Fast Company magazine omits black women from ‘Smartest Women on Twitter’ list

On Monday, business magazine Fast Company published a list called, 25 of the Smartest Women on Twitter.

The author of the piece, Brandfog CEO Ann Charles, promised to deliver women who, “bring a new vision and fresh perspective to an array of social, economic, business, philanthropic, and other leadership topics. They are drawn from a wide spectrum of industries, professions, and geographies.” She took care to note that the list would be “obviously incomplete” as it would just be impossible to include every smart woman tweeting. Fair enough.

Where are the black women?

Charles’s list included CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, NBC correspondent (and presidential offspring) Chelsea Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren among the notables. But the problem wasn’t who was included—every woman listed had the credentials and each deserved her recognition—but who was left out. As readers scrolled down the list some realized that Charles hadn’t bothered to include even one black woman on her list.

NPR’s Gwen Ifilll? Nah.

Political consultant Donna Brazile? Who?

MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry? Nope.

Keep in mind, given the particularly high profile of Black Twitter these days — that highly active network of African-American users on the social media service that has been credited with bringing down Paula Deen among other feats — is seems doubly absurd that not one black woman made the list.

What is behind this omission? 

Fast Company should be embarrassed by the omissions on Charles’s list. It’s inexcusably clumsy to produce a list of smart women and exclude black women like we just don’t exist. If Charles couldn’t pull a black woman’s name from her contact list, all she had do was a quick skim through any copy of Essence, Ebony, Jet or Black Enterprise — or just scroll through the websites of For Harriet, Clutch, or Colorlines. She would have quickly found more than enough names of smart and relevant black women to add to her line-up. She could have even identified one smart black woman on Twitter using these sources, clicked on the list of who she follows, and had a plethora of names to pick from.

Not doing the basics is lazy.  And if Charles did do a decent search and still couldn’t be bothered to include even one black woman? That’s white privilege at best. Racism at worst.

Readers, of course, immediately noticed the lack of melanin in Charles’ list and swiftly took her to task in the Fast Company comments section. “I realize racism has kept a great many talented and skilled African American women out of the Board Room,” read one response. “However, this was a blatant disregard of accomplished African American women.”

Another comment called out Charles on her blatant white privilege. “In a world that’s so big and grand and not even close to being majority white, white women are the smartest, and of course fairest, of all women,” read another response. “The arrogance and self-absorption and even racism just never ends.”

Turning a negative to a positive

On Twitter, offended readers turned the negative event of Charles’ exclusion into a positive. Feminista Jones, the relationship and sex columnist for Ebony.com, initiated the hashtag “#SmartBlackWomenOfTwitter” to highlight the smart African-American women Charles ignored.  Participants in the hashtag — which links tweets that include the hashtag in one tweet stream — celebrated, or were introduced, to hundreds of black women who should have been on Fast Company’s radar.

The site took note. By yesterday afternoon, Fast Company published a second list of smart woman that included journalists (and authors) Farai Chideya, Soledad O’Brien, and Danyel Smith, plus Essence editor-in-chief Vanessa Bush. And, finally, a great from politics, Donna Brazile.

“There was some appropriate criticism about who was missing,” Fast Company noted in the intro to their new list. “We consider ourselves lucky to have an engaged audience who calls it like they see it (or don’t see it in this case).”

It was appropriate to acknowledge their blunder, but the olive branch gesture came across as too little, too late. What I would have appreciated more was an explanation for how or why black women were inexcusably omitted from the “smartest” list and what measures are being taken to ensure it won’t happen again.

Demetria L. Lucas is a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk

This article has been updated to correct a typo in the hashtag and the Twitter handle of Feminista Jones.