Author Jennifer R. Farmer hits her social justice stride

Jennifer R. Farmer has a couple of solutions for Black women she believes will help them cope and thrive in the workplace. The author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life,” Farmer identifies well with what Black women have to go through in order to be successful in corporate America as well as in the business world.

For Black women, that campaign starts with coming to grips with handling the double-standard environment that they endure at work. They don’t get a free pass because of their skin color. In fact, it is because of their Black skin that racism, sexism, discrimination, sexual harassment, and workplace bullying all form a line in the mistreatment department.

“All leadership advice that Black women receive must be viewed through a race, sex and class lens,” Farmer said. “For instance, while it is important that we be assertive, we can be penalized for having the audacity to ask for what we want and need. With “First and Only,” I am seeking to provide fuel to encourage Black women to continue striving, continue fighting and most importantly, continue thriving.”

Publicist Jennifer R. Farmer
Spotlight PR Founder Jennifer R. Farmer has a couple of messages about the workplace environment and in life for Black women in her book “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life.” Photo credit: Stephanie Matthews

Farmer is a successful Black woman rich in business and educational pedigrees. A University of Rochester graduate, Farmer now sits on the school’s board of trustees diversity advisory council. Dubbed the “PR Whisperer,” Farmer has a penchant for putting her best foot forward as a public relations specialist in meeting the needs of her clients, often landing high-profile media gigs.

Those gigs include being splashed on the pages of the Washington Post or a USA Today or being heard and seen on shows like The View or HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Farmer is someone who you might call a real-life fixer. She gets stuff done.

When individuals like rapper and activist Killer Mike (Michael Render) as well as someone with the theologian background as a Rev. Dr. William J. Barber or the political astuteness of a Nina Turner dial up the phone for some PR assistance, Farmer is the one they call.

Farmer’s clients range from the entertainment field to faith-based groups to the political side. Farmer does not discriminate when it comes to providing her services. However, there is a catch to her work. She’s all about seeing progress made on racial and social justice fronts. In one form or another, most, if not all of Farmer’s clients line up under these two umbrellas.

This includes the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Black Church PAC, and United Methodist Women. For the last 17 years, Farmer has been building her brand as a specialist in the racial and social justice fields. It is in this arena, Farmer’s passion and her well-served communications skills have been able to touch and affect lives.

The most notable outreach Farmer has done recently as a publicist was her work with Until Freedom, a former client. The social justice organization, spearheaded by co-founder and star activist Tamika Mallory, has been on the frontlines advocating for justice in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

The 26-year-old Taylor was shot and killed by members of the Louisville Metro Police Department during a pre-dawn raid on March 13.

Until Freedom’s social justice push in Taylor’s death has generated international headlines and has forced the state of Kentucky as well as the rest of the United States to deal with a racial reckoning movement this country has not seen since the Civil Rights Movement. Behind Until Freedom’s national spotlight surge has been Farmer, who admits to being shaken by what happened to Taylor.

Taylor was asleep in her apartment with her boyfriend when police raided her place. Taylor was shot six times and died instantly. Although her family reached a financial settlement with the City of Louisville, none of the three police officers involved in Taylor’s death were directly charged with killing her.

What happened to Taylor hit close to home for Farmer and her two children.

“Breonna Taylor is a very difficult case for me,” Farmer said. “And the reason it’s difficult is I’ve had my home raided. My son was arrested in 2017. When he was arrested my home was raided. My daughter was probably five months. The police in the city that I lived in…they rammed my door and they destroyed the door. I know firsthand like what that fear feels like. There were so many officers. I’ve never been in trouble with the law. I’ve never been around that many police in that close proximity going through your home looking for stuff. They looked at all my cabinets. They destroyed my son’s room.”

“I know what that fear and that humiliation feels like,” Farmer added. “So when I first heard about Breonna Taylor it took me back to my own experience. In that moment when my home was raided, I could have been killed easily. I knew that my son, my daughter, we all could have been killed because there were so many police and all it takes is for one person to get trigger-happy or one person to see you as a threat. For a while when I heard about Breonna Taylor, I really could not engage because it was just too painful for me based on my own history.”

Farmer says society treats Black women altogether differently. The miscarriage of justice in the Taylor case is one example of this type of travesty. In Farmer’s eyes, Black women oftentimes get the double-standard treatment in and out of the workplace. And there’s not enough literature out in the marketplace that specifically discusses the plight of Black women and all the baggage that comes with how they are mistreated, she added.

