Sometimes I think that I speak my own unique dialect of English because after I tell people that I go to therapy for PTSD and anxiety, they say they commend my decision to take care of myself and say that it’s a brave move. It usually feels more like what they meant to say is that they condemn me for having a past to speak of in the first place. I should have arrived where I am with no history; perfectly polished. Well sorry, not sorry, but I have a whole warehouse full of baggage that comes with me, and it is all fabulous, even the bags that I don’t want to open. I have lived a life that is quite extraordinary. I could make that statement before I turned 18 and it has continued even to expand today… (We’re looking at expanding the warehouse to a second location downtown, maybe open a little museum).
I attract drama in every definition of the word. I have a very open mind and a healthy backbone. I’m very flawed though, and I’m acutely aware of this. It may come from the amount of bullying I endured as a child from my siblings and others. My oldest brother once told me, “it’s no fun making fun of you anymore, you do it better than me.” He quit trying after that day, and I knew I had won that battle. But moving on from that, this is about me and my drama…ahem…experiences. Let’s start with my most recent “experience.” I decided to sign up as an AmeriCorps Vista. A little background for those of you who don’t know what that is: it stems from JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It’s the domestic answer to the Peace Corps. VISTA stands for Volunteer in Service to America. So, I could say AMAZING things about AmeriCorps all day; they help pay for college, they provide professional development, gives you a sense of community, and real-world experience in your field while helping to fight poverty all over the United States.
I had started my job working as a Communications and Social Media Coordinator; Spoiler Alert: I get fired after 2 ½ weeks. The first day was typical, introduce yourself, tour the building, paperwork, stuff like that. The air was stuffy I recalled. Even when asked direct questions people seemed hesitant to answer as if they didn’t know who they were, or they were searching for the answer they thought the person asking wanted to hear. I got used to the long pauses and blank stares into the distance whenever I asked even a simple question; but as a doer, it was frustrating. I’m not a debater; I don’t have time. Particularly with people who don’t have a voice. If you can express your opinion freely, sure I can discuss something with you, but if I ask you a question all you can do is stare blankly and say “no, because that’s not our way,” but you never tell me as a new employee what “our way” is… you're failing as a manager. If as a manager, teacher, or anyone giving guidance you can only voice what you don’t want but you can’t voice what you do want you do not belong in your position and others will see it, they will not respect you. To manage you must have particular skills and at least enough knowledge of the company to explain to your employee what their job is.
I want my credit, but I don’t want to be the angry black woman. I can propose an idea, and it will be overlooked and a male… or just anyone else would say it, and now it’s a great idea! Our scanner was not working at the office, but we all had to scan a document and put it in .pdf format and send it in. They were very adamant that it could not be .jpeg. I did not find this as a problem as I have a portable scanner at home, but before I discovered that beauty, I used to use a scanner app on my phone for documents and pictures. I took my phone out scanned my paper and had it emailed while everyone else was still trying to figure out where to find a scanner: “the library, Kinkos” a couple said “my parents’ house” another exclaimed. All the while I kept repeating in the background “Or you can download this app and do it here and now.” I say this about 3 three times before someone finally listens to me. Once he sees that it works, he starts showing everyone else, and they start thanking HIM! I was livid! I told them it was my idea and he graciously bowed down and admitted that all credit goes to me because they just weren’t listening to me. However, it was all downhill from there.
We were all tasked with volunteering in the store. There were a bunch of ladies struggling to gather their things to bring them to their cars and the other volunteers were checking people out. so I said to the only male volunteer, who happened just to be sitting around waiting on something to do, “so, you’re just going sit there and watch all these women struggle to carry their things?” These were older ladies, so I accidentally opened a Pandora’s box of sexist comments about “good for nothing men” which I did feel bad for because it was our first week and we didn’t know what we were doing. I just knew it would be bad optics if a higher up walked out and saw him twiddling his thumbs and there are lines and people who need help even if they say they “don’t need help to carry stuff to their cars.” Either way, I got in trouble, for that comment and for saying that I had a multicultural family; which was the weirdest thing in the world to me. I am a mixed-race woman (black and white primarily), and I’m married to a Hispanic man, I have three brothers on my side, two white sisters-in-law, one African-American Sister-in-law and 2 Hispanic Brothers-in-law. I have a little Asian in me (but we do have an opening for anyone wanting to complete our model UN). But I Still can’t see how me saying I have a multicultural family could offend anyone, and the worst part is that when I asked for clarification on how it’s offensive, I never got it. How am I supposed to know what topics to avoid in general if I don’t know why I’m avoiding them? That lead me down the rabbit hole of “can I say black or is that going to offend someone?” … which quickly got answered because someone got offended by “black students” specifically referencing data in a study about BLACK STUDENTS. Next thing one of the girls tells us that she is offended by the use of the word “girl.” At this point, I’m offended by the hypersensitivity of the political correctness of the entire staff and organization. It was impossible to get work done because someone’s feelings were always getting hurt or people were worried about potentially offending someone. I was even told that Abraham Lincoln could be a hot topic and I couldn’t help but laugh at that one, all professionalism aside, all I could think is “damn you Lincoln for freeing the slaves!”
