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EDITORIAL Injustice Addressed with Courage from Victims: Fighting Sexual Harassment By Cassiette West-Williams

Chalk it up to being a 92-year-old elder or perhaps dementia, but I respectfully disagree with “Murder, She Wrote” actress Angela Lansbury’s statements regarding the rash of sexual harassment cases and abuse in America. Lansbury was quoted in an European newspaper as saying that essentially women are at fault for the sexual harassment cases, because women have been required to look “attractive.” And by being attractive, this element of women’s lives has “backfired” on us.

I do not know who Lansbury was speaking for, but I am pleased that corporate America is saying “no” to such narrow thinking in the workplace.

She went on to say in the London Telegraph publication, “We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that.” It is that type of thinking that has been problematic for decades. That type of thinking has sent the major news outlets on a revolving door, stripping men of their titles, power and multi-million-dollar contracts. Stripping Hollywood actors, producers and managers from powerful positions and into “rehab centers.” All the while scores of women suffered silently and played the game to move their professional careers along.

Lansbury never said whether she had been subjected to sexual harassment in Hollywood or during her career, but she blamed the victim for encountering such negative behavior. One would think that accomplished men and women would be enlightened about such matters, but as history teaches us, it will repeat itself with each generation. Change can and will occur when institutions put their foot down and say “enough” of boys behaving badly.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1986, I was thrilled about being an intern finalist for a position for the summer with the Los-Angeles Times. The recruiter was a Black man and was a “role model” journalist for the handful of students of color in our very competitive program.

As I was advancing, (or so I thought), up the ladder to success, I was evaluating the other candidates. We were all females, between the ages of 20 to 24 years-old. Then, as he eliminated candidates, based on our references, newspaper clips, grades, writing ability and overall talent, the tension was building between us. Five, four, three and then there were two of us.

As he explained to the female reporter, we would have to fly out to Los Angeles, CA alone, and he would give us a tour of the paper and the city. We were both Chicagoans and had never been to the West coast. After we met with the editors and staff for more interviews, we would return to “our” hotel room. Then he would let us know whether we had been accepted to fill that prized position.

What the heck? (I know that this is a wholesome, family newspaper.)

Was he serious?

I told him that I had a man (my then boyfriend and ex-husband, Christopher R. Williams).

He said that he did not give a rat’s behind about my man.

And he laughed at me and my naivety. Being a “girl” from Chicago, I was not street wise and did not understand how things worked in the real world. Having talent and good references and high grades had nothing to do with being an ambitious, novice reporter in a top three news market. And after all, didn’t I appreciate all of the things he could do for me in Los Angeles?

I felt ashamed to tell my professors what was going on in our newsroom (where the interviews were conducted). I was too ashamed to tell my mother or twin brothers. I didn’t even tell Christopher!

I just bottled up this so-called “interview” as a learning experience and looked for a way out of that small, hot, stuffy office.

Would they believe me? I felt as if I may get in trouble for exposing him.

So, I left this interview, fighting back tears, as he gave me, “time to think about flying out to LA.”

You know what family? God is good, ALL the time.

I excused myself right over to the next round of interviews with the Detroit News and was hired on the spot! No flying to Detroit, no hotel stays, no discussion about my personal life and no compromising of my dignity, my body or my values with a (use your most vivid imagination readers) %Xu&#? @% pervert!

That summer, the Detroit News hired many interns, and eventually hired one as a full-time reporter. I enjoyed myself in Detroit, as my Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. sorors took great care of me! I became a skilled writer and a better hard news reporter. I lived in Windsor, Canada and had the best of both worlds.

I continued in my budding career, proudly working for the Black Press and small, city newspapers and small market television stations.

At this point, I learned that my self-respect was worth more than a title or position with a big name company. I understood that there were unwritten rules to this game and you either played along, or settled to work in smaller news markets. I chose the latter and did not look back.

Thank God for the late Mr. George E. Curry, editor and publisher of the NNPA and Emerge magazine, who encouraged young, Black reporters to cherish any news outlet that gave us an HONEST opportunity to work in our chosen field. I also thank publishers like Mrs. Elise Allen, who supported young writers without any strings attached to unethical behavior.

To this day, I have never set foot in Los Angeles, California. I may have a mental block about the city, but I have absolutely no desire to read the newspaper or take a flight to the West coast. Sexual harassment can have a life long impact on a person’s outlook on life.

Many women’s careers and personal lives have been murdered by powerful jerks who intimidated females (and some males) into subservient positions to survive. I applaud all the women who have not been silent and are coming forth with their experiences and painful accounts of abuse. Maybe people with Lansbury’s thinking will think twice about damaging the lives of future generations.