The Other Black Girl Spotlights Racial Identity in the Workplace

In 1997, Dr. Beverly Tatum posed the question “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together At Lunch?” in her book entitled after said question. In it, she explores how Black children develop their identity amongst the racist stigmas attached to Blackness. She claims that in order for Black children to formulate a positive racial identity, they are best guided by the support of peers of the same race. The Other Black Girl reimagines this phenomenon with Black women and the corporate workplace. 

The Other Black Girl premiered last September as a Hulu original series. The show is a satirical mystery thriller that tackles the racial politics Black women often face in the workplace. Based on the book by Zakiya Dalila Harris, the show is set in New York City and follows a young Black woman named Nella Rogers (played by Sinclair Daniel), who is an editorial assistant at a popular publishing company, Wagner Books. Nella is the only Black employee at Wagner, until another Black editorial assistant, Hazel-May McCall (played by Ashleigh Murray), is hired. Since Hazel’s hiring, strange things start to happen to Nella at Wagner that make her question the meaning of Black sisterhood and solidarity. 

At what cost and to what length, should Black women go through in order to feel seen as valued members of society? 

The Other Black Girl is reminiscent of Netflix’s show Dear White People, in its Scooby-Doo-like approach to systemic racism in institutions and the quest to destroy the secret societies or cults that govern them. In Nella’s case, she is determined to dethrone Diana Gordon, the prominent Black woman author of Wagner Books, and her organization that brainwashes Black women into becoming corporate badasses. Now, I believe the overall question that the show poses and is ultimately up to the audience to decide is this: at what cost and to what length, should Black women go through in order to feel seen as valued members of society? 

Diana Gordon, played by Garcelle Beauvais, is arguably the most dynamic character of the series as she is the mastermind behind the “Brainwashing Black women to Corporate Hierarchy” pipeline. Her reasoning behind founding this organization was to essentially install authoritativeness in Black women to climb the corporate ladder and achieve executive statuses within their respective fields. Historically, Black women are underrepresented and undercompensated in the workplace and in managerial positions. Additionally, Black women are often subject to discrimination based on appearance, hair, and body type, which in turn makes it harder for Black women to advance in their positions. For example, the CROWN Act, which has passed in 12 states thus far, prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture after rampant prejudice against Black hair. To be honest, it’s difficult to completely villainize Diana for her antics because from the surface, it seems that she is empowering Black women to get what they want out of life; however, the way she goes about doing this could be seen as problematic and harmful to Black women. 

Hair is a major element of a Black woman’s identity and a major target for discrimination.

Diana manipulates Black women’s insecurities to indoctrinate them into her organization. The first insecurity that Diana takes advantage of is hair. Hair is a major element of a Black woman’s identity and a major target for discrimination. Diana created a special hair grease formula that inhibits emotional regulation, making it easier for her targets to suppress the guilt and generational trauma associated with assimilating to the white-centered standards of the workplace. Throughout the show, you see the main character Nella rocking her natural afro and wearing average business casual clothes to work. In the last scene of the show, Nella finally gives in and uses Diana’s hair grease. The next day she walks into the Wagner office with a 32-inch, bussdown, middle-part wig and a stylish pantsuit, insinuating that she compromised her personal values in order to become a senior editor at Wagner (although she’s actually undercover, attempting to defeat Diana). 

Nella feels suffocated being surrounded by white people and their microaggressions all day.

The second insecurity that Diana takes advantage of is loneliness. All too frequently, there seems to be a quota on Black women in corporate and academic institutions, with the limit being one or two. For Nella, she is the only Black employee at Wagner at the time and there has only ever been one Black woman editor at the company. Nella feels suffocated being surrounded by white people and their microaggressions all day, and Diana exploits this feeling as she enlists Hazel to recruit Nella for her organization. Furthermore, the show provides a glimpse into the discreet alliance that Black women have in the workplace or any space where they are deemed a minority. Nella is relieved once she finds out that there is another Black woman in the workplace and prematurely lets her guard down. This vulnerability leads to a complicated relationship between Nella and both Hazel and Diana, as Nella has to choose to either support Diana in her mission of advancing Black women to executive positions or stay in the grueling corporate system. Part of me believes that there is a third option here that involves Black women creating companies and opportunities for themselves without having to rely on drastic tactics or white approval. 

Hazel felt that no matter how hard she worked, it would never be good enough to propel her further in her career.

Lastly, Diana uses a Black woman’s sense of worthlessness as a strategy to recruit them for her cause. When Hazel-May was first enlisted by Diana, the one thing that Hazel (or her original name Chantal) wanted from Diana’s organization was to feel valued and worthy. At that time, Hazel was a full-time caregiver for her mom as well as working a full-time job at a restaurant. Hazel desperately wanted to work at her local publishing company so that she could afford a caregiver for her mother, but was denied because she did not have a college degree. Hazel felt that no matter how hard she worked, it would never be good enough to propel her further in her career. This is a feeling, I believe, a lot of Black women can relate to. 

Now to answer the question that I posed earlier, I don’t believe there is a limit to what Black women should do in order to find their worth in society. Although Diana is using what one would call “unconventional means” to achieve this, I can’t completely fault her if what she is doing is helping Black women. I also can’t fault Nella for not wanting to compromise her identity in order to elevate in her career and find success. There has to be a middle ground somewhere, and hopefully it can be revealed through a second season.

© Courtney Stanley (4/6/24) — Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Watch The Other Black Girl on Hulu.

View the trailer for the show here.

Read Zakiya Dalila Harris’s book of the same name.

Learn more about Zakiya Dalila Harris on her author website.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured photo: Sinclair Daniel as Nella Rogers and Garcelle Beauvais as Diana Gordon in The Other Black Girl. Photo Courtesy of Hulu.

Bottom photo: Ashleigh Murray as Hazel-May McCall and Sinclair Daniel as Nella Rogers in The Other Black Girl. Photo Courtesy of Hulu.

 

Tags: Ashleigh Murray, Courtney Stanley, Dear White People, Garcelle Beauvais, Hulu, Sinclair Daniel, television show review, The CROWN Act, The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris

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Courtney Stanley is a Maryland native with a huge passion for film, music, and art. Since graduating from Morgan State University in 2022 with her bachelors degree in screenwriting and animation, Courtney has worked on a number of film and television productions in the DMV area as a production assistant. Courtney continues to fuel her passions through writing reviews for FF2. She currently works as a legal assistant, in hopes of pursuing her interest in entertainment law. In her free time, Courtney can be found attending a concert or writing poetry.
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