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Wingfield delves into stereotypical roles of Black men in the workplace.

In one of the most oft-cited passages of his 1952 novel--Invisible Man--Ralph Ellison famously lamented: "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."

In her recently released book--No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men's Work (Temple University Press, 2012)--Georgia State University sociologist and 2013 Diverse Emerging Scholar Adia Harvey Wingfield illuminates a visibility problem of a different sort.

The problem emanates from the faulty ways in which Black men are sometimes seen by colleagues, supervisors and even subordinates in the contemporary and predominantly White male professional workplace.

Using a mix of interviews and previous research, Wingfield delineates a sociological framework in which Black professional men find themselves facing one of three informal stereotypical roles. Those roles are that of the "superbrother," the "imposter" and the "race representative."

Each role carries its own set of issues that serve to form the work experience of those to whom the constructs are applied.

The "superbrother," for instance, is seen as an "archetypal Black male worker with excellent credentials, a stellar background and virtually no professional flaws whatsoever."

The flipside of such impeccability, however, is that they are "held to standards that are rarely, if ever, expected of White male colleagues."

There are also practical problems, such as the financial burdens of having to obtain a law degree from an elite law school, whereas White colleagues can get away with having earned a law degree from an average school.

The "imposter" faces a different set of problems. Chief among those problems is having people assume he can't possibly be who he is professionally.

Wingfield has no shortage of examples of Black men who have experienced the brunt of this particular role, from an engineering professor at a major research university who is mistaken as a copy technician, to a chief resident at a university who was wrongly accused of stealing supplies from a local hospital.

As for the "race representative," he is forced to be the face of his particular place of work when the enterprise has a perceived need to have a face that is Black.

"In this role, they are called on whenever the firm or office needs to show diversity or present someone who is a member of a minority group," Wingfield writes. "The work that men actually do in these contexts is less important than the fact that they are present to underscore the message the organization wants to send about minority representation."

Such work, though, actually constitutes a form of "cultural taxation"--one that Wingfield shows can have adverse professional and financial ramifications.

A Black lawyer, for instance, may be called upon to perform tasks that don't involve billable hours, thus subjecting him to demotion, not to mention uncompensated work.

Readers are often treated to the unfiltered voices of Wingfield's interviewees as they relate the challenges associated with their roles and other issues they must confront as they navigate the world of work.

In addition to the three stereotypical roles that Black men face in the workplace, Wingfield presents three "marginalized masculinities" that represent three types of personas that she argues Black men tend to assume in the workplace: the "tough guy," the "nonthreatening-at-all-costs guy," and the "friendly-but-with-limits guy."

To underscore her argument, she quotes a range of Black professional men, from those who purposefully act like jerks and stand their ground to those who consciously turn the bass down in their voice in order to come across as less threatening, to those who strike a balance of sorts between those extremes.

One of the most invaluable steps that Wingfield takes in the book is when she gets her interview subjects to elaborate on the consequences of using these various tactics.

For instance, those who take the "tough guy" posture run the risk of being seen as obstinate, and thus alienating colleagues, which can be the precursor to an entirely new set of professional problems. At the same time, those who go out of their way to be friendly and nonthreatening may experience an inner turmoil over the degree to which they kowtow to conform and avoid projecting the image of the "angry Black man."

"It sickens me to think about" one of Wingfield's interviewees named Larry, an engineer, says of how at one time he used to take the bass out of his voice when conversing with colleagues, didn't grow a beard and went out of his way to keep his desk dean, all in an effort to become more likable.

For those who delve into Wing field's book, the one thing they are guaranteed to come away with is a greater appreciation for the fact that for Black men who work professional jobs, the work involves so much more than just the work itself. Not that men of other ethnicities don't face challenges when figuring out how to navigate the world of work, but for Black men, Invisible No More shows how entrenched and lingering racial stereotypes about the intelligence and aims of Black men often make the professional jobs they work much more complicated than they would otherwise be.
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Title Annotation:diverse bookshelf; Harvey Wingfield's 'No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men's Work'
Author:Abdul-Alim, Jamaal
Publication:Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 9, 2013
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