Colorful line-art painting of a Black woman with a cropped hairstyle and devil’s horns. She is against a black background with red dots.
Image credit: Yermine Richardson/

Editors’ note: This piece is from Nonprofit Quarterly Magazine’s spring 2024 issue, “‘Stop Drowning Us, and Stop Making Us Disappear’: A Critical Report on the State of Black Woman Leadership.”

The question remains in my mind: How do so many Black women who have never met, don’t live in the same neighborhood, don’t work in the same industry, and have different life backgrounds, all have similar stories that speak to the same dynamic? It cannot be a coincidence.

—Alicia S.1

Black women can’t catch a break in America,2 and that includes our experience in the American workplace. A recent study, published by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, of entry-level US-based employees at a large, global professional-services firm found that White employees—and in particular, White women3 —had the highest retention and promotion rates, while Black employees had the lowest retention and promotion rates, relative to their White, Asian, and Hispanic/Latinx colleagues.4 The largest relative turnover and promotion gap was between White women and Black women. In addition, Black women were the only workers whose turnover and promotion outcomes were impacted by the number of White coworkers they had on their teams.5

The Karen archetype of recent years—an irate White woman who calls the authorities on a Black person for just existing and minding their own business…has clarified the harm that is happening to Black people and who the perpetrator is.

At around the same time that study was released, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation published a study of 36 Black women leaders’ experiences in the Washington, DC, area nonprofit sector.6 “Nearly 70% of respondents [in this study] agreed or strongly agreed that Black women’s leadership has been notably under attack in recent years,…[and] over 90% of respondents expressed that their occupations have had detrimental effects on their health and well-being, manifesting as chronic stress, fatigue, elevated blood pressure, and impacts on mental health.”7 One study respondent said, “[Black women] are not doing well.”8

In this article, I explore a dynamic that may be responsible, in part, for Black women’s experiences in the workplace: White woman fragility—a term based in the work of author and professor Dr. Robin DiAngelo, whose book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism brought the phenomenon of White fragility into mainstream consciousness.9 In my book, White Women Cry and Call Me Angry: A Black Woman’s Memoir on Racism in Philanthropy, I describe debilitating interactions with White women in the philanthropic sector during my tenure as president and CEO of a private foundation in Washington, DC.10 As I engaged Black women readers around the themes in my book, I discovered that they, too, had experienced strikingly similar interactions, which led me to an exploration of archetypes.

An archetype is defined by Collins Dictionary as “a perfect or typical example of a particular kind of person or thing, because it has all their most important characteristics.”11 In our society, archetypes are often rooted in harmful stereotypes. This is not the intention of this exploration. My intention here is to point to consistent White woman behaviors that have caused Black women harm. The Karen archetype of recent years—an irate White woman who calls the authorities on a Black person for just existing and minding their own business—which has been codified in Internet memes, has clarified the harm that is happening to Black people and who the perpetrator is. Dr. Apryl Williams, an assistant professor in communications and media at the University of Michigan, said in a TIME article, “These memes are actually doing logical and political work…[and] highlighting and sort of commenting on the racial inequality in a way that mainstream news doesn’t capture.”12

The primary goal of this article is to provide Black women with language and insight into additional White woman archetypes—especially in the third sector (philanthropy and nonprofits), where White women are dominant actors—so they can begin the important healing work of naming racial aggression and releasing the shame and embarrassment that often accompany our experiences of racism in the workplace. The secondary goal is to persuade foundation leaders in philanthropy to take urgent action to protect Black women who are doing important labor in the third sector with and on behalf of the most marginalized communities of color.13

A Brief History of Archetypes

Carl Jung is considered the father of archetypal psychology.14 He posited that there are universal patterns expressed in images and present in the collective unconscious of all humans across all cultures.15 These images are referred to as archetypes. Examples of archetypes include “the mother” (someone who is nurturing, loving, and protective),16 “the trickster” (someone who cheats or tests boundaries),17 and “the hero” (someone, usually depicted as male, who overcomes obstacles to reach a goal).18 These are not just personal characteristics; archetypes are thought to be deep, abiding, and powerful. According to Jung, they “create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterize whole nations and epochs of history.”19

While Jung argued that archetypes are innate, others argue that archetypes are not fixed—for example, that they “operate in a contested space where actors exploit elements of religious discourse…to provide meaning and moral and political authority to support their vested interests.”20 And according to Karl Marx, those with power, the elites in a society, are the ones who produce, distribute, and regulate the most powerful ideas of their age.21 This explains why we are, right now, in a heated battle over the origin story of the United States. I would argue that one of the reasons why American elites are actively suppressing books like The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story22 is because these books challenge the hero archetype, which has legitimized the struggle of White men who fled religious oppression, “discovered” land, and instituted the “necessary evil” of slavery to build the United States,23 arguably the most powerful nation in the world.

