Kutztown University assistant professor Ellesia Blaque was simply asking President Trump a question at an ABC News town hall event when she made headlines for shutting him down when he began to speak over her.
Blaque disclosed that she was born with an inflammatory disease called Sarcoidosis and asked the president whether he would make sure her pre-existing condition was covered by his health insurance plan the same way it was covered by the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
While she began asking about whether coverage for preexisting conditions should be removed, Trump cut her off, saying “No.”
“Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” Blaque replied before continuing. She then added that she wants to ensure she would be protected under Trump’s healthcare policy, because she cannot control the fact that she was born with a disease, or the fact that she is a Black woman living in a country where the medical field largely does not take Black women seriously.
"You've been trying to strike down pre-existing conditions."
In a @ABC2020 town hall, @GStephanopoulos presses Pres. Trump on claim he's preserving pre-existing conditions—as his administration argues in court against Obamacare, which protects them. Watch the full exchange. pic.twitter.com/GuOyqUKhen
— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
However, Blaque made headlines not because of her question, but because of her assertiveness. The trope of men interrupting, condescending and speaking over women has become a topic of discussion and a source of anxiety for women in political and corporate spaces.
Since the incident, Blaque has spoken out about how she felt Trump’s roundabout response skirted her question and minimized her concerns.
“He fluffed me off like soot on the bottom of his $3,000 pair of shoes,” Blaque later said in an interview with CNN.
Interruptions and condescending comments are often considered microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined as comments or actions that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.
Blaque asking the president to stop interrupting her was more of an assertive callout than a dramatic confrontation brought to light an issue women — especially women of color — face on a day-to-day basis.
In a webinar DiversityInc hosted with Joiava Philpott, vice president of regulatory affairs at Cox Communications (No. 17 on 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) and Circe Starks, compliance director at Southern Company (No. 26), both offered career advice for women of color.
Some of this advice included being deliberate and intentional about how one shows up in the workplace.
“We are often held to a much higher standard than white and male peers,” Philpott said. “We are often presumed to be less qualified despite our credentials, our work product and our business results. Women of color are less likely to have bosses who promote them, who help navigate through organizational politics and who help them to socialize outside of work. We often find ourselves lacking meaningful mentoring and sponsorship that is critical to getting ahead.”
Starks also added that women of color must have conviction in their leadership and communication styles. “We have to be very intentional about developing our brand and our leadership style,” she said. “While developing your brand, that goes to how other people are experiencing you and how you might be showing up in the workplace. We have to be deliberate about developing that leadership style.”
DiversityInc also hosted a series of webinars on how to cope with microaggressions in the workplace. As part of the discussion, Dianne Greene, division vice president and general manager at ADP (No. 4) described her experiences with microaggressions in the workplace and offered advice on how she responded to them. She spoke about how she upholds the value that it is not her responsibility to handhold or make people like her — She is simply at work to get her job done and achieve her and her organization’s goals.
“It’s not my issue to look in the rearview mirror and to help you catch up or to help you start liking me. I just don’t take on that responsibility,” Greene said.
She also went on to explain how every microaggression may not warrant confrontation, and that addressing them requires emotional intelligence, focusing on the big picture, sharing feedback and understanding one’s worth. “Always [address microaggressions] in a way that you are asserting your self-worth and your self-value,” she said.