesn’t help. My white girlfriend has been told unbelievable things in corporate America. But she continued to rise to the top anyway. It sounds like you have too. Kudos to you for overcoming the sins of those who mistreated you. And may God help us to truly love one another with His unconditional love and courageously stand against wrong .

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Mandy Farmer June 30, 2020

I am always appalled when are hear about experiences like this. I am ashamed that this kind of behavior is acceptable. I was raised having an open heart to all people, having several races representative right within my family.
One thing I have been challenged to do lately. Is when I see the microaggressions to speak out against it immediately. I think I have been too silent, just shaking my head when people say the things they say. I pray God will help me see it happening and give me the courage to speak out when I see it.

Thank you for sharing at Legacy Link-up
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Melissa July 1, 2020

Thank you for sharing your experience, and I’m grieved that this is only one story in a sea of many voices. I’m continuing to lament, listen, and learn, which is helping me to be a noticer of injustice around me and quick to stand out against it in word and action – and to teach my boys to do better. Grateful for your voice.

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Yvonne Chase July 5, 2020

@Melissa,

And this is why I share. Because many are unaware of this happening. Now that you know, you can speak up against it and as you said, teach your boys and those within your sphere of influence to do better. Each one teach one!
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Corinne Rodrigues July 2, 2020

I can’t begin to imagine how this makes black people feel. In India, it’s the Dalits who face this kind of injustice. I’ve been watching videos of Karen’s and Kevins and can’t believe how privileged and racist they are.

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