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#BlackWomenAtWork highlights daily challenge of race, gender

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/29/2017 By ERRIN HAINES WHACK, Associated Press
In this combination photo, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., left, appears at the Justice on Trial Film Festival on Oct. 20, 2013, in Los Angeles and Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly appears on the set of his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," on Oct. 1, 2015 in New York. O'Reilly said Tuesday, March 28, 2017, he had a hard time concentrating on Waters during a speech because he was distracted by her "James Brown wig." He made the comment during an appearance on "Fox & Friends," after a clip was shown of Waters speaking in the House of Representatives. (AP Photos/Richard Shotwell, left, and Richard Drew) © The Associated Press In this combination photo, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., left, appears at the Justice on Trial Film Festival on Oct. 20, 2013, in Los Angeles and Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly appears on the set of his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," on Oct. 1, 2015 in New York. O'Reilly said Tuesday, March 28, 2017, he had a hard time concentrating on Waters during a speech because he was distracted by her "James Brown wig." He made the comment during an appearance on "Fox & Friends," after a clip was shown of Waters speaking in the House of Representatives. (AP Photos/Richard Shotwell, left, and Richard Drew)

A pair of testy exchanges between high-profile black women and white men in the political spotlight launched a tweetstorm under the hashtag BlackWomenAtWork, validating the experiences of thousands of professional black women who say such slights are all too common.

FILE – In this Dec. 19, 2014, file photo, April Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, asks President Barack Obama about race relations in the U.S., during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. A pair of testy exchanges between high-profile black women and white men in the political spotlight Tuesday, March 28, 2017, launched a tweetstorm under the hashtag BlackWomenAtWork. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this Dec. 19, 2014, file photo, April Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, asks President Barack Obama about race relations in the U.S., during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. A pair of testy exchanges between high-profile black women and white men in the political spotlight Tuesday, March 28, 2017, launched a tweetstorm under the hashtag BlackWomenAtWork. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

It began with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly ridiculing veteran congresswoman Maxine Waters, referring to her hair as "a James Brown wig," after watching a video of the California Democrat criticizing President Donald Trump's policies. Later Tuesday, during a White House press briefing, American Urban Radio Network host April Ryan was admonished by press secretary Sean Spicer, who told her to "stop shaking your head" as he responded to her question.

FILE – In this July 13, 2016 file photo, Brittany Packnett, of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, participates in a meeting about community policing and criminal justice with President Barack Obama and activists, civil rights, faith, law enforcement and elected leaders at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. A pair of testy exchanges between high-profile black women and white men in the political spotlight Tuesday, March 28, 2017, launched a tweetstorm under the hashtag BlackWomenAtWork. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) © The Associated Press FILE – In this July 13, 2016 file photo, Brittany Packnett, of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, participates in a meeting about community policing and criminal justice with President Barack Obama and activists, civil rights, faith, law enforcement and elected leaders at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. A pair of testy exchanges between high-profile black women and white men in the political spotlight Tuesday, March 28, 2017, launched a tweetstorm under the hashtag BlackWomenAtWork. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

After the exchanges, Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Packnett took to Twitter and urged her followers: "Share your Maxine and April moments, so people don't think this is rare. Use #BlackWomenAtWork." Packnett added that black women meet at least three O'Reillys and five Spicers a day, and went on to list her own examples — including a time when she was asked about her blue nail polish at a meeting and another when a college dean discouraged her from wearing braids.

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., listens during a news conference on Capitol in Washington. Waters has served in Congress for a quarter-century. Now she’s turned into the passionate voice of resistance against the Trump administration. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., listens during a news conference on Capitol in Washington. Waters has served in Congress for a quarter-century. Now she’s turned into the passionate voice of resistance against the Trump administration. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Davia Lassiter saw the hashtag and felt inspired. She said that she watched the exchange between Ryan and Spicer and saw a black woman being treated like a child, and that the O'Reilly remarks about Waters also felt familiar.

"When he attacked her hair, we all felt that as black women," said Lassiter, 35. "These women were doing their jobs, but instead of them doing their jobs, the men wanted to insult and chastise them."

The hashtag was a reminder that black women have long had to steel themselves against such exchanges — highlighting the challenge of balancing race and gender, said Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of the Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers, advocates and strategists focused on bias and discrimination.

"It helps us understand the lived experiences of black women every day," Johnson said. "It's a tool, a vehicle, for us to affirm and nod and raise our hand up and say, 'Yeah, me, too,' and 'No, not today.'"

The hashtag attracted everyday women as well as women in politics and entertainment. By Tuesday night, Waters herself had joined the conversation, tweeting: "I am a strong black woman. I cannot be intimidated, and I'm not going anywhere."

Black women shared stories on Twitter of unwanted hair touching, having their ideas overlooked or taken, disrespect from subordinates, questioning of their academic credentials, accusations of being angry and criticism for wearing certain clothes drawing attention to curvier body types.

As the hashtag started trending, Packnett tweeted, "I sadly knew it would trend. Not because I'm special. Because I know how we get treated."

Lassiter, a marketing executive who lives in Austell, Georgia, said navigating such incidents is "this thing we've gotten used to putting up with."

"I'm not going to say we can't win; I feel like we win every day," Lassiter said. "But we have these moments where the only thing you can say is, 'Damn. I work my butt off, I have these accolades, but I still have to deal with this."

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Errin Haines Whack covers urban affairs for The Associated Press. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous

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