“I noticed the way that Black women were being treated on the national scene,” Farmer said. “I noticed the way the feedback that Black women would get in a professional setting, the feedback that I would get. And a lot of that feedback was based on gender and it felt racialized, meaning that I’d be told things that my white colleagues would not.”

That would be just a starting point for Farmer, who said she began chronicling these abuses that Black women were experiencing in a journal a couple of years ago. What began as a seed planted by an ongoing curiosity for Farmer turned into a thirst to flip the narrative. One thing led to another and soon enough Farmer found herself putting in work for her book project.

“When I started this journey, I wrote an article for The Root and in the article, I focused on the abuse that Black women experience online,” Farmer said. “There is research to back this up, but basically, Black women are talked to any kind of way. They experience hate crimes. They are threatened with violence. Amnesty International actually did a study on this and the social media sites have been slow to respond. So I looked up the article and I said, ‘Wait a minute. There’s more to this. It’s pervasive. It’s white friends, and it’s happening to the Black women who dared to have an opinion and who dared to share that opinion, who dared to ask for what they want or need.’ So that kind of what spurred me to write the book.”

Jennifer R. Farmer
“First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life,” is written by public relations guru Jennifer R. Farmer. Photo credit: Stephanie Matthews

In that 2018 Amnesty International study, 1.1 million abusive tweets from Twitter came out. Black women bore the brunt of this abuse. According to the Amnesty International report, Black women received abusive or troubling tweets 84 times greater than reported of white women. Women of color are 34 percent likely to have been on the receiving end of those tweets.

“One example that comes to mind is that a lot of times women are told to be assertive, women are told to ask for what we want or for what we need, but when we do that, when Black women do that, they’re called aggressive, they’re called angry and they’re called difficult,” Farmer said. ”

One of the major dealings of a publicist is putting out fires while working behind the scenes to promote their clients. It is through these interactions that Farmer has had a first-hand look at what Black women experience in the workplace. A well-respected communicator, Farmer has had a front-row seat to many forms of abuse Black women encounter.

As a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur running her own public relations firm (Spotlight PR), Farmer has lived this reality herself. This is why she wants to pass along a few tips of the trade she has learned over the years as a Black woman. The many leadership self-help books she’s read does not speak directly to the issues Black women are constantly confronted with, said Farmer.

“As someone in leadership, I’ve read many, many leadership books,” Farmer said. “And none of them prepare Black women for what we will experience in the workplace.”

One of those issues comes in the form of colleague isolation if you’re the first or the only Black woman in a professional work environment. It can be lonely at the top, Farmer said.

“There is a loneliness that comes when you are the first and only one out there,” Farmer said. “Like [Sen.] Kamala Harris will go through things that we’ll hear about years later.”

Among other things that Black women have to tolerate on the job is how they are talked to in comparison to their white peers, according to Farmer. And then when they are asked or even encouraged to discuss issues within the workplace, retribution usually occurs. This practice forces Black women to shoulder whatever burden they are carrying, alone. Black women must do this while wearing the mask of their game face at all times.

“It is a double-standard,” Farmer said. “It is an expectation that we hear from childhood. Never let them see you sweat. Don’t let them see you cry. Don’t be vulnerable. Don’t let them know that they’re getting to you. I don’t think America is trained to see Black women in all our vulnerabilities. When we show the full range of emotions that you expect from human beings-there are only a couple leverages that people like and that is happiness and that’s submission. But if you dare to express displeasure, anger, sadness, or hurt, you will be judged. You will be judged based on it. I can tell you that from the work that I do, I’ve spoken to many Black women in high-profile positions who are going through tremendous challenges brought on by people who don’t want them to succeed. And they do not talk about it.”

Farmer points to the constant harassment and threats that Turner receives, the backlash that former MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry got after the journalist and Wake Forest University professor left the show, and the controversial noise around Academy Award winner Mo’Nique’s reputation and the comedian’s pay discrimination lawsuit against Netflix as examples of Black women needlessly being attacked and raked over the coals.

Farmer has a pretty good inclination of what it is to be Black, female and to be successful. She knows what it takes to navigate the workplace terrain of corporate diversity hypocrisy, and how to deal with racism and sexism. She also knows that people of color are not always on the side of Blackness.

In “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life,” Farmer makes the distinctive argument that being “other” does not always equate to serving as a true ally or working on behalf of Black women.

“There are few business books that are marketed and are targeted to Black women,” said Farmer. “A lot of times people will write about women of color…I’m not writing to women of color because often women of color can perpetuate harm to Black women. And I walk through that, how people can call themselves allies, but they still show anti-Blackness and be anti-Black woman and how that impacts us. There aren’t that many books that specifically focuses on Black women.”

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