Why Sisters Don’t Get Second Chances

November 30, 2010  |  

I put down the copy of the paper and had one of those moments.  You know, one of those moments when I can hear Kanye’s “racism still alive, they just be concealing it” line ringing in my head.

It seems it was only yesterday when Dr. Laura Schelessinger made a woefully insincere apology for uttering the N-word on the airwaves.  And while the incident is far from forgotten, the good doctor has gotten a new gig.

According to Schelessinger, XM Sirus Programming Head, Jeremy Coleman reached out to her the day after she had made her public apology on Larry King Live and began courting her for crossing over and bring her show to satellite radio.  With their latest addition, XM can now proudly boast the biggest radio personality acquisition since Howard Stern.

Schelessinger’s new deal was nothing illegal.  It is a clean business move.  But despite it being right in the books, the whole thing feels dirty.  The dynamics that create these unfair, unjust situations needs to change.

Not only did Schelessinger leave her old job on her own terms, she basically received new interest from employers in the wake of the scandal.  While it is easy to focus the conversation around her actions, one has to think about XM’s as well.  What was going through Jeremy Coleman’s head when he approached Schelessinger?

To put it bluntly: ratings.  Racial slurs or no racial slurs, Schelessinger has a loyal audience that would follow her everywhere she goes.  This however is no excuse. By making Schelessinger an offer, Coleman and XM have stamped and approved her behavior and ignorance.

The whole situation is an interesting case study into the dynamics of race in corporate America.  I mean think about it: if a black commentator had made offensive racial comments on-air what are the odds the situation would have turned out the same?

Zero to none.

Forget trying to play colorblind, if a black woman had made those comments, the only thing she’d be seeing is a pastel pink slip.  Certainly, no black woman I know would be promoted for making salacious comments about white people.  But more importantly, what about the other party involved?

As women of color in the workplace, we may not have all experienced working with a Dr. Laura, but in all probability we will work with at least one Jeremy Coleman in our lifetime.  It is crazy how the people who display basic prejudices are often outnumbered and helped by those who mindlessly support it.  While our workplaces are governed by HR rules on racial slurs, there are no clear policies against condoning the same.

While many of us would like to ignore it, black and white employees face very different experiences in workplace.  The expectations for people of color are lower and the penalties for our mistakes are higher.  Think about it:  Mel Gibson got an offer to be in the movie, ‘Hangover 2,’ after his expletive filled rants.  Now riddle me this: where is Isaiah Washington a.k.a. Dr. Burke?

As people of color, the second chance is either a miracle or rarity, but most times unlikely.  Whether fair or not, it is definitely not to be depended on.  Many of us have grown up hearing the saying that “good is not enough.”   But the sad fact is even excellence is no guarantee.

The reality of it can often be disheartening but instead of causing us to fall to despair, the Schelessingers and Colemans of the world should give us even more reason to push harder, to go further and to breakthrough.  For all the slackness and second chances given to our counterparts, for us there is nothing but this chance right here, right now.  So this week, ladies go above and beyond.

“Phenomenal” is our only option, because ordinary is not one.

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