How I learned Inner Strength
Memories of the college I went to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. At the time, I was an international student who had only been in the U.S. for a few years. I had not fully grasped the concepts of race, colorism, classism and other nuances associated with the broad scope of race. Although it has been almost eight years since the incident, it is one I often recall. It helped me fully understand the complicated layers of racism and colorism. In 2015, I was one of two Black women who attended an all-white Christian college in Michigan. As one would imagine, this experience was riddled with passive-aggressive microaggressions and thinly veiled xenophobia.
Before my shift that day, I had been the target of bullying from a popular group at the school. Ironically, their ring leader happened to be a fellow international student and a Latina. Initially, I even considered her a friend. Her cohort consisted of other “exotic-looking” international students from other countries such as Europe, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Somehow, during that school year, that group alienated me from many people. This caused an unspoken visceral reaction to cliques within the school. One of the girls within the popular group was my co-worker’s girlfriend at the time.
On that fateful day, I arrived for my shift and noticed that my white male co-worker was cold. He refused to acknowledge or engage in conversation with me even when I tried to talk about work-related issues. While I had dealt with animosity from other students on campus, this hostility was jarring at the moment.
The Flare Up
Regardless of his stonewalling, I tried to ignore his antics and carry on the evening in peace. I went to ask him a question about work when suddenly, he began to violently punch our work desk. As he was doing this he was facing me and screaming expletive insults. The name-calling and berating escalated as this white male screamed threats at me. For a brief moment, I thought he would hit me. I reached for my cell phone and called my boss and narrated what happened. I explicitly stated “I don’t feel safe.”
That seemed to deescalate my co-worker’s anger. He lowered his voice and began to gaslight and call me a liar about what had happened. When our manager arrived, he tried to play it neutral. He even started questioning me in ways that police officers question suspects: with an unceremonious ounce of scrutiny.
The days that followed were even more alarming. I escalated the situation to the school’s higher authority, a committee of all white Christian people. As the days went by, absolutely nothing was done. Instead, the provost called me to her office and asked me if I was sure about what happened. She questioned everything including my recollection of things.
They asked me if I had some sort of proof of what happened; a recording, witnesses or anything. I had nothing of the sort. At the end of the day, my manager separated me from working with that co-worker. After that, we had different schedules and never spoke again.
It turns out that the co-worker who had verbally assaulted me and came close to physically assaulting me had a vendetta against me. All because of what the people in his girlfriend’s clique said about me time and time again behind my back. The Latina girl who started the entire situation tried to gang up on another African girl when we were freshmen because of a joke she didn’t like, and it felt like de ja vu.
That period was one of the darkest and loneliest moments of my life. A lot of things happened within that period, including ideation in the mix. In those moments, I felt unseen, unheard and dismissed. In the midst of the chaos, I finally began to understand the themes of racism, colorism and misogynoir that showed themselves within this situation. I also finally understood how ominous and sinister white rage could be. Society has stereotyped the theme of an angry Black woman, but hardly anyone talks about the presence of white male rage, a vicious element that is often justified within society.
A few months after the incident, someone I considered a friend came up to me and told me that he had heard my co-worker screaming at me unprovoked but didn’t say anything because he “didn’t want to get involved.”
At the end of the day, nothing happened, unsurprisingly. While I endured and overcame that situation, it changed my psyche and my view of my place in the world. I knew that I had to become more intentional, vigilant and cautious about myself and the energy I allowed around me. I had no one to rely on or anyone who even believed me. Despite the trauma of that event, I was still made out to be the aggressor, and that is the thing about society’s view of Black women: it is a vile, unseemly and perpetual recycled miscarriage of justice that never seems to end. Again, Malcolm X made it abundantