May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is the month we discuss mental health issues, specifically those that concern Black Women. One major topic that's linked to mental health is job stability. In the latest and seventeenth blog this year we are discussing mental health in the workplace. This blog is personal to me because this is the circumstance I found myself in and if you've been following my social media for years you know that I have my battles with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It is very easy to find myself in a doom and gloom mentality, depending on the many factors that can trigger a doom and gloom mentality, I might sink deep into an abyss of depression.
My main source of income comes from my employment as an After School Teacher. I've been at my position since March of 2017. As with all job positions there are stresses and curveballs that come your way but as adults we learn to balance/adjust/flex so we can get the job done. Just to give you some insight without spilling too much tea, in this school year (September 2017 to current) I've dealt with a troubled child who was unsafe to himself, his peers and staff. How unsafe is unsafe? In the four months he'd been in my program he had collected 8 incident reports. He even attempted to stab a teacher and showed physical aggression towards a pregnant staff. When voicing my concerns to upper management, they said, "Childcare is a business. They are our clients." Meaning, suck it up. When working with children, ECC's policy is for every 12 children there needs to be 1 staff. Starting the school year back in September my team was incomplete. During the summer the After School Manager is supposed to fill in the available positions that former staff resigned from. My previous head teacher moved on up so it left me in the role of a program that should have had 3 staff members. By the Fall one position was filled and it was an experience to say the least.
The head teacher was a former teacher at my specific site before I was there. She returned due to her pregnancy and needing a site that had children who weren't "stressful" so to speak. There were times when the pregnancy took a toll on her body and she had to call in sick or leave work early and guess who stepped in? ME. There were times when I had subs who were as useful as a wet napkin and I basically had to split myself in two just to keep the show running. There was a time when I got sick (Side note, my first three months working at my job I had gotten sick about four times. Something about being around kids a lot gives your your immune system a shock) and lost my voice, guess who showed up to work voiceless? ME. At this time, I had benefits and could have easily emailed a sick day due to my lack of sound but because of empathy for my pregnant coworker and the fact we were down a staff, I just gulped down some Haitian tea and kept it pushing. But it wasn't just tough on me, my coworker was going through a tumultuous pregnancy to say the least felt the raft. The department wasn't making pregnancy and employment any easy on her. People she knew for YEARS treated her like a wannabe fraternity brother during hazing week. My coworker had history with these folks. She met their significant other and they met her husband, they've gone out and drank together, hell one particular person who moved on up as the After School Manager was pregnant at the same with her a few years back. Needless to say, these were HER people and when she became pregnant the second time they treated her like the red headed step child. Gave her flack about taking time off, maternity leave, and just about everything else. I saw her breakdown due to work stress and family stress. I thought to myself, "if they could do that to her, they definitely don't give a fuck about me."
My coworker aka the head teacher goes on maternity leave a week early in February due to stress. It wasn't until a week prior we (by then a part time teacher and an inclusion staff was added to the classroom) the program staff found out what was going to happen when the head teacher goes on maternity leave. Boy did we get a culture shock. The head teacher had a community flow about her. She wasn't hierarchical, she empathized with the staff she managed and left room for constructive criticism if need be. If you could choose a boss, it would be her. The interim head teacher was a COMPLETE change. She came into the program barking orders and micro-managing everything from the kids to the staff to the dust particles. The children visibly appeared discontent. Some voiced their dislikes with me in private. The week of her showing up, us staff had to get the head teacher from the younger age group program who previously worked with her at another site to tell her to chill the fuck out. A few week the After School Manager called a team pow wow to read off 20 sentenced questions then answer them one by one for an hour and a half (originally it was 2 hours but the After School Manager was 30 minutes late). The point was to passively aggressively address elphants in the room (oxymoronic) to get to a feel good understanding. The feel good understanding didn’t last after the meeting and we staff just adjusted to the fact that different head teachers meant different structure. Basically, we were the extras to her own production.
The Assistant Teacher is either let go or quits (baby girl was a student at Columbia, ran her own nonprofit for women of color, she had extensive experience working with children) she wanted 2 days off to write a major paper for her degree program and requested them off to the After School Manager. She said she could only consider a request like that if it’s a medical issue that came with a doctor’s note. The Assistant Teacher jumped through hoops and made her requests and finally she told the After School Manager if she couldn’t get those 2 days off she would leave the position. She no longer works in the department.
My boyfriend is from Switzerland (no he’s not White). We’re in the getting to know each other’s family stage of our relationship. His stepfather who raised him since he was 4 and considers my boyfriend like a son is dying of cancer. Did I mention his stepfather is a doctor and through his practice is how he met my boyfriend and his mother? But now my boyfriend's stepfather is an elderly man dealing with the later stage of cancer and at this point his family wants the family to be around him because of the impending end. My boyfriend was told during the third week in April that it’s best for him to come back home to spend some time with his stepfather. My boyfriend relays the message to me and asks me to come with him. I told him I would have to at least put in a request to give two weeks notice to the After School Manager. He asks if I can spend a month. I said I couldn’t even if that meant opting for unpaid leave by the department (they don't encourage benefit positions to exercise their benefits even if it's part of the union) the department would decline it. As I was told by the interim head teacher who had gone through a similar situation once, “You need to manage your time better" would be the response to requesting more than our allowed 50 hours of paid vacation. So we settled for the third week in May.
The fourth week of April I find out that the interim head teacher in the beginning of the school year before she applied for the interim head teacher position had requested for half the second week and the complete third week of May. I quickly send a straight forward and lengthy email stating all the complexities surrounding me requesting this time off (the Assistant Teacher leaving, the interim head teacher going to leave and my original head teacher on maternity leave etc.) but still this is CANCER. And cancer waits for NO ONE. My first email doesn’t get a reply back. I sent a second email to the After School Manager with the formal request of absence form filled out and within minutes I get an email declining my letter stating if I wanted a call about as to why I my request was declined she could give me a call. Because I had a gazillion and one things to do just like day school teachers, I replied I would give her a call the following Monday.
I took initiative to go to the main office that Monday to speak to her face to face to explain why this family emergency is important to me. After ten minutes later spilling my consistency in this job position, how I flexed to all the changes within the school year including troubled children, how I adjusted to the staff members who came and left, that I just found out that the interim head teacher put her request in months in advance for time off before she was moved over to this site, that I don’t call out unless it’s an emergency and this is an emergency. The After School Manager basically tells me that she can’t approve my request though she understands it’s cancer but because of ratios and safety concerns and that she THE AFTER SCHOOL MANAGER who is the emergency fill in for absent teachers during EMERGANCIES wouldn’t be able to come and cover. She got aggressive with me when I mentioned that the former After School Manager covered when my site had one staff member before I was hired by the department. She goes into a ‘well I understand your situation but this is the nature of the job’ speech. She says possibly the following week she could accommodate me if possible but definitely not May 14th through the 27th.
Me being a Black woman and understanding that anything less than a smile and a mild tone is viewed as combative and “angry", natural reactions that are given to every group but Black women will eventually be used against me to demonize me. I bite my tongue. As upset as I was about how dismissive she was and how she wouldn’t accommodate me I still presented myself in a well mannered demeanor. She asks me well what is my decision. I told her I’d let her know Friday. It all depends if I could change my flight and arrangements (I got flack for booking an emergency flight before approval because I was supposed to be a psyche and see cancer in my future). I talked about the conversation I had with the After School Manager that felt more like an interrogation with my boyfriend. I was pissed as ever because as much emotional and mental labor I gave to this department and for them to dismiss cancer like it’s a broken toe confirmed my thoughts about resigning from my position weeks before (I was contemplating and looking into other job positions). To me her no was like the icing to a fucked up moldy repulsive stinky cake. My boyfriend being the Aquarius he is looked on the positive side while the bull of Taurus I am wanted to fuck shit up. He advises me that he can go a week before me and when I can go to just let him know and that it wasn’t a big deal. I ranted and raved about that not being the point. The point was the hierarchy and how different rules applied for different folks and how this was cancer and the amount of shit I had to deal with this year because it was my job and I hardly complained because it’s my job, and I asked MY JOB to accommodate for me, you know RECIPROCITY and they say no is the final sign that it’s time for me to go.
