Can short-term segregation be healthy for women and people of color?

The Devil’s Advocate contemplates President Obama’s use of executive POWer to remove 33,000 troops from Afghanistan instead of letting Congress weigh in on the decision. What if he started telling the media things like, “It’s because I’m black that Congress is pissed at me and doesn’t trust my judgment!” The fact that this sounds absurd means we may be shifting into an age where race, culture and gender are no longer the primary excuses for disagreement – that maybe humans are more complex than these limiting categories.

A co-worker told me the other day, “A traditionally black college  helps foster confidence for black people because race is no longer a distraction from  academic study – everyone is on equal playing ground.”

I thought she had a good point. After spending a year struggling in a predominately white, male office, I am now thriving in an office full of sisters, so I added: “Maybe an all girls school can be beneficial to a girl because boys are no longer a distraction from studying.”

True? False?

How about this question: Can segregation be a positive experience?

Ask any person of color (POC) or woman who lived before the civil rights movement and he or she might bite your head off.

Ask a politically correct academic and she will say this question is completely stupid, American and perpetuates everything that is wrong with the world by intentionally excluding those who are not the same.

Ask me and I will tell you that I have no interest in segregation as it was pre-1960s, but because of my personal experience, I believe that organizations and institutions can empower people by segregating them according to gender, cultural DNA and any other disposition that makes achievement challenging in a world that looks like progress is happening on the surface, but is still very much functioning in the same paradigms of assumptions, prejudice and stereotypes.

Hmm. Even after writing that, I am not convinced. I feel like I am making excuses for whatever failures I faced in my career…that I am giving myself an unnecessary handicap.

But let’s see how this argument evolves.

I could point out the newsworthy Wal-Mart class action suit as a great example that prejudice is still very much present in our subconscious.

I can also point out that despite integration, people still flock together in tribes. Often, the common denominator is:

Race: Howard University

Gender: National Organization for Women

Culture: National Association of Hispanic Journalists

If you look around, society is spliced and diced according to similarities and interests, just like a web site’s taxonomy of information.

Is this because of prejudice and because respective members want to keep others out?


Does the information often cross reference?


Thanks to the civil rights movement, this exchange is possible. And there are plenty of people taking advantage of this freedom. Including myself. I wouldn’t be writing this had the mainstream continued keeping women and POCs in subservient roles.

So what do I mean when I say that segregation can be healthy?

Let’s step into my brain and figure out when and where this belief originated.

I suppose I experienced prejudice for the first time in high school. My friends were all white. There were other Latinos in my school but they were not in my Advanced Placement classes.

“You’re not like the other Puerto Ricans,” one friend told me, as honest and true as the light of the moon. And because I knew what she meant, I took it as a compliment. I went to college and got a full merit scholarship, not based on my culture and background. It was no big deal that I was Latina. I was playing on equal ground at this point in my life…and I continued to do so for the next 10 years all across the US – Michigan, Denver and finally, San Francisco, where black boys from juvenile halls worked side-by-side with Phds, diplomats, best-selling authors, white hippie women, Latina poets, Asian artists. I was not judged first as a woman or a Puerto Rican – I was judged for my skills and my talent.

Record scratch.

Then I moved to Planet MyAmi in 2003. While I loved that I was surrounded by my Latina sisters (aka The Femmebots) who all looked like me, I constantly hit glass ceilings in the office, whether it was Gen X Canadian Internet entrepreneurs shagging their assistants (and promoting them rather than the nerdy girl actually working), or an Israeli real estate developer who “doesn’t do business with women,” or a French architect who prefers women dancing on tables rather than contributing to the city’s skyline as equal partners in the boardroom.

I had time traveled back to the 1970s, when my mother was cornered on a regular basis by her boss in the Citibank building in NYC. It didn’t help that she wore hot pants and thigh high boots to work.

“I thought I looked cute!” she says now. She did. And perhaps she is partly at fault for the unwanted advances? Is this like saying a raped woman is partly at fault for having a vagina? Maybe I’m going too far…

Anyhow, I was told by mentors and friends that I was partly at fault for the reactions I was getting on Planet MyAmi.

“You seem like you are flirting when you are talking.”

“You shouldn’t have used that devil costume picture for your column.”

“You should read more and understand your industry better so people will believe that you know what you are talking about.”

So I cleaned up my act. I followed the advice and got a nice, clean cut job with a non-profit organization – not on Planet MyAmi, but in the Multimedia District of Columbia – a place where Femmebots do not run rampant and where color, culture and gender are much more protected in the office.

