Sometimes when I think back at some of the crazy discriminatory experiences I’ve had I make up how I should have responded. I’m sure you’ve done this too. After an argument with someone, a debate, etc., you’re just like oh I should have said that! or Why didn’t I think of that!? Then, for weeks and weeks you’re replaying how you would re-address that person if you had the opportunity. This happens to me a lot. I could (and probably will) write about how someone did/said something to me and I stood silent, unable to think of a come back witty or intelligent enough in that split second. But, there’s only so much a girl can take!..Am I right?! So, here’s one about how I finally stood up for myself. I’ll warn you it wasn’t the confrontation that I had day dreamed about, but it was damn good if you ask me.
So, once upon a time I worked at a firm. I really liked everyone I worked with and this in no way reflects who they are. But, one person that always did me dirty (for no reason) was my boss. For anonymity and because I’m truly not trying to shit on anyone I worked with here I won’t name my employer. My boss was basically your typical I say what I want and if it offends you then I’m sorry but that wasn’t my intention type of guy. For context, once he dropped me off at home and said that I probably understand what my clients are going through because I lived in such a shitty neighborhood, just like them! I mean not only was he shitting on the fact that I owned piece of real estate at a very young age, my proudest accomplishment, but he was cutting my paychecks at the time and he was dropping me off in a Lexus. So I think that said more about him than it did about me because newsflash: that’s all I could afford at the time! That’s a light example of the shit he used to say about me, to my face.
I could tell you all the details about what prompted the letter below but I promise you IT DOES NOT MATTER. As you’ll read, he told me that I wasn’t on a partner track at my firm because I hadn’t transitioned from being Jenny from the Block to being JLo. This was over text message (I got the receipts if you think I’m lying) and I was so shocked when I read this that I didn’t know how to respond so I said something about how I hadn’t done what he thought I did that warranted his text (spoiler alert: nothing could warrant that text) and he shit on me a little more. I worked there a whole year while looking for other jobs after this happened and finally I found somewhere I wanted to go and left.
I could legitimately write a book about the things I went through dealing with that man but this is about how Brown Girl got her Bruja Back not him! So, below is an abridged letter I left on his desk my last day of work.
As I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to have a conversation with you regarding my leaving this office, I debated whether it was even necessary to shed some light on my seemingly unexpected departure. The reasons I am leaving are still very much present in this office and affecting other female attorneys and employees alike, and I feel it necessary to make it absolutely clear the reason for my decision to leave. At most, I hope you read this and reflect on what I’ve said and take actual steps to change, and at the least, I hope it has put you and this firm on notice of the pattern of discriminatory treatment of women in your office, namely women of color.
In the three years I have practiced here, it has been a constant battle to contort myself to meet the unrealistic and illogical expectations you have set forth. Those expectations, however, are common to every attorney in this office. It is the expectations and negative light in which you cast me that I have never been able to meet or change. When I started at this firm, I worked diligently and committed myself to this office. If I was asked to do something, I did it. I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted a job here after law school and upon graduation I was offered one. This position was something I earned.
“This position was something I earned.”
As I started practicing I noticed that there were things you were saying to me that you weren’t saying to the other female attorneys in this office and things you would criticize me about for which the other women didn’t get criticized. On a number of occasions you told me I was aggressive, that I needed to polish myself, that I was intimidating and that I had a tough personality that at times made it difficult to get along with me. At one point, you even told me that if I was lucky, I could polish myself to the point that people would actually listen to me when I spoke, like Suzy (not her real name), who at that point you had only interviewed but had somehow already decided she was a more polished version of me. I began to feel that I was being pigeonholed as this rough, urban, neck snapping minority attorney who people did not take seriously. I initially thought, this is bullshit, I have had office jobs before this and no one has ever told me this, he’s just picking at me. But somehow these negative characteristics and ideas started to create a trend between you and me and at the end of any talk we had you’d leave me with a little tid bit about how you thought I would be a better attorney if I was nicer, if I added some sugar to my emails, if I wasn’t rough and/or aggressive. I decided that I would focus on “polishing” my personality and, more importantly, on working my ass off at this firm to show that even if I did have some personality traits you didn’t like, that my work would carry me. Soon I saw that alone wasn’t enough.
In the fall of 2015, I decided that I was finally in a financial position to take my mom and me on a vacation. What followed here marked the beginning of the end for me in this office. I worked hard all year to build up time and wrack up settlements so that when I decided to have this conversation with you, you could see how I had been preparing my caseload for an extended absence.
This letter, for the record, was written with no attitude, aggression or malice, and despite the tone you have read it in to this point, I haven’t snapped my neck once.
At one point I admit that maybe my delivery in asking for this time off wasn’t the best; however, looking back it’s clear that the only reason you read my email (or any email I’ve ever sent you) in that negative, demanding and aggressive tone you read it in was because of how you think of me: an aggressive, demanding person of color who couldn’t possibly be writing a professional email to you. This letter, for the record, was written with no attitude, aggression or malice, and despite the tone you have read it in to this point, I haven’t snapped my neck once. The back and forth that followed my request for time off was riddled with personal insults and even saying that my parents should be grateful to you for employing me after law school. I realized then that no matter what I did you would always see me this way—an inner city girl who you turned into an attorney and who was your work in progress, constantly trying to polish her up to make her fit in.
