Whiteness at Work: Why I Quit My Job
It is no secret that one of the biggest obstacles of Blackness is being able to operate and maneuver in White spaces. And with the distribution of Whites and Blacks in the United States, it is pretty safe to say most places are White spaces. We, Black people, are subjected to having to compromise our identities to play survival of the fittest with Whites. Why? Why should I shave my beard and avoid organic jargon to fit their standards? Why should Black women be subjected to straightening their hair and voiding their own opinions to avoid being the stereotypical "Black bitch?" All to stay in good standing with the modern day massa's of the world? Rosa Parks said it best.. NAH. This is usually more open in retail, office, corporate, and for-profit jobs. Which is one of the biggest reasons I geared myself towards working in the non-profit field after I graduated. What I learned, before even graduating, was that everything that glitters ain't gold. It's a nightmare dressed like a daydream.
I started working for a non-profit back in July. This same non-profit harbored me as a high school student. And given my background in social justice, I thought this would be a perfect time to help mold tomorrow's leaders, Black youth, and learn the basics of non-profits, collectively. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement that I knew would work out for me in the end. What could go wrong? Especially working under those who you've known for years and helped to mold you into the person you are today; even if they are White.
My dream had immediately become an unwanted reality. Only being employed there for a few months, I was already picking up the slack of my other co-workers, who wouldn't make meetings or contribute to the lesson plans we had to craft for the students. With the exception of my sister, I was the only one who was working on recruitment of new students to make our numbers. I sent out numerous emails, made phone calls, and even visited high schools and risked being embarrassed by tormenting students on some Insecure "We Got Y'all" type shit. It all seemed worth it though. At least at the end of the day I got paid, right? Wrong again, fatty. You will be paid in kudos and that's it.
My coordinator said that she and the Director would have fall outs because there wasn't enough money in the budget to accommodate everything we were doing. She wanted to pay us, the Director did not. So here I am, expecting payment for work I'm doing, but I'm not receiving it. How 1700's of me to expect compensation for my time, right? Actions speak louder than words, so you know what I did? I made like Auntie Maxine and RECLAIMED MY TIME. Your boy stopped coming in early to lesson plan, he stopped giving feedback, and opted out of group meetings.
Besides them treating a bitch like he was Virgin Mobile "Pay-As-You-Go" plan, I started noticing how Whiteness operated in the non-profit environment. Again, being a former student in the program, I only seen what was presented. What I seen in the coordinator was a modern day Mrs. Gruwell from Freedom Writers. I felt like any White person who helped contribute to my Blackness had to be heaven-sent, but again.. I set my Black hopes too high. For my coordinator, her new MSW meant a new outlook on life. The kids were no longer kids, I was no longer myself, and the space was no longer diagnosis-free. We were all subjected to her daily social science projects. Each day using one of us as a new way to escape her own traumas, she tried to live vicariously through ours. Y'all know what's worse than a person who thinks they know it all? A White woman who thinks she knows it all. You cannot tell this woman her Masters in Social Work wasn't a Doctorate in Psychology. The space became her maze, and we were the guinea pigs.
For me, I know I'm far from perfect. Never claimed to be nor do I want to be. But one thing I have is security in myself. But when you're constantly reminded of your traumas and life tribulations that you disclosed in confidence, you begin to question your own sanity. This is when I knew things were bad. But nonetheless, I persisted. I persisted until I got a call from one of my students saying how they had almost been attacked after coming from a meeting with the coordinator. They had been invited there because she wanted to "help" them with their problems with each other, but after picking at their brains and knowing collecting their traumas, she was done with them. She sent them on their way, as she also took off. I learned that they had called her immediately after leaving and being placed in their predicament so that she could come back so they could take refuge for a bit. Her response: "I can't help you guys all the time. Some things you have to figure out on your own." I'm sorry? These kids didn't ask for a refill on a prescription, they asked for REFUGE from a violent situation. And that wasn't in her ability to give, though picking their brains was. I hated it. I hated her. I hated myself for placing trust in her Whiteness. She allowed my kids lives to be endangered, after inviting them to the same place they were almost assaulted.
I allowed myself to see her as the golden standard of what Whiteness should look like. But in that, I realized that I let my guard down. I allowed myself to be played and I put my Blackness at stake. My role as a mentor, my role as a protector (of my students), and my role as a Black man had been compromised because of a White woman. I was no better than those Black men who impregnate White women, bringing children into this world whom those same White women victimize themselves against. And because I could not separate my role as a professional and my role as a human, I became a target, which I wasn't phased by.
It's a privilege to be able to be a "friend," "a boss," or "a therapist" to people when it most fits you. And I am sure it feels good. To be able to choose what hat you want to wear based on how you feel that day must yield lots of power that I probably could never imagine. That's what was happening. My coordinator was blurring those lines for me and other staff, and then capitalizing off of those same blurs saying that we didn't know "professional boundaries." Again, a White woman was playing mines and others Blackness to her advantage, and we were in checkmate. With every 11 PM "did you watch Love & Hip-Hop" text, "how are you feeling today" question, and work critiques, she was setting us up for diagnosis.
And on top of that, the Director was a shallow professor who tokenized her staff and students. She's the type who writes books and places it in her email signature, y'all. Like we get it, you write books, sis. Send your email and go. The Director comes into little to contact with the staff, only showing her face at monthly meetings and trying to relate to us with her White girl from the Bronx rhetoric. And she can't. And honestly, nor does she want to. She likes to show her staff off to those who give money to the organization, especially staff like me who were students once before. It's the "look how I've raised them out of poverty and/or ignorance" bit that gets people all the time. And when it comes to seeing the students? Once a year, at the final event, where students showcase their year-long projects. Nothing more and nothing less. Other than that, she's a dedicated modern-day massa using people of color as leverage and a check. And did I mention she has a thing for not wanting to pay the staff? I couldn't get down with that, or her.
Being as though this was a second job I only picked up for personal enrichment, I had the luxury of leaving the atmosphere. The Whiteness became so abundant that my identity had been compromised. I had to question my loyalty to myself and others who looked like me. How could I be a prominent voice for other Black people, and work under the same conditions I tell them to rise up against? I would be contradicting myself and my work. Leaving brought back my reassurance, my sanity, and my identity.
So a word of advice for those Blacks who work in non-profits: keep your magic guarded. When I say your magic, I mean anything that you have to offer. Your ideas, your creativity, your dedication, and most importantly, your identity. What I have drawn out for you guys aren't the only forms of Whiteness in the workplace under non-profits, but they were most prevalent for me and I can only tell my story. Whiteness comes in different ways, shapes, and forms, and sometimes they appear at the most unexpected times, but you must be able to combat these and liberate your mind. Your mind is the strongest asset you have and it drives your magic. Keep these two protected, and you'll never risk your sanity.
I learned three valuable lessons in my few short months working there: 1) those we look up to will be the ones to disappoint you 2) strategy is key in surviving in White spaces and 3) never compromise your identity for a coin.