I thought and prayed long and hard over if I should record the most racially traumatic, demeaning experience in my adult life. I mean, after all, I am not a writer. See, that's what we do. We always seem to turn our personal insecurities and flaws against ourselves. No, I am not a writer, and yes, my journal record will have all kinds of typos and grammatical errors, but that is me. This is me, who am I? I am a middle-aged mixed raced woman. My father was first American generation Filipino, and my mother is Black. My parents separated when I was six months, and my mother raised me. Due to my exterior color and being raised by a black mother, I identified as black most of my life—even this particular day of the incident. I never identified more as a black person than this particular day—the day where I was brought to the modern-day lynching tree by an Asian co-worker.
First, let me explain what a lynching tree symbolizes in the modern-day: It symbolizes black oppression as well as the most horrific symbol of white supremacy. The lynching tree is where blacks were reminded of their inferiority and powerlessness. Where we were led to be humiliated and dehumanized—a place where we were brought to our knees in anguish, suffering, and fear—a place where every piece of us had been stripped away, where our power was stripped away. Our voice, our cries, and our pleads were not heard for doing absolutely nothing wrong. A place where we as black people were unjustly and wrongfully accused and held accountable by white people. Whereas, the white people or the oppressors were not held accountable for their racist actions. The lynching tree is where the only refuge we have is Jesus, and I found myself at the foot of the lynching tree by an Asian co-worker, and honestly, all I can say is, "What a mess."
How did I come to this point? Four months into my new career position, I found myself experiencing microaggressions at the hands of a younger white woman. My first experience of microaggressions was when I had to oversee People & Culture, aka HR. Side Note: I no longer associate myself with the word Human Resources (HR), after attending a Diversity & Inclusion workshop that explained the history behind "human resources"; and let me tell you, as a Black person, it was and still is nothing "human" about the history. Back to my record---the first experience was when I had to send a documented email. In response, I received a very unprofessional, disrespectful email directly from this white woman. This email attacked me personally, my role within the organization and screamed "microaggression" throughout. This was all for doing my job. I then was obligated to meet with the white co-worker, the Executive Director, and her Director to discuss the email as well as her needs and support. Never once was the mannerism or intent of her email addressed. Never once was her foul, disrespectful, unprofessional behavior, language, or attitude addressed. She was allowed to continue to verbally disrespect each of us, all people of Senior Leadership, in a very unprofessional way.
It was ironic that she used her white privilege to make sure her "voice" was heard in a very offensive, unprofessional, and disrespectful way and was not one time held accountable for the white superiority and privilege she displayed. The same white woman, who the following week at a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) interactive workshop facilitated by external people, verbally accused leadership (which included me, the Executive Director, and her Director) of white supremacy. And again, in the same meeting, when the group was asked to type in the chat about how we are leaving this workshop, she accused the leadership of white supremacy in the chat. I want to point out that she was the only white woman in the Zoom room.
Shortly after the DEI workshop, she submitted her resignation. Before her final exit day, she meets with all her co-workers to tell her story about why she was leaving the organization. The whole story was riddled with lies; lies of us, the leadership team, backing her into a corner and forcing her out. This white woman played victim to the fullest. While we, the leadership team, had no choice but to take on the aftermath of months of unprofessionalism, occupational oppression, microaggressions, and finally, racial bias, discrimination, and harassment. On top of that, this was all led by the hands of an Asian co-worker who was close friends to the white woman and who also had a seat at the leadership table because she was a manager.
After the white woman left, the next staff meeting was the first-ever Zoom funeral I ever attended, and it was led by her close Asian friend. There were people actually crying that this white woman left. Again, I want to point out that, technically, she was the only white woman on the team. People were encouraged to speak about her as if she was physically no longer on this Earth. She quit willingly, not died. This was the first meeting that the Asian woman called me out. Called me out in front of everyone like, "Alicia, you need to explain yourself and how you handled the situation." I was called out, and I remember thinking about the entitlement and the privileges of others in this space. This younger Asian woman has the audacity to think she can use her privilege to make demands of me explaining myself to her. She was not my direct report to. She wasn't even at the same leadership level, technically under me (when looking at the organizational chart). But I did not say anything, not one word. I remained on mute in my Zoom square.
Over the course of the next couple of months, I sat in several meetings (all-staff, leadership meetings, smaller groups) with the same entitlement and privileges from the younger Asian woman. I was again directly called out on two other occasions. In all these meetings, we, the senior leadership team, were always attacked with accusations of white supremacy, distrust, hurt, etc. Just because their co-worker (the white woman) told everyone she was forced out by senior leadership. However, not once did I respond or say anything at any of these meetings. Not once was this Asian woman held accountable for her behavior, attacks, words, accusations, or insults. I remember telling her Director it's as if we are being held accountable, but no one else is holding her accountable.
