There’s Only Room For One: The Ongoing Tug of War Between Successful Black Women

August 23, 2012  |

There’s this wicked little rumor that has been floating around for decades. The rumor implies that black women are incapable of supporting one another. I call it a rumor because I highly doubt that we are unable to support each other, I just believe that we have allowed ourselves to be fooled to an extent. We’ve fallen victim to what Rene Syler refers to as the “there’s only room for one” phenomenon, which she explains as “the idea that whatever the field, it’s a zero sum game and another woman of color is competition.” Although this sounds like a very foolish and simple way of thinking, it is an ideology that has been subconsciously embedded in our culture. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, though. The black woman is the poster-child for oppression in America. Taking history into consideration, we were not only oppressed because we were black, we also had to fight for our rights as women. Decades later the scars still remain and we still walk around with this idea ingrained in our subconscious: I gotta get mines, good luck getting yours…

The latest cat fight erupted in the form of Twitter beef a couple of weeks ago between Nicki Minaj, who is undeniably the dominant female presence in hip-hop right now, and rising star Azealia Banks. As Banks tweeted about her competition, ““I don’t believe ‘Rap Game’ hierarchy …….. Sorry. Studio !!! Just wait until I drop this album…..LMFAOO just wait !!! You b***hes are gonna f**king GAG!!!!!!!!!!!” Prior to that it was Azealia and Lil Kim, Nicki and Kim, and so on. Of course, female rappers are infamous for going at each other’s throats, but what about Lisa Raye and Stacey Dash? Or the blatant shade that Keri Hilson has thrown at Beyonce and Ciara in the past? Or better yet, the other black woman that works in your office who has been going out of her way to slight you all year?

I understand that many industries are male-dominated, which can make it difficult sometimes for women to get ahead, but tearing each other down certainly is not the way to change that. It may help us to make progress in our own current situations, but what about the little black girls coming up behind us? If we are constantly at war with one another because we carry the “there’s only room for one mentality,” it will continue to be just that. We will be leaving them to duke it out for the position that meets the “one black woman quota.” But, imagine if we decided to become allies in the workplace instead of enemies. What if we chose to support and empower each other to get ahead? What if we took the Dominique Dawes-Gabby Douglas route instead of the Lil Kim-Nicki Minaj route? Imagine how much further we would get.

I’ll never forget the day I finally got to speak to one of my absolute favorite authors. As I sang her praises she sucked it all in. Once I spoke of my own goals and aspirations to be a writer as well, she threw me shade. On the flip side of that, I’ll forever remember my first real interview. One of my interviewers was a black woman who had my absolute dream job. As we neared the conclusion of my interview, she looked over my resume once again and gave me a few pointers on how I could make it better. A few weeks later I received a phone call from her. She had called to let me know that one of their interns also applied for the position and they had to give her a chance since she had already paid her dues, but told me how well I had done during my interview and referred me for another similar position within the company. Many would say that if she really wanted to help me she would’ve pushed for me to get that job, but honestly, her feedback and encouragement was one of the best things she could’ve ever done for me, the reassurance that I was on the right track. Support. As a young woman on the come up, I cherish every pointer and encouraging word from other black women as if they are rare jewels. I realize that everyone will not take the each one reach one route, but we can all help each other by choosing not to behave in a derogative manner towards other black women. Trust, there’s enough people doing that to us already.

Sound off, ladies: Do you think black women struggle with supporting one another?

Jazmine Denise is a freelance writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter @jazminedenise

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  • Kimmommy

    Very insightful post, a great deal of truth regarding a historically complex issue within our community. I have experienced the sabotage from a sister in a position of power and this experience has made me even more committed to “lift as I climb.”

  • chanela

    well when it comes to movies and tv shows it’s a mixture of crabs in a barrel syndrome and white people only needing one black (or ethnic) person at a time in the media or else they fear that the public will think something is “too black” and then people won’t watch it. so that is also why a lot of black entertainers do all that mess, there is WAY more competition. even though there are a million other white blonde/blue girls in the entertainment world they get all the chance to shine while blacks and other women have to compete hard for just ONE to get a chance. notice how every week a new white girl becomes a star while black people have the same 10 black actors in rotation? they don’t trust up and coming unknown black people to pull in money. ok i just ranted. aha

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  • Ms_Mara

    Just like the “eye rake” article, this is a female thing. It has very little to do with race. We’re just competitive with each other. Men compete too, but it’s less obvious and not as catty.

  • Jen

    It would take self-happiness in order for many Black women to get along. You have to be happy with yourself to be of any service to anyone else. I see that in the other post that yes it isn’t just race of black women that can’t lift up one another but throw in there age because many older black women tend to have become complacent in the workplace and life in general. So when they see a young black sistah. Instead of admitting they have made the mistakes they see you about to make(maybe) , therefore encourage/warn you to take a different route. But instead they tend to lash out and show their bitterness by asking you 101 questions, making you feel as though you need their negative vibe, they believe thats helping you (sometimes yes) but in reality it just shows that they are unhappy with their life situations but instead of dealing with that they just lash out at you. Happiness is a choice and the key.

  • LISA C



  • I think it all to be a game for attention. Or just plain ol’ stupidity. You have heard the phrase “The more things change the more they stay the same” All of us need to stop the damn in fighting and pay attention to what is going on right before our clouded vision. I do not know what it will take for our people to wake the heck up and not see the distraction put in place to keep us out of focus. This world is so much bigger than Hollywood, and there are so many more issues facing us as a culture than two women fighting over something that could go away tomorrow with the stroke of a pen. “WAKE UP”!