Continuing down my path of peaceful resistance in a meeting with our marketing firm that I would be working with since I was the communications coordinator; we were all asked to say something about ourselves and why we joined the organization. I divulged that the reason I took the assignment was that I used to go to the schools we now serve, and there are bad teachers out there…. this seemed to catch some people by surprise…. I elaborated. I told them about how when I was six my teacher said to me that I came here on a slave ship and my brother’s teacher used to beat him. That resulted in mass firings and resignations across the district. I thanked my parents for being so involved in my education because a lot of parents can’t do what mine did or they don’t care. That was the real moment I was fired. It took another week and a lot of gaslighting for me to be fired. I Knew during the meeting with the marketing firm she didn’t want to hear any more about it. I thought we were here to help with education, I know we can’t do it all, but we can surely provide them the information and point them to right direction, so they get covered for everything they need. She didn’t want to hear how there are parents out there who tell their kids “oh, you think you’re better than me?” not every parent wants their kids to be better than them. In the meeting we both made assumptions, I assumed that just because they asked they wanted to hear the truth; she made the mistake that everyone thinks like her. I picked up her vibe and total disdain for everything I said and did not press forward and had no interest in trying to. However, after the team meeting adjourned she called me into her office with my direct supervisor (a good sign, right?). It didn’t start off well, first, she snatched my legal pad and pen out of my hands that I had written my questions and answers on just in case she pulled me into her office. She asked rhetorical questions expecting an answer but then answered them herself (which was quite funny because she pointed out that I was asked the question that’s why I spoke). The question of my PTSD came up, reaffirming to me that I was indeed fired (not today but they were looking for an out). She told me about a guy that she knew with PTSD whose PTSD is so bad he must live alone in the woods with his dog and is all sad. Either way, I wouldn’t be allowed at schools in the meantime…. For MY SAFETY, they don’t want to trigger me…. or hurt the kids.
That idea was completely laughable. Every time I Tried to tell her what my “trigger” is she cut me off. Had she listened, as I told her I didn’t mind sharing, I’m only “triggered” when GROWN ASS MEN PIN ME DOWN AND IM ALONE AND I CAN’T GET AWAY. So, unless you have some Never Been Kissed reporter walking around one of the schools who also turns out to be a rapist, then you’re good; And If I kick that guys ass I’m a HEROINE! When our session was ending, she asked me for a summary of “what I learned” later that day one of the supervisors came to pick up my summary…. not explaining that is was going to be used as an incident report. Had I known that, I would have mentioned then how aggressively it was that she snatched my items out of my hands.
Now, up until this point, I could have rightfully thought I was alone thinking this place was hypersensitive and fake until I got to let out a big sigh of relief when coworkers who had been quiet until now started having pow-wows about the way the staff ACTS nice to find out information to use against everyone. We all realized quickly there was no such thing as a “friendly conversation” there.
The day that I left my post, I was asked to sign a document that was both my verbal AND written warning saying that I had been insubordinate and that I made the workplace an unsafe workplace. My being insubordinate was asking questions about my assignment. Every day I would look at my job description and ask about how to get started doing one of the tasks, and they would tell me its no longer part of my job description. After a while, I started taking a red highlighter and crossing things off that no longer applied, when the whole sheet was red I figured I should say something. And the unsafe work environment came just from me having PTSD, even though I said to them "I have never hit anyone or been in a fight"…. But there’s a girl there with a conceal and carry that she proudly told everyone about because “she’s not worried about rough neighborhoods,” but that’s okay….
I asked what happens if I don’t sign it because I do not agree with their findings and I will not soil my name by signing something that says I make the work environment unsafe or that I am insubordinate just for asking questions. They told me you’ll be removed from your assignment and placed on administrative hold. I asked for a few minutes to think, which I was initially refused, then granted so long as I stayed in the room. The person whose office it was said she wouldn’t leave her office though and I needed to call my husband. I was going to walk into the conference room next to her office, but there was someone in there, so I walked outside. It was cold and wet outside, so I came back inside and went into the break room when I was called back into the office where I was told I was fired because I left the room. The other people in the room even seemed stunned. I was told I could have five minutes, and she didn’t give me that much because I walked out the room so that I could have privacy. I was offered five minutes again but declined because someone wanted me gone and I was under no impression at this point that I could stay even if I wanted to.
I did not like everyone there. I did not know everyone there. I cried when I left. I could have done so much good to increase the awareness of the mission if I had more time, but I was never given that chance. Whether or not I got along with everyone on a personal level or not, which the vistas were just starting to make progress on a personal level…. the guys at least (they figured out I speak fluent sarcasm and movie quotes and lyrics). I believed in the mission. I find my first impressions of people are wrong; I trolled my husband hard when I first met him…. The last person, I thought I’d marry. When I was fired the guy that I probably beefed the hardest with at first (and I use that term lightly) was the only one to hug me and see me off. All that is to say they made up their mind before they knew me and stuck by their judgment and that was a disservice to themselves and the organization. Of course, I lost out too, but I kept an open mind and a clear conscience, and I learned from my experience, however brief it was.
“It is the sweat of the servants that make their squire look smart.”
― Amit Kalantri
Update: part 2 is up Being Bold: Staying Quiet