Black Women's Empowerment

Black Women Don’t Want to Be ‘The Help,’ They Want Fair Pay For Their Work


Dr. Danielle N. Lee, a biologist and a blogger for Scientific American, was called a “whore” for refusing an offer to work without pay.

A man named Ofek who describes himself as an Editor for Biology Online wrote to Dr. Lee and asked her to become a blogger for the site which he edits. Ms. Lee wrote back asking what type of remuneration, specifically of the financial type, she would be receiving. Ofek replies by telling her that she will receive increased traffic to her website, which can increase the amount of revenue earned by her site. Dr. Lee was–rightfully–having none of that.

Lee wrote a pithy but pleasant and professional reply to Ofek: “Thank you very much for your reply. But I will have to decline your offer. Have a great day.”

Now what could one find so offensive about that reply? To those who are sensible, non-racist, and respectful towards others (even if those others are black women) there is nothing wrong with Dr. Lee’s reply. But unfortunately Ofek was not a sensible, non-racist, respectful (of black women) kind of person, and therefore he took the decline of his offer personally.

Ofek wrote back: “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

Excuse me? But why does asking to receive fair pay for quality work make a black woman a whore? Skip what you may have heard, blogging is work. Real work. It takes time to create a post with quality content that has been fact-checked and edited for grammar. There is nothing wrong with wanted to be paid to produce quality work. Ofek wanted something for nothing, he felt that his publication deserved to get something from a black women academic for nothing, and he couldn’t hide how butt-hurt he was over a black woman turned down the bones he was throwing her. How dare she!

While there is nothing wrong with working without day, the decision to forgo pay should be determined by the person who will actually be doing the work. Observers don’t get to determine what your time is worth to you–this was the opinion of Dr. Lee, and because she dared to assert that she too had the right to lean in, Ofek couldn’t resist the urge to take her down a notch.

What added insult to injury after the fact was that Dr. Lee published a post about the incident with Ofek on her Scientific American blog, only to have the post removed by Scientific American for not explicitly concerned the ‘discovery of science.’ But at least one white woman who is also a scientist and writes for Scientific American has pointed that she has written non-sciency stuff for Scientific American and those posts weren’t removed.

The lesson in all of this is that if you expect to have your time, energy, and other resources valued, expect resistant from those people more accustomed to the perceived status quo that dictates black women have no right to set boundaries.
Jamila Akil is Community Manager at Beyond Black and White. To get updates on her ramblings, follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil

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