Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

VIEWPOINT: Learning the ‘Rules of the Game’

Business has historically been dominated by white men who wrote the business world’s rules in ways that left little room for blacks and other people of color.

Success in business should be determined by qualities such as the abilities to innovate and generate value; however, entrance into my preferred field can be halted by socio-economic background, ability to engage in the dialogue of white businesspeople and access to particular resources. The white male gaze creates the criteria for entrance into this world and projects onto colleagues certain stereotypical behaviors of blacks, such as aggressiveness and informal forms of conversation.

The pressure I face in the business world as a young black woman is even more intense than that of white women or black men. Because black women are subject to the intersectionality of two marginalized groups, I must deal most directly with the business world’s prejudices against both black people and women.

Through the judgment of the white male gaze and domination of business, young black women experience social death. We have to self-police every aspect of our social, professional and academic interactions with others — and ultimately silence our true inner selves. We do it so that we don’t come off as “too aggressive” or “another angry black woman.” We do it to win the acceptance of the white male gaze.

I currently attend Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. I find it an exceptional school in terms of its faculty, deans and programs, but I’ve experienced some devastating encounters with particular groups. My freshman year was intimidating: Everyone in my business school classes seemed to have soaked up industry knowledge from parents who studied business, worked in a business or owned a business. Because I was new to the field, I often did not recognize the vocabulary used; I put extra pressure on myself to become as jargon-savvy as I could. I was often afraid to raise my hand in class out of the fear of sounding uneducated, but I managed to hold my ground.

The social atmosphere was also different, and my classmates hung out exclusively with others they had met through shared business clubs or programs. I struggled with joining clubs such as the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund or Georgetown Ventures, because I feared I wouldn’t fit in: I didn’t have much background in business, and as a black woman, I didn’t want to subject myself to the judgment of white men and fail to pass.

I also didn’t know when I was supposed to be looking for internships. I was only a freshman, but the MSB atmosphere pressured me to want to be busy like everyone else. Yet the business school’s environment provided students like me, unfamiliar with the “rules of the game,” with neither the guidance of deans nor the advice of fellow students.

The way that my superiors — mostly older white men — interact with me, and the way that they perceive me, forces me to modify my looks and behavior to fit their mold. For example, in my interactions with mainly white recruiters, I have had to change my hair, clothes and speech to seem competent and presentable.

In a recent class, when my peer discussed how businesses can be unethical when supplying drug addicts, the teacher squinted dismissively and then restated what the student had said just using bigger words. He has not used the same tactic with white students in the class. Afterward, my peer kept asking, “Did I not make any sense? Did I sound stupid?” The professor’s different treatment of a black female student led to further insecurities when she should have been lauded for offering a creative, applicable example.

Although the white male gaze and domination permeates the business world, harming young black women, the MSB can combat these problems. All business students would benefit from a more diverse curriculum, such as a course on the history of business that seeks to understand the role of the transatlantic slave trade, the genocide of native peoples and the involvement of immigrant labor in building the structures that undergird our current business climate, which mainly profits white people.

If the MSB truly wants to foster a diverse environment — one that will make it more competitive, innovative and ethical — it can not only admit “exceptional” black students who have beat the odds and can follow the rules of the game, but also build structures within the school to value qualities that a more diverse student body brings to the table.

I bring creativity; the ability to navigate different countries, cultures, languages and socio-economic realities; the sensitivity to support and mentor my peers; and the ability to relate to clients who are different from me. Luckily for you, I’ve brought all this to Georgetown.

Aluwet Deng is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business.

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