Oppression by Bullying is Not a New Thing

We are commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday and heading right into Black History Month.

Last week was rough for the Black community with the news of Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, Vice President for Student Affairs at Lincoln University in Missouri. The more articles I read on LinkedIn, and then on other news outlets, the more my heart ached. I felt horrible for her, her family, her [good] colleagues, and the entire Black community. I am sure she was loved.

So, after so much information overload, I logged off to reflect.

Over the weekend, I attended a vision board workshop to chart the course of 2024. Among the stacks of magazines I was combing through, there was a small pile of old Essence magazines. I was delighted as there was not ONE magazine that focused on Latina issues – but that’s another story. I loved seeing faces I recognized: Oprah, Cicely, Kerry, Viola, Denzel, Forest, etc…

I picked up a copy and started thumbing through until I found the article “How to Fight Bullying at Work” by Jetta Bates. I stopped. I looked for the date to confirm how old was the article. November 2013. I stopped again.

Click on the image to open the article on Essence, November 2013 by Jetta Bates.

I read the article and thought “Wow….! Ten years ago.” Evidently, bullying at work is not something new especially when it comes to Black women.

The part that struck me from the article refers to “The Right Way to Respond,” which urges the reader to “stay cool and avoid getting defensive” and “send a detailed e-mail to your supervisor or HR…”

My facial expressions took a deep breathe, I guarantee it. I thought about First Lady Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” phrase and I thought about the film “Hidden Figures” and Taraji’s character. Then the questions on my mind raced to the frontal cortex at the speed of light.

  • What if she doesn’t have the support of her supervisor or HR?
  • What if the bullies are them?
  • Who does she turn to and with whom does she file a complaint?
  • Will she commit career suicide by going to someone else?
  • What if the bully has complete, maximum power over her career?
  • Who is there and able to listen to her about her situation?
  • Who can advocate for her?
  • Who will be her ally?
  • Will they also be targets to be bullied?

So many questions. What happened to Dr. Candia-Baley in Missouri, which ended so tragically, and Dr. Gay in Massachusetts should not have happened. It should not happen anywhere or at any time. We know this is not right.

Yet, I wonder what the turnout would have been if they had the support they needed. I wondered. If someone dug deeper in their heart and fought the injustice by their sides, what would have been the outcome?

I invite you, if you made it this far, to look within. What would you have done if you were a witness? Would you have said or done anything? Would you have stayed quiet? How can we make safe spaces to be able to speak up without any detrimental repercussion?

As far as it goes, for me, I will continue to advocate, to be a refuge, to listen, and to champion others – and me.

One last thing – Dial 9-8-8 if you feel you might hurt yourself. You are loved, and no situation is worth your life.