The events that transpired in the last few weeks of December solidified my need to move on from this office. One Wednesday evening, I asked for permission to leave early to get drinks with an office contact. I was constantly trying to polish myself so, I asked you. You didn’t respond, I told him we would need to take a rain check and I worked a normal late Wednesday night. The following morning I received some of the most insulting text messages I have ever received in my life, professionally and personally. You questioned my maturity in even thinking it was appropriate for asking for permission, and that I wasn’t on a partner track because I had not yet transitioned from Jenny from the Block to J. Lo and that Jenny from the Block was no longer cute. I read those text messages while I was at court, covering cases that weren’t mine, and when I got done I walked outside and cried. I cried because it hurt my feelings, yes, but I also cried because I knew that I was fighting an uphill battle at this office for a successful career. I cried because no matter what I did, at the end of the day all I was to you was a girl from Englewood, who has a pitbull and snaps her neck when she talks. It didn’t matter that I had performed for you and outperformed myself year after year. I realized that the reasons you saw me negatively were for traits I had no control over—my gender, my race, my upbringing—it wasn’t for the things I could change or polish.
“Jenny from the Block was no longer cute.”
All of a sudden it all started to make sense—me being too aggressive, not being polished, buttoned up, etc., those were all just negative stereotypes you had assigned to me because of who I was and where I was from rather than because of what I did or my performance as an attorney. All of these things I am proud of and have allowed me to relate to clients in a way no other attorney in this office can. Being an advocate for injured plaintiffs who hail from the inner city and are minority is something that has always felt natural to me and something you should have seen as an asset to your firm, but you never did. And that’s why I’m leaving, I don’t think the things you say and the way you think of me is a bad analogy. I think it’s a flawed fundamental problem with how you see women of color and that view clouds your judgment and makes you discriminatory and purposefully insulting.
“…those are some of my favorite parts about myself.”
I could have left and stayed silent on this matter, but I chose not to. It’s not because I want revenge or that I’m malicious, it’s because I want to make sure that you never treat someone else how you treated me and I have seen signs that you have already started down this path with other female attorneys. The least I can do is advocate for whoever comes next and hope that they don’t face the same discrimination I did. I welcome a conversation with you regarding these issues, but at the very least I ask that you place yourself in my father’s shoes and imagine how you would feel if you read the emails or texts that you sent to me. If you can’t as a professional see the problem then maybe as a human you can. All of the things you thought were negative about me: my race, my upbringing, my gender are all things I can’t control. But, those things never affected me practicing law and to be honest, those are some of my favorite parts about myself.
When I first wrote this letter I didn’t have any intentions of actually giving it to him. I did it more as a therapeutic exercise (shout out to my best friend who recommended it!). But after feeling all that pain and basically reliving all of the terrible things he had said to me I decided I didn’t want to be someone who just suffered in silence anymore I wanted to stand up and say my piece, not just for me but for every woman (of color and not) that would ever cross his path again. Annnnddd I wanted to stop being the bitch titty that I normally am when people say and do completely rude and ignorant things to me and damn right I was starting with him. Brown Girl came for him because he came for me.
I’ll tell you in that year that I was preparing to exit, I learned a lot about myself and others. I secretly hoped and thought that after my co-workers read the texts and learned the details that there would be some kind of historical uprising and we would effectuate change together…that never happened. I don’t blame them though, you’ll see why below. However, the most supportive responses I got was from my family–my brother in particular said it took every ounce of self-control in his body to not react like he wanted to–leave it to a Brown Brother, right!? But, I’m glad he didn’t react because it gave me a chance to come into my own and realize what “I got your back” truly means. I had a brother who was feeling all of the emotions I was feeling. I had a boyfriend who said if I never wanted to go back to work I didn’t have to that he would cover me until I could find somewhere else to work. I had parents who told me I could come back home if I didn’t want to step foot back in that office and couldn’t afford to pay rent. I had friends and co-workers who told me how good of an attorney I was and how I didn’t deserve any of the things he said to me.
But besides all that, for a year I was kicking myself in the face everyday and every time I settled a case or made my firm money because I hadn’t stood up for myself. After I left I realized that no matter how much you or anyone else believes in a cause there is always something that can hold you back from outwardly supporting it–you’re too embarrassed, you don’t want to shock your friends at how passionate you are about a topic, you don’t want to be the person who is taking over peoples’ news feeds, you don’t want to be the one to get involved and rustle the water. Hell I have fallen victim to this too, we all just want to seem like we’re chill after all don’t we? I for one can say I’m much braver behind my keyboard writing this blog than I ever was to my ex boss’s face, but I decided to start doing my part and stop making excuses. I started with that letter. I decided enough was enough and to keep the impetus of writing that letter going (and the forever hangover that was the election) I started this blog and have been really trying to keep it a safe and encouraging conversational zone ever since.
I guess my take away from all of this was that there comes a time when you can’t be too embarrassed, too shy, too reserved or too worried about what other people will think. You should stand up for yourself or someone else who’s the victim of discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment of any kind, no one should be expected to tolerate that. Given our country’s climate, I’d say that time is now to be proactive. When my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends read this blog and this particular story I hope they’re proud of what I did and how I decided to be someone who isn’t afraid anymore. This is how I have decided to start, how will you?