Workplace ethics from a would-be diva
Like her or loathe her, one thing is for sure: Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth emerged as the star, along with Donald Trump, of last season’s hit reality TV show The Apprentice. With mini–business suits showing much leg, attitude giving much shade, and in-your-face style that set the White girls on edge and gave a brother grief, Omarosa showed us a different kind of corporate sister.
She’s provocative and confrontational, cunning and cutthroat, a diva in Dior, up from the projects and taking no prisoners. What are we to make of her? The same thing we make of an Alexis Carrington or a Martha Stewart, says Lola Ogunnaike, an arts and cultural writer for the The New York Times. “Omarosa represents the first time we have a Black woman in the public eye who is glamorous but not comforting or nurturing,” argues Ogunnaike. “She’s a bad girl, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.” Glamorous bad girls are typically good for ratings, and no one would argue that Omarosa became the reason we all tuned in to The Apprentice two times a week.
Yet many of us still want our corporate sisters to be good girls and proper role models. “She’s not a good representative of Black women,” complained one young sister about the controversial O. But is that her job, really, any more than it’s Donald Trump’s job to be a good representative of White men?
“There are all kinds of Black women representing all kinds of things,” says author Bebe Moore Campbell, whose 1996 best-selling novel, Brothers and Sisters, looked at the conflicts between a Black man and a Black woman in the corporate banking world. “There’s the down-for-the-cause Black woman, the I-couldn’t-care-less Black woman, the I’m-gonna-get-mine Black woman, to mention a few. We have to get past imposing a particular way for all Black women to be.”
Still, the real-life brother-and-sister conflict between Omarosa and Kwame Jackson, the Black man on The Apprentice who lost his shot at the $250,000-a-year gig Donald Trump was offering partially because of Omarosa’s backstabbing, was the last salvo that fueled yet another round of “We hate Omarosa” chants.
In a stunning display of workplace sabotage (the cameras were rolling), Omarosa out-and-out lied, refused to answer questions, then disappeared with the star of a celebrity event Kwame was handling, thus effectively setting him up for a fall.
What was up with that? Well, the corporate arena is often a low-down and dirty playing field, and while we may not be used to seeing a sister rolling around in the mud (at least not on TV), it happens every day.
But the Omarosa–Kwame setup raises a larger question: Do we as African-Americans have a responsibility to show racial solidarity in the workplace? “I think we do,” says Campbell. “It doesn’t mean Black women should undermine their own advancement to uplift the race or a brother, but we do need to be race-conscious wherever we are. That’s how we get ahead in this country.”
Omarosa has her own take on race as it gets played on reality TV. “People loved to hate me because I was set up to be the villain on the show,” she says. “What the public doesn’t realize is how much the producers of these shows make sure to assemble an unlikely group of individuals for the sheer purpose of conflict. This is particularly damaging for our people, when it’s combined with the power of the media to perpetuate and reinforce preexisting stereotypes.”
But Omarosa also recognizes another power of the media: “I know it’s crucial that I capitalize on my 15 minutes of fame,” she admits. It’ll be interesting to see if glamorous bad Black girls can last even that long. Omarosa has lost a Clairol endorsement, and her self-ballyhooed TV talk show has yet to materialize. Perhaps in the end, even glamorous bad girls, if they’re Black, must find a way to also be comforting and nurturing.