I felt like I had a lot to prove. Everyday I went to work, I thought that my new co-workers were always thinking: “Her ass is too round for this very serious job…and she looks way too young. She can’t be trusted.”

I spent a year trying to prove I was perfectly capable – if they would just listen to me, but alas, they wouldn’t, and I attributed the reason to my Boob Tube, which was a constant distraction to the B-O-Yz on Planet MyAmi.

And so, after one revolution of the sun, I jumped ship.

“The fact that you have curves is not the reason you didn’t last here,” a colleague explained later. “It’s because you don’t know how to play the game.”

Or that I refused to play the game.

As I retrace my steps, I think about the first two weeks I spent there. I played nice and smiled and listened and jumped straight into my work. I was enthusiastic because my business partner and I looked at the specifications of the project and worked together to give my new team exactly what the vendors were proposing to do in long-winded proposals and bids.

Isn’t that the game? Show, don’t tell?

When I presented the preliminary work, my new team was shocked and appalled. I had blind-sighted them. I had tampered with protocol. They were NOT impressed.

They told me I was not in charge. They told me that I was part of a team and that I was not being a team player.

I was confused. All this time I thought only hetero men would not take me seriously. Because up until this point all my bosses had been encouraging, nurturing women and gay men. But here was a team, made up of both genders, which hired me for my skills, telling me not to use my skills.

Why? What didn’t I understand? Wasn’t the proof in the pudding? I gave them what they wanted in less than 2 weeks.

Apparently I hadn’t spent enough time learning their culture. My capitalistic ways were clashing with their government RFP-we-have-to-spend-a-certain-amount-of- time-and-money ways.

Right now, President Obama is being accused of not being a team player after using his executive power to remove 33,000 troops from Afghanistan instead of letting Congress weigh in on the decision.

What if he started telling the media things like, “It’s because I’m black that Congress is pissed at me and doesn’t trust my judgment!”

If I am to be honest, did my personal clash have anything to do with my gender or my Puerto Rican background?


So why have I been thinking this all along?

Apparently I brought some psychological baggage with me from Planet MyAmi. I am the one who focuses too much on my culture and my Boob Tube. I am the one primping my female costume and reinforcing the isms of my Latin-programmed brain. I am the one who has bought into the 1950s Madison Avenue propaganda that a woman is not capable of doing anything other than housework.

If you have seen “What the bleep do we know?” it reminds us that how we see ourselves is exactly how others will see us.

Because of the bad impression I made in the first two weeks, I was relegated to doing what I was told. Military culture. Again, nothing to do with race or gender.

With this dynamic I would never be effective at my job of keeping the organization up-to-date on technology even if I were the stereotypical white nerd boy who reads code all day in the dark while drinking 2 liters of Pepsi.

So I hopped into my spaceship and landed not too far away in a safe place where the Nappybots work harmoniously among each other. They share food, they support each other, they set high expectations, they allow flexibility, space and time for personal lives and they know technology inside and out.

Suddenly I am thriving. Blossoming. Growing.

And I tell you what – it is freaking fantastic to be able to wear a hot outfit at work AND be taken seriously for my skills. I have proven myself among the Nappybots and they could give a shit about what I wear. There is mutual respect. A sisterhood. I am doing what I love and paying the bills – simultaneously! I just needed the right vibe, the right chemistry, the right people to get to this point.

Perhaps because I went from one extreme (all white traditionally paternalistic hierarchical institution) to another (all female flat circular institution), I am being all hyperbolic and attributing my success to segregation.

“This is not a good thing – you are perpetuating this vicious cycle of bigotry. You are focusing too much on race and gender instead of sharing ideas in a collegial environment.”

Yes. This is true. But right now this institution of women is a safe harbor for me after the turmoil I experienced on Planet MyAmi. It is a short-term incubator. I am able to focus on my brain, just like I did in high school.

I have five more months to work among the Nappybots. And then I shall re-integrate into the diverse world we live in.

But my own experience makes me wonder about all the law suits and finger-pointing going on in the U.S. There are certainly legitimate cases – I probably would have won against all the B-O-Yz on Planet MyAmi, but what about all the instances where people are just projecting their own psychology onto others?

Looking inward is not an easy task. I really hoped I could blame my negative working experience on racism and sexism because it’s a lead that bleeds.

But if we are to create harmony on this very diverse, increasingly connected planet, taking responsibility is the first step toward shifting from a paradigm of separation to the paradigm of O-N-E.

Amen. Namaste. Ciao.