  • Judy

    I just believe that people (men included) need to be happy with their own success and to stop competing with one another.

  • Whatever they’re doing gets boring fast….and they’re out…

  • Lisa

    The key is to hang around truly successful people,not those wannabes who think-pretend-wish they’ve accomplished something. Real success understands that there is room for everyone and you’ll never reach the top by stepping on people; you work with them. You don’t see Angela Bassett taking on Halle Berry or Jay-Z taking on Kanye.

  • Negress

    I remember in undergrad the black TA’s(grad students) were the most harsh. I got a 99 on a paper once and asked why couldn’t I just get an 100? On the job, older black women have to rake you over first before they give their seal of approval. I had two women older than me at a job that wouldn’t be nice if someone paid them. They would come by just to get material to dish on, sad. Not only would I not want them as friends, they proved themselves to be untrustworthy of such a privilege. They were noncollege educated btw.

  • JaneDoe

    I am a black woman and I have never had this problem with women of other race except black women. I work with this african american woman now and I don’t know what it is about me btu this woman won’t even get in the same elevator with me. Mind you she is an exec and lil ol’ me is just getting by. Everytime she see’s me her whole demeanor changes as if I am out to get her when all I am doing is dying on the inside of how insecure I make her feel when she is the one with the power.. I have never experienced that before. I have always been supported and embraced by women of other races except Indian women and blacks

    • TRUTH IS

      Indians are cut throats, no joke about that!

  • Gimmeabreak78

    Although I agree with the author, this is not a phenomenon restricted to Black women. It applies to women in general in every professional pursuit, whether it’s in the boardroom, on stage, etc. I suspect that there are two reasons for this. The first is that now that most women earn a living working outside of home (and alongside men), other women are perceived as a professional threat not just because of quota systems, but because of factors that are inherent to being a woman. For example, let’s look at maternity leave and child-rearing. If Susan, Michael, and Mary work in an office, though all three employees may have children, we can be sure that Michael didn’t take maternity leave to give birth to his child. That leaves Susan and Mary to fight over the scant vacation/maternity/sick days available that still allows the office to keep running smoothly. Whether the women are conscious of it or not, this does put pressure on one woman to outperform another or seem more valuable to the company than another. As a result one woman might consciously or subconsiously seek to undermine her female colleague(s).
    The second reason is that women are all too often judged by fickle characteristics like looks and sex appeal. One cannot underestimate the importance of looks when a woman is trying to break into a profession. Prettier women get paid more attention than plain ones. Heaven forbid if there is more than one pretty woman in the same place. Since for women beauty is power (although no one likes to admit it), beautiful women do not want their perceived power diluted or mitigated by the presence of another beautiful woman. Hence, the cattiness ensues. Real life and reality t.v. bear that fact out time and again.

    • DeepThinker

      Good insight! This makes the issue even more complex. ALL women face the same kinds of pressure and act accordingly.

  • angel

    Truth!!! Your article is so true. I have females in my close family who are a living example of this way of thinking. It’s so sad really. They seem to sabotage every relationship in their lives from their companions down to the children.

  • Yvette

    As a whole black women do not support one another. A lot of it has to do with self esteem as well as up bringing. Unfortunately, I grew up listening to women in my family tear each other as well as co-workers to shreds and for a long time I thought that was how it is supposed to be. I am very thankful that I have broken that pattern and was able to teach my daughter to uplift her fellow sistas’ and not tear them down.

  • I have had the same problem with white women, hispanic women, and black women. If a women is competitive and rude than she is that way regardless of race.

  • DeepThinker

    In a white supremacist society only a limited number of non-white
    individuals will be allowed at the “top” in order for the so-called majority to
    still feel comfortable and maintain the belief that they still have the
    advantage over other groups. They must have the security of believing their “privilege”
    is not being sacrificed for some black person that they may never deem worthy
    of being there to begin with no matter how hard they work. Because of white supremacy there can’t be too
    many black supermodels, too many black students admitted to one of the most
    prestigious universities, too many CEOs of major corporations, too many
    well-to-do, etc… So this leaves black
    people to fight over the scraps that are left to become that “model minority
    and token black person.” Black women –
    black people as a whole need to keep this in mind when being “competitive” don’t
    throw each other under the bus. Whatever
    you do to get to the “top” is what you will have to keep doing to remain there,
    and learn how to navigate the unbalanced system to make it work for you without
    stepping on the toes of others. Always
    support and encourage the accomplishments of others in your path. Women (black and other) are too harshly
    critical of each other and we need to stop being that way. What has helped me
    professionally is to seek out mentors that are not just other black women. See
    out well accomplished people that are where you are trying to go no matter what
    their race and background is. Also stop expecting to get extra support or a hook
    up just because that person has the same ethnic background as you. Nobody owes you anything.


    Crabs in a bucket in hot water mentality going on…..smh

  • Rae Marie

    I really like this article cuz I’ve seen it and have had t done to me as well by black girls and other races. I see white women helping each other all the time so why dont we do that?

    • DeepThinker

      I partially agree. I have a white girl in my office throwing everybody under the bus “especially” other white girls. As a matter a fact she drove another white girl away so she could get her office and one pay grade higher. It happens just not as noticable, because it is more of them around.