Black women navigate White women daily to keep themselves and their livelihoods safe—sometimes successfully and sometimes not. We talk about White women’s behaviors in hushed tones over brunch, but we don’t talk about them out loud for many reasons, mainly because it is simply too dangerous to do so.

Three archetypes in particular have been used to marginalize Black women in service of the same powerful White elite agenda rooted in slavery and persisting in American workplaces. The Mammy archetype is the image of an unattractive Black mother who is strong and content in her caregiving role for many children in the service of White slave owners or White employers.24 To justify slavery, White slave owners invented and propagated this archetype to suggest that Black women were happy with slavery and suitable for domestic responsibilities. The Sapphire archetype is the image of an aggressive, dominating, angry, emasculating Black woman.25 This archetype, too, serves a purpose—it suggests that Black women are ill-tempered and need to be shaped and managed. Finally, the Jezebel archetype is the image of an immoral, sexually promiscuous, sexually available Black woman,26 used during slavery as a rationale for enslavers to sexually exploit Black women. Black women were painted as seductresses to excuse rape, a tool used by White enslavers for both domination and the birthing of new slaves.

These archetypes have destructive consequences even today. They frame ideas about the kinds of work for which Black women are suitable; they silence our demands for better treatment and justice for our communities; and they limit our ability to earn at the same levels as our counterparts. It is no wonder that when a Black woman lands a leadership role, the attacks begin almost immediately. I have been in confidential conversations with Black women since the forced resignation of Dr. Claudine Gay. Their stories are astounding, from being told “You are a token Black” (that is, you do not belong here) to “She wears whore boots”27 (that is, her presence is offensive and inappropriate, and she does not belong here). In all of these circumstances, these Black women were fired or forced to resign and stripped of income and their career trajectory.

White Woman Archetypes

In White Women Cry and Call Me Angry, I discuss everyday interactions with White women in the philanthropic sector in Washington, DC.28 Black women navigate White women daily to keep themselves and their livelihoods safe—sometimes successfully and sometimes not. We talk about White women’s behaviors in hushed tones over brunch, but we don’t talk about them out loud for many reasons, mainly because it is simply too dangerous to do so. Unless racism manifests in the most salacious ways, we generally don’t call it out. I almost didn’t. I worried about politeness. I believed the “micro” in microaggressions meant “not a big deal.” I feared backlash: who would hire me after speaking up about what happened to me? I often told myself at the time of the interactions that the communities I care about are struggling with “real” problems, and I should be grateful for the privilege of a good job. I believed I had the wherewithal to persevere. But that striving came at a cost.

Below, I outline six potential White woman archetypes in response to Black women’s resounding resonance with the stories in my essay collection. In the space of a week or even a day, Black women in the workplace may experience anywhere between one and all of these archetypes, and the racism-related stress living in the body because of these interactions has devastating consequences. But first, I want to acknowledge the needle that I am threading by using negative archetyping to describe White woman behaviors. I do not believe this exploration of White woman archetypes will lead to negative repercussions for White women collectively, given that they are a dominant group with significant and consequential power in the third sector. I am balancing this very unlikely potential with the possible relief that Black women may experience as they better understand what is happening to them at work. The risk of the former feels worth it if these White woman archetypes can reveal truths and provide Black women with a kind of White woman literacy—that is, language to explain why we feel so exhausted and used up after interacting day after day, week after week, year after year with White women in the workplace.

