Not to make this about me.
Because I hate when people do that.
But it’s one way I can begin to try and understand the impact of systemic racism.
And my own privilege within it.
This is my work story.
Over three years ago, my family left Los Angeles and moved to Ecuador. My husband and I were seeking a more relaxed lifestyle where we would be able to connect with our kids and each other. We wanted adventure. To climb mountains. Explore jungles. And challenge ourselves to understand a world we didn’t know.
But on the flip side of all the incredible things we were looking forward to. There was also a side of me that was done with the life I was living. Working for the next forty plus years. I was already sick of it. My third of three very shitty positions left me feeling…hopeless.
That no matter how hard I worked. Or how smart I was. Or how kind I was in the blatant face of jerk faces. I would be stuck being the perception of the person others thought I was.
I went into my last professional role with such hope. It was a start-up technology company. A far cry from the corporate hell hole I had been at before. The vibe was casual. And I had been told time and time again that this place was different.
This place was cool.
Whether it was because I was trying to introduce project management to a bunch of tech bros. Whether it was because I was a woman. Whether it was because I was Asian. I don’t know. I felt marginalized in my existence even within an extremely diverse group of genders and ethnicities.
I saw other clueless newbies being taken under wings. Out to coffee. Patiently explained the extremely dense and obscure topics over and over again. While people barely had the courtesy to turn around and look me in the eye when I asked them a question. Much less respond to emails or include me in conversations critical to my job. I knew I was failing, but I didn’t know how to succeed.
I remember scheduling “get to know you meetings” with one of my teams. To learn about them and the work they were currently doing.
One person showed up out of about a dozen.
They stopped calling me by my name. Instead I was Number Two of my predecesor and direct supervisor. Another Asian woman.
Inside I was screaming.
But on the outside I put on a smile. And kept trying. Coming up with different ways to get through to different people. So that maybe they would see I was a real person who just wanted to do a good job. I needed to learn and without anyone to teach me. I made myself a fly on the wall and tried to absorb as much as possible. Waiting for the day when I had something to say of value. As the overwhelming sentiment was because I didn’t – I shouldn’t. I needed to earn that right. One that extended even to words needed to do my job. Like managing the agenda or keeping a meeting on task.
I don’t know which elicited more contempt.
People got mad at me for trying to do my job. And then mad at me when I sat back and observed, struggling to figure out the right way to operate within their world.
I couldn’t win.
I dreaded going into the office and became depressed and anxious. Even suffering from a half dozen panic attacks. Yes, in front of people. My triggers were meetings in large groups alongside those who despised me most. My face would turn bright red and I would start sweating profusely. My heart felt like it was leaping out of my chest. And while I was able to maintain a level tone of voice. My body was giving me away.
I had been silenced.
To the point where I could not even speak.
I say this not for pity.
Because within this story there is an immense amount of privilege.
I was able to leave.
Start a new life with my family and thrive.
Find myself and heal.
Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, most aren’t.
I have financial privilege inherited from my parents, who were able to afford everything I ever needed and much, much more. When I failed in life. My parents were there to support me. Paying for bills and covering large expenses without a second thought.
I have the privilege of education. Because the world is hard to navigate. They make it so to strip people of the ability to survive. The false appearance of benevolence. It’s yours for the taking. If you can figure it out.
I have the white privilege of my husband. We joke about it often and his looks do not negate anything about his intelligence or talent. But it most certainly contributes to his success. By skin color alone he commands respect without earning it. His words will always carry more weight than mine. People will always assume that without him, I would be nothing. That I am lucky. A tiny Asian trophy wife.
And those three things together equal the most important privilege. The one of freedom of choice.
Because while I have been a victim of discrimination and misogyny. I have been afforded privilege that I did not earn. And I need to use that to help fix our broken system. One that broke me. But that I was able to leave. One that breaks so many. Who cannot do the same.
The first is educating myself.
Because I have been so ignorant for so long.
Recognizing the plight of Black people. But not seeing it. Not really seeing it.
I’m scared, my friend says. Walking by police on her way to the grocery store. Wearing the most adorable donut face mask.
And I feel the rage bubble up inside of me.
That this dear light of my life has to feel afraid. Like so many Black people are. Of the very agencies that are supposed to protect them. Ones that have abused their power in horrific ways.
My first task was to compile a list of movies to watch. And I realized, somewhat embarrassed – that I had not seen many of these pivotal films pertaining to Black history. They were all on my, I should watch these. But in the rare instance when I sit down to something that isn’t with my kids. My mind goes to light-hearted.
And even in that – there is privilege.
To be blind.
To say, I’d rather not see that. It’s too distressing before bedtime. Instead of educating myself on these atrocities.
As I begin to dive into pages and pages of Black history. It amazes me all the things I don’t know. Or things that were presented to me in a very different way. A bias I accepted as true so long ago, and never took the time to correct. To discover more deeply. Because Black history is American history. Not something that should be relegated to one paltry month per year. But one that we should celebrate everyday. So that a person of color. All people of color. Can be proud to be citizens of the United States. A country that truly lives the melting pot that it boasts. Not one where assimilation and the disappearance of external cultures, languages and traditions is a mechanism of survival.