By Jason Johnson,

In a new article in The Atlantic, jerks are highlighted as the real stars of the corporate world. But corporate “jerks” might not be so cool if they weren’t also white and male.


The prototypical corporate titan in American business is a jerk.

From elementary school on, we’re taught about Andrew Carnegie’s abusive leadership; as adults we’re told that the obnoxious Steve Jobs was a genius and that Donald Trump, for all his hubris and excess, is the American dream personified. And while there was a brief period in the 1990s of praise for the nice corporate boss, who was great at “team building,” the shark in the $3,000 suit has made a comeback in recent times, now backed by research.

The Atlantic published a piece this week by Jerry Useem called “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk,” citing recent research from Amsterdam showing that narcissists who take credit, step on people and are abrasive climb to the top of the corporate ladder. In the piece, The Atlantic distinguishes between the mean bosses of old—labeled narcissistic takers—with the new “disagreeable givers,” who are jerks who temper their rudeness with rewards and benefits.

The Atlantic makes this sound like a positive, when it sounds a lot like the main character in Mommie Dearest: one minute berating underlings—in that case, her children—and the next, throwing them a lavish party. The jerk giveth, but … still a jerk, so can’t he or she taketh away? Still, who can argue if it works—allegedly? But in a world where black folks’ most basic behaviors are often viewed as threatening, aggressive or downright dangerous, does all of this corporate badassery really apply to us? The real data says no…

From The Atlantic: “Researchers have found that semi-obnoxious behavior not only can make a person seem more powerful, but can make them more powerful, period. The same goes for overconfidence. Act like you’re the smartest person in the room, a series of striking studies demonstrates, and you’ll up your chances of running the show.”…

There is some legitimacy to this, even across race and gender… But let’s not be naive. White men who have dominated most professions—especially the higher echelons of management and business—were acting this way long before it was deemed “successful” by academics. The real question is whether this corporate model is actually applicable to anybody else…

Of course not. It’s a ridiculous myth, but one that continues to confuse and constrain African Americans who are still making their way into rarefied areas of management and business that a generation ago were completely closed off to us.

The national media have finally caught on in the last few years to the fact that just living while black can be perceived as hostile by a large number of white Americans.

Read the full article here.

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