In talking to these ER doctors, Harvey Wingfield found that this behavior had a particularly harmful effect on a certain group among workers: black men. Most of the black male doctors she interviewed for my research were the only black men in their work environments. They felt sensitive to that fact, and said they moderated their behavior when innuendo entered the conversation. The reason that black men can feel extremely uncomfortable in these scenarios has a lot to do with the history of their being represented in American culture as sexual threats to white women. Thus, it isn't surprising that none of the white male doctors I spoke to for my study identified the sexual banter in emergency rooms as problematic in quite the same way.
After slavery was abolished, white people used songs, illustrations, and stories to cast black men as threatening brutes consumed by sexual desire who were dangerous to white women. The stereotypes promoted in the 1915 film Birth of a Nation are probably the most well-known -- but far from the only -- example of this. (Such images were actually not very common during the antebellum era, when the prevailing stereotype about black men was that they were subhuman, docile, and contented by the order and guidance slavery provided.) White women were often represented as pure and virginal, and black women as sexually voracious. Each of these stereotypes was built in juxtaposition to the ‘norm’ of white male heterosexuality. Black people, especially men, have throughout American history been typecast as dangerously hypersexual.
The consequences of these cultural myths were all too real. As far back as the mid 1800s, the journalist Ida B. Wells noted that even the intimation of sexual intimacy between black men and white women could -- and often did -- result in the former being lynched, even when such relationships were consensual. Regardless of people’s familiarity today with these specifics, this past inevitably shapes racial dynamics today. Going back to the ER, consider how those black male doctors must feel when white coworkers joke about sex. Responding to these interactions tactfully can be essential for black men to navigate their work environment, and the black male doctors I spoke to described feelings of deep discomfort and awkwardness.
- Sr. Software Engineer, 2011 - presentI work on infrastructure for the data that powers Google Maps.
- Gilt GroupeSoftware Engineer, 2011 - 2011
- ChartbeatSr. Software Engineer, 2010 - 2011
- VMwareSoftware Engineer, 2005 - 2009
- Sun MicrosystemsSoftware Development Intern, 2003 - 2003
- IBM CanadaSoftware Development Intern, 2002 - 2003
- WaterlooComputer Science, 1999 - 2005
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