I prep myself for Friday’s conversation about how my passion comes across as anger or aggressive to those who don’t want Black women to just be and express their full range of being. So I told myself to state what I had to but to not raise my voice. As my boyfriend drove me home we spoke about how I was feeling and the decision I was going to make. It came down to two options. I either get the weeks I requested off approved or the following weeks. I wasn’t happy about the following weeks but I knew I wasn’t going to return the next school year and this would be one of the reasons why (cancer not being validated as an emergancy). My boyfriend drops me off and wishes me a good day. I drop off my overnight bag at home and make my way to the main office to speak with the After School Manager. I begin reiterating my stance as to why I requested this time off. And she listens intensively and when I’m done she proceeds to say, “Why would you request this time off.” I told her, "I didn’t find out about the interim teacher leaving until a week after the offer was presented to me.” She tells me, “Why would you still request it after you knew she requested it.” I said, “It’s an emergency and that my significant other’s stepfather has cancer.” She then proceeds to say, “You said the trip is international and you’ve never flown internationally.” She’s giving me the 3rd degree as if I’m on trial. I tell her, “Yeah my significant other, my boyfriend is from Switzerland and his stepfather is from Switzerland.” “He has cancer.” “The offer was presented to me before I knew (blank) had requested her time off.” “I knew her aunt/niece was graduating but I assumed it was in June because most graduations are in June. She didn’t tell me it was May.” “I found out it was in May when you called (blank) and told her to come up with a plan during team meeting about what we we’re going to do when she left.” She repeats again, “But why would you make the request after you found out.” “(blank) do you understand why this is an issue.” She goes into a tirade about ratios and how subs don’t count and how I am the only acting teacher that knows the kids and that I could run the program and how I don’t understand why she can’t approve for me to go.
She badgers me for five minutes straight asking me, "Do you know my job?" and "Do you know why it’s a safety concern if you left." I kid you not as a 25-year-old woman who will be turning 26 in less than a month, I felt that this White woman was speaking to me as if I was an idiotic badly behaved child. It took everything in me to just eat her nasty and disrespectful attitude and not clean cuss her ass out with a this is my two-week resignation letter, fuck you and this job. I tell her I can rearrange my flight for the following week and she says, “Okay I think I can give you the week of the 21st” as she looks at her calendar. She tells me that before (blank) leaves that I and (blank) need to sit down and come up with a plan like the team did when she was discussing her trip. I tell her okay and exit her office.
As Black women we qualify and are stigmatized by the double minority label. We are as Black as we are women. And with the label Black women there is a certain mental load you carry with you especially into WHITE spaces, inspecting and re-evaluating our respectability politics because we know what others perceive us as. One no turns into a write up or a write off as combative. One facial expression is weaponized as passive aggressive. We tip toe the line of self-respect and a check that no one else does but us. Black men now can speak their piece about how being Black is a burden while ignoring or hiding their privleges as men. White women live the second to best carefree life with little to no filtering and then there’s White men who go around spilling all their WHITE and MALENESS around making everyone adjust and adhere to whatever they think is right. But where does that leave Black women? In the mental Olympics of surviving for a paycheck. Existing but half living, passing code words and eye glances to the next Black woman to find unity in the mental charades. But what happens when you make free from the mental Olympics and run your mouth into freedom? You find your truth hard for other to digest and your actions observed like a caged animal just to build enough reports against you to fire you. How dare you break free from the shackles of the acceptable Black woman aka the MULING BLACK WOMAN. How dare you speak up for yourself. How dare you respect yourself. How dare you want more for yourself. HOW DARE YOU WANT RECIPROCITY. Have we not treated you well enough that when we listen to rap songs we say nigga and not nigger? Have we not done right by you by employing you and meeting that affirmative action quota? Have we not done right by you by not excluding you from the White circles that is drench in White toxicity/privilege/entitlement/and purposeful ignorance? Your Job Is Triggering To Your Mental Health. White People Are Triggering Your Mental Health.
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