After two months of having these meetings, the finale for me was when we had a follow-up DEI interactive workshop facilitated by external parties. As the workshop was closing, the facilitators commented on an observation. They observed that there was tension in the room. They created the space to be a safe space for the tension in the room to be discussed. The Asian woman wasn't the first one to speak up (which is surprising), but when she did, she accused the leadership of harming her and her team members. Now, this is where the frustration boiled over. She used her privilege to come into this space and openly accuse me of harm. There is a difference between being harmed and being hurt. I come from an abusive household, and I can tell you that trauma is harmful. How have I caused anyone within the organization any trauma? I never said not one word from the beginning and even in this space. However, I was accused of harming people in front of the whole staff and external colleagues.
Five days later, we were scheduled for a meeting to discuss restorative practices. Again, we tried to repair the organization's morale decimated by the white woman and continued to be torn down by the hands of the Asian co-worker. There were six people in the Zoom space, one being myself and one being the Asian woman. I was the only black person/woman in the room. Must I remind you, I never once said anything in any of the several meetings where I was being attacked. But after being openly accused of harming people, I felt compelled to speak so this Asian woman can understand the difference between being harmed and her feelings being hurt because her friend decided to quit. So, I spoke my piece about it. After I spoke my piece, another employee, a white man, chimed in to express his frustrations about having these useless conversations in a very vocal, unprofessional, and uncensored way. At one point, the Asian woman made a point to say that she is ready to move on, but there is a lot of distrust in leadership, and we need to support each other to help others move on. As I was listening to her, I thought to myself, how is that possible? How is she ready to move on? Literally, just last week, she accused us of harming her and her team members in an open forum? How is that leading your team forward? These are the questions I asked her directly. Followed by, “Let's be clear, you literally just accused us of harming you and everyone else”. Of course, when the accountability is turned towards her, it's silence. Where's the same energy, the same voice that she used to throw out attacks and allegations for months?
I honestly left that meeting completely fine. It was no different than the spaces I've been in with her for the past two months. I felt everyone had a voice and said what they felt was needed within that space. Again, I didn't feel what I said, or my approach was nowhere near as uncensored and unprofessional as some of the other people who shared that space.
Well, my feelings were wrong. A couple of days later, I got a call from the Asian woman's Director (who I considered an ally) that this Asian woman wanted to complain about how I approached her in the meeting. She used words such as "aggressive," "harsh," and I was accused of creating a "hostile" environment to the point that she felt uncomfortable being in meetings with me. Side Note: All our meetings are virtual due to COVID. So, she is uncomfortable coming to a place where I am not physically present? So how can I create a "hostile" environment? I remember my immediate response was, "You need to tell her to tread very lightly. The words and the allegations are stereotype labeling; it's racial profiling and microaggression. It's downright offensive. There were others in that meeting who were white and were far more unprofessional and uncensored than I was. This is racism. The complaint is fraudulent". I was encouraged to talk to this Asian woman although she didn't want to talk to me. But, I was the one encouraged to talk to her first. This was after I just made the statement about racism. I declined to talk to her, and it wasn't because I was angry or upset -- I wasn't. It was because I would not meet her expectations. She would expect an apology, and I was going not to apologize for having a voice for once after months of being called out numerous times, of being accused, and (now finally) of being a black woman. I would not meet her expectations, so what would be the point of having another useless meeting. Then, I was told that the Director and Executive Director were planning to meet directly with the Asian woman to see what her needs are.
Over the next month, the Executive Director and the Director had numerous meetings to address her needs and requests. Never was racism brought to the forefront in any of these meetings, even after I had conversations directly with the Executive Director and the Director. Never was the Asian woman reprimanded for her racist comments or behavior. Never once did the Executive Director schedule a meeting directly with me to speak specifically about the incident or to address my claim of racism. Although, numerous meetings were intentionally scheduled with the Asian woman to discuss her needs. I never was asked what I needed as a black woman, who just experienced occupational opposition. Never once was I asked what support do I need. I never once received the same options or concessions as the Asian woman who blatantly and openly displayed racial bias and racial discrimination. And they continued to allow her to do so…
Almost two months after her complaint, I found myself approaching the lynching tree. The Executive Director blindsided me. The Executive Director shared that the Asian woman went to the Board of Directors to file a complaint a couple of weeks ago. The Board chairs had spoken to the Executive Director, the Asian woman, and the Director all over the course of the past couple of weeks. Now, the Board wanted to meet with me. I was so confused. I thought to myself “wait a minute; she filed an official complaint about me directly to the Board over two weeks ago; an erroneous fraudulent claim at that. The board has been interviewing other people in private and I am just now being notified, only because now the Board chairs want to meet with me.” I was angry. At that moment, I was angry because not once did I receive the same concessions as the Asian woman. Not once did I receive the same options. This was a racist attack against me, and I was the one being dehumanized.
