In a recent piece for The Atlantic, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield explains how sexual innuendo can create hostile work environments for black men. As part of her research for her book about gender and race in men’s work, Wingfield interviewed Emergency Room doctors about their workplace experiences. Several recounted that sexual jokes and innuendo are commonplace between doctors and nurses. But these everyday jokes and comments, Winfield argues, create difficult situations for black male doctors.
Most of the black male doctors I interviewed for my research were the only black men in their work environments. They felt sensitive to that fact, and said they moderated their behavior when innuendo entered the conversation.
Black male doctors in these situations, Winfield explains, must navigate upholding a professional working identity while avoiding any link to the long history of black men stereotyped as dangerously hypersexual.
Responding to these interactions tactfully can be essential for black men to navigate their work environment, and the black male doctors I spoke to described feelings of deep discomfort and awkwardness. While some black male ER doctors do experience unique discomfort on the job, what these men encounter is similar to the plight of some black professionals more generally.