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Crabs in A Barrel- Black Women at Work

Do you want to talk about a taboo subject? One that even I struggled to discuss and tried, until recently, actively avoid?

Black women (and men) who work to undermine other Black people to advance their own agendas in corporate America. Many people prefer to call these people as, “crabs in a barrel,” based on observations of crab behavior where despite all being in the same situation (i.e. the barrel), some crabs will still fight among each other, thus preventing the collective need to escape.

Now, I really don’t know if that’s true because I honestly never cared enough to watch crabs do anything except enter my mouth, but I certainly understand the threats that people with this mindset pose.

Being a sci-fi nerd myself, I tend to think of the ”‘crab mentality” as the less cool version of the phrase, “there can be only one”’ from one of my favorite TV series, Highlander because that is exactly how many of them act. It goes like this:

  • Only one Black woman can take credit for a project or work in the C-suite.

  • Only one Black woman can be promoted at any given time.

  • Only one Black woman can be hired at a company at a time.

In my personal experience, I haven’t dealt with many Black women with crab mentality, but I have seen them in action against others.

Some examples of crab behavior include but aren’t limited to:

  • Refusing to provide access to resources due to concerns of there not being enough resources to go around.

  • Selectively avoiding mentoring and guiding new hires of color

  • Aligning with problematic white co-workers and putting up barriers for other Black women to join

  • Undermining Black co-workers thru gaslighting, playing politics, and other forms of sabotage

  • Refusing to support or stand up for marginalized Black co-workers out of fear of compromising their own status at work

It can indeed get worse from there as Black women (and men) who internalize these ideas often refuse to see the larger issues of systemic racism at play, the type of racism that, for years, corporate America has been guilty of allowing and promoting.

Ask yourself this, why can’t there be more than one Black person in the C suite at your company? Why can’t more than one Black woman at a time be promoted, acknowledged, and offered support? Who rules are we playing by?

Lastly, what do we expect to gain by being pit and pitting against each other? Who really wins? Hint, it’s not us. We’re still in the barrel.

The impact of these crabs are immeasurable as it's already rough navigating corporate spaces as a Black professional let alone dealing with self-hating Black people.

In my opinion, I believe this workplace dynamic is changing due to a variety of factors including access to social media, more voices being heard, and the growing movement towards holding companies accountable for their practices.

We must and will do better!

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