The Executive Director downplayed the whole situation. I was told that "I'm not in trouble" and that they just wanted to talk. This is coming from a man that had an option to take advantage of white privilege. He didn't even realize the white superiority breathing inside his comment, "You are not in trouble." How does a grown professional adult think it's okay to make comments to other adult people as if they are kids? A grown professional adult that isn't aware of white superiority and white supremacy that’s how. I want to also point out the during my meeting with the board chairs, one of the board chairs had the audacity to make the same comment after I had to bring to attention how wrong this was.
I was never asked if I even wanted to have a conversation. I wasn't given a choice. I wasn't asked if I needed any support. I wasn't asked what do I need. I wasn't given that validation or confirmation that this is wrong and that, as an organization from staff to board, we need to be better and do better. My claim of racism was never investigated or mentioned. But her, the Asian woman’s, erroneous fraudulent claim was addressed organizational-wide (from the Executive Director to the Board). This is when I found myself at the base of the lynching tree.
I remember waking up in the early hours the next morning with a heavy burden surrounding my spirit. The burden was so heavy that while I was praying, all I could do is cry and ask God to please have mercy on me. It was almost as if I felt that "it" was coming for me deep in my spirit that day. The same as my ancestors feeling the looming feeling of oppression deep within their spirit. A day where your spirit knew that you would be powerless and humiliated.
After, I prayed I began to understand why the burden was so heavy. As a black woman, I do not have the same privileges as the majority that share the same space. I don't have the privilege to have an equitable voice. And when I decide to speak as a black woman, I need to be mindful of my body language or voice level. Once I speak out, once I share my feelings, I am immediately racially profiled as the angry, aggressive black women who create a hostile environment. The only time I spoke up, I experienced racial bias, and no one addressed or was aware of the implications.
This Asian woman had the privilege to go directly to the Board chairs to file an erroneous fraudulent complaint only against me, not against anyone else in the room, not even the frustrated white person. She had a choice to go to the Board. And in doing so, the Board chairs, even after being told by others in the interviewing process that this is racist, still wanted to meet with me to tell them what happened. After months of attacks and the last few months of being racially attacked, I wasn't invited to sit at the table; I was called to the table by two white people in a position of power and white superiority which I share the same space at least once a week. I wasn't called to sit at the table for racial reconciliation or for confirmation of the microaggressions I've experienced for the past five months. I wasn't called to sit at the table as an ally. I was called to sit at the table as the accused, the inferior being.
This was the moment at the modern-lynching tree that I dropped to my knees. This is the point where I was stripped of all my power. I had no power; I was powerless. I was sitting at the table stripped of all my power by white superiority and white supremacy, all by the hands of a racist. I was at the point where I was stripped away of my dignity and humanity. I sat here as a black woman being wrongfully accused. I sacrificed my whole inner being, exposed the depths of my soul at the cost of explaining to two white people how and why this is wrong. Having to explain how racism just showed up and given all the power throughout this organization.
This particular moment was the most humiliating, racially traumatic experience in my adult life. It felt like I was emotionally stripped of any power. I was powerless. I was inferior. It was degrading and dehumanizing as a black person and a black woman. I remember telling my husband while in tears, "Why did I have to sacrifice and expose my whole inner being? Why did I have to be at my most vulnerable, the weakest state just to make them "woke"?
The most interesting part of this record is that the organization actively implements advancing DEI organizational-wide, meaning from the staff to the board. As the only black person and woman in senior leadership, I sit on all the DEI committees---”tokenism”. How are we advancing DEI when there is the ugliness of racism, white superiority, white supremacy, and occupational oppression flowing fluidly within the organization?
In closing, my time at the modern-day lynching tree isn’t over. I have more records to record about this experience. Currently, I am still on my knees trying my hardest to regain my power, to regain my strength to fight for what is just and right. How do I fight? How do I regain my power? How do I not allow for this racially traumatic experience to break me mentally and emotionally?