Kristy is a progressive White woman. She wears her causes on her sleeve. Every time you see her, she is frustrated with some social issue or another. She is from an openly racist family and has been trying for decades to distance herself from this shameful past. She marries a person of color and has kids of color, yet she imagines she lives in a world that can be or should be race-ignorant. She prefers it this way. She is likely to believe that American society has a class problem, and if we could just solve for that, then race differences would disappear. She is evading race and at the very same time is confronted by it whenever she refuses to accept that a capable Black woman actively experiences racism at work. She denies Black women’s lived reality due to deep-seated shame related to her upbringing in an openly racist family.

Lauren is the antithesis of progressive, although she is adjacent to liberal circles. She exudes Southern contempt for Black people wrapped in feigned hospitality. For example, she will always say hello. That’s, of course, the Southern way—genteel yet brutal. She has power, whether that be institutional, political, or financial. In many cases, Lauren is less educated than many of the Black women around her, but she doesn’t need high levels of formal education. Her power comes from Whiteness. When you are with her, you feel something quite disconcerting and eerie. You try to stay away from her as much as you can, because at any moment something might come out of her mouth that is reminiscent of our plantation past.

In one day, a Black woman can experience all these White woman archetypes. She could be reeling from an email from Nancy, go into the office and face Kristy, get on a call with Lauren and Madelyn before facilitating a board meeting that night with Rose, and then drive home reflecting on a teary exchange with Beth.

Madelyn is an older liberal White woman who holds institutional power—and she wields it. She blesses and she withholds blessing. She has worked at several large institutions, possibly in labor, large national nonprofits, or well-endowed foundations. She is quiet and “strategic.” She knows how to navigate halls of power. She supports activism, is pro-LGBTQ and proabortion, and she gives the appearance of being pro-Black. She has many Black colleagues with whom she is very friendly. She mentors, she introduces, and she provides strong references. But she doesn’t cede power, nor does she trust Black women’s leadership. She maintains her position at the top of the racial hierarchy.

Rose is a liberal White woman who conceals her Whiteness with her Jewishness. She believes that when we talk about the racism that White people perpetuate, we should say White Protestant. That’s because she either doesn’t believe she is White, or she doesn’t believe that White-presenting Jewish people can be racist, because of their own harrowing experiences with White supremacy. In meetings focused on the challenges facing Black communities, she will interject with Jewish concerns or blame Black people for their problems. She is very quick to accuse others of antisemitism even as her anti-Blackness is on full display. When confronted about her openly racist remarks, she becomes defensive and aggressive.

Beth is a young White liberal professional. She works in largely White spaces and lives in a gentrifying part of town. She votes Democrat every time and is a staunch feminist. She is ambitious and has her mind set on parlaying her law degree into a White House career. When faced with conflict, she calls the authorities or invokes the law to solve problems that don’t require that level of escalation. In meetings, she will openly question Black women’s qualifications or will interrupt or talk over Black women. When pressed about her behaviors toward Black women, this is her cue to begin crying. She is outwardly fragile and relies on tears and victimhood to maintain her power.

Nancy is a midcareer progressive White woman who checks all the right boxes in terms of racial equity. She is insecure, however, and wants the approval of the Black people in her network. She is personable and disarming, and she creates opportunities for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. She is comfortable talking about racism, and you come to believe that you can risk a relationship with her. When Black people say they need White people as allies or coconspirators, this is the White person they need. But you notice yellow flags suggesting that she doesn’t question her biases as much as is required to live into true solidarity. This undermines her capacity to negotiate nuanced racialized conflict in the workplace. You feel confused in your relationship with her. One moment, you hold out hope that she has Black people’s backs; another moment, you have a nagging feeling that she doesn’t, because of her refusal to fully reckon with her Whiteness.

What These Archetypes Mean for Black Women

Black women need space to do the work with and on behalf of our communities without the additional labor and consequences of navigating White woman racism and other forms of racism and misogynoir.

In one day, a Black woman can experience all these White woman archetypes.29 She could be reeling from an email from Nancy, go into the office and face Kristy, get on a call with Lauren and Madelyn before facilitating a board meeting that night with Rose, and then drive home reflecting on a teary exchange with Beth. Alone, each one of these experiences could be mildly irritating and deserving of simply an eye roll. Together, they are exhausting and destructive. Not only do Black women have to do their jobs with the pressure to perform at higher levels than is required for the job or of others who are not Black, but they also must perform the emotional unpaid labor of managing White women, their behaviors, and their racialized worldviews.

The health consequences of coping with racism-related stress are real and life-shortening. In her book Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society, Dr. Arline Geronimus defines weathering as “a process that encompasses the physiological effects of living in marginalized communities that bear the brunt of racial, ethnic, religious, and class discrimination…and…afflicts human bodies—all the way down to the cellular level—as they grow, develop, and age in a racist, classist society.”30 Dr. Geronimus points to studies showing that Black women who wait to have their babies in their late twenties and thirties are at higher risk of poor infant health outcomes than White women.31 I hope you caught that. This research suggests that Black women’s bodies are deteriorating as early as their late twenties and early thirties, the age at which White women have their best maternal and infant health outcomes. While this article is focused on the workplace, I point to these health outcomes to emphasize how the body gets implicated by racism-related stress.

What Black Women Need

Black women need space to do the work with and on behalf of our communities without the additional labor and consequences of navigating White woman racism and other forms of racism and misogynoir. There are workplace intervention studies being tested by Dr. Sanaz Mobasseri at the Boston University Questrom School of Business.32 Dr. Mobasseri and her colleagues are exploring the potential benefit to people of color in the workplace if White people can intentionally deal with their own insecurities related to Whiteness—and threats to the benefits of Whiteness—when people of color enter the workplace.33 We need to go beyond DEI trainings and bring rigorously tested antiracist interventions to workplaces.

In the meantime, Black women need opportunities to heal. Transformative justice frameworks suggest several ways in which harm repair can happen. In a 2021 presentation to the funders collective Resourcing Radical Justice, two practitioners, Richael Faithful and Whitney Benns, asked participants to consider repair strategies that depend on the level of relationship between the person causing harm and the person harmed.34 Faithful and Benns explain, for example, that in an aspirational relationship (that is, an early-stage relationship), distance and a resource transfer from the person causing harm to the person harmed may be most appropriate. For the closest relationships, a cool-down period followed by small-group work, a repair process, seeking counsel, and a resource transfer may be most appropriate.35 In the third sector, we do not have transformative, justice-inspired interventions and infrastructure to help us to name and repair the harm that has happened to Black women. Funders need to come together to create a fund to support such transformative justice processes in the third sector. The sector cannot continue its social change work externally while continuing to perpetuate and leave unacknowledged the harm that it causes.

Until this infrastructure can be developed (and I hope it happens sooner rather than later), Black women urgently need spaces to tell our truths, care for ourselves in community, prioritize rest and pleasure, and use breathwork and other somatic practices to release as much stress from the body as possible. The Association for Black Foundation Executives hosts an annual retreat for Black Women in Philanthropy.36 Practitioners like Erika Totten (@toliveunchained) and Tosh Patterson (Black Goddess Collective) are coaching women and facilitating retreats with them.37 I, too, am experimenting with offerings, such as an upcoming healing retreat focused on the intersection of pleasure, soma, and community building, and a soon-to-be-launched support group for women who are in active racism-related distress on the job. There can never be too many of these spaces.

In the podcast episode “Striving Is Bad for Your Health,” published by The Dream, Dr. Geronimus poignantly states that the stress-related deterioration of a denigrated group’s bodies (due to both the external stress we face and the high-effort, proactive coping strategies that we use to deal with that stress) happens even in our sleep.38 Dr. Geronimus, who has focused most of her work on Black women, does not believe that having a positive attitude or engaging in activities like meditation while awake will reverse the health impacts of weathering. (Nor do I.) She says that what we need to reverse weathering is safety—which she describes as “life-or-death safe” or the sense that “we can be [our] authentic” selves and “will be treated fairly.” Therefore, Black women are in a bit of a conundrum. Racism isn’t going away anytime soon, and our coping strategies won’t stop the weathering. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to get sicker and die sooner than we should. This is a sobering reality. But at the very least, while we still have breath, Black women should be afforded spaces to breathe.

This is my call to action for the third sector: Create enduring, resourced spaces for Black women to breathe.



  1. Personal communication from a reader.
  2. Treva B. Lindsey, America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2022).
  3. Later on, White women begin lagging behind White men, especially after having children.
  4. Elizabeth Linos, Sanaz Mobasseri, and Nina Roussille, “Asymmetric Peer Effects at Work: The Effect of White Coworkers on Black Women’s Careers” (HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP23-031, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston, MA, November 2023), 16–17.
  5. Ibid., 17–18. The number of White coworkers (both men and women) influences turnover, although White men influence it more; only the number of White men influences promotion. My main point here is that only Black women are impacted. No other minoritized or gendered group is impacted by the number of White coworkers, whether women or men.
  6. Thrive as They Lead: Advancing the Infrastructure to Support Black Women Leaders in the D.C. Metro Area Nonprofit Sector (Washington, DC: Washington Area Women’s Foundation, 2023), 9.
  7. Ibid., 6
  8. Ibid.
  9. Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).
  10. Yanique Redwood, White Women Cry and Call Me Angry: A Black Woman’s Memoir on Racism in Philanthropy (self-pub., 2023).
  11. Collins Dictionary Online, English Dictionary, s.v. “archetype,” accessed January 28, 2024,,1.,universally%20present%20in%20individual%20psyches.
  12. Cady Lang, “How the ‘Karen Meme’ Confronts the Violent History of White Womanhood,” TIME, last modified July 6, 2020,
  13. See for example Portraits of Us: A Book of Essays Centering Black Women Leading Philanthropy, ed. Toya Nash Randall (New Orleans, LA: Voice. Vision. Value., 2023).
  14. Frieda Fordham and Michael S. M. Fordham, s.v. “Carl Jung,” Encyclopedia Britannica, last modified March 18, 2024,
  15. Ibid.
  16. “The Mother Archetype,” The Jungian Confrerie, accessed January 28, 2024,
  17. Daryl Sharp, C. G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts (Toronto, ON: Inner City Books, 1991).
  18. Ibid.
  19. Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1964), 79.
  20. Mike Sosteric, “A Sociology of Archetypes,” PsyArXiv Preprints, January 5, 2021,
  21. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The German Ideology: Part I,” in The Marx–Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978).
  22. Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project : A New Origin Story (New York: One World/Penguin Random House, 2021).
  23. David Lay Williams, “Was slavery a ‘necessary evil’? Here’s what John Stuart Mill would say.,” Washington Post, July 30, 2020,
  24. Carolyn M. West, “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an ‘Oppositional Gaze’ Toward the Images of Black Women,” in Joan C. Chrisler, Carla Golden, and Patricia D. Rozee, eds., Lectures on the Psychology of Women, 4th ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2008), 287–99.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Martin Patriquin, “How Quebec’s Human Rights Commission Drove Out Its First Black Female President,” The Walrus, October 25, 2022, updated October 26, 2022,
  28. Redwood, White Women Cry and Call Me Angry.
  29. Of the six archetypes described in this article, how many have you experienced? And what other potential White woman archetypes exist? I invite you to take the survey, which can be accessed at:
  30. Arline T. Geronimus, Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society (New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2023), 10.
  31. Ibid., 94
  32. See “Sanaz Mobasseri, Assistant Professor, Management & Organizations,” Boston University, Questrom School of Business, accessed January 28, 2024,
  33. Sanaz Mobasseri, William A. Kahn, and Robin J. Ely, “Racial Inequality in Organizations: A Systems Psychodynamic Perspective,” Academy of Management Review, January 4, 2024.
  34. Richael Faithful and Whitney Benns, “Learning Space/Teach-In: Repair and Accountability,” virtual presentation, Washington, DC, May 20, 2021.
  35. How interventions are used depends on the situation. For example, small-group work could include the two people in conflict and a facilitator. It could be a (larger) workplace team with knowledge of the conflict. Seeking counsel could be identifying an outside person with a particular expertise, depending on the situation. A “resource transfer” could be time off granted by a superior to an employee who has been harmed.
  36. Tahira Christmon, “Leadership, Healing, and Legacy: Black Women in Philanthropy Retreat Recap,” ABFE, A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities, accessed January 28, 2024,
  37. “There’s a liberation within you that you can access at any time.,” website for Erika Totten, accessed January 28, 2024,; and “Welcome to Black Goddess Collective: Where Black Women Create the Life of Their Dreams,” website for Black Goddess Collective, accessed January 28, 2024,
  38. Sherman James and Arline Geronimus, “Striving Is Bad for Your Health,” in Jane Marie, The Dream podcast, season 3, episode 8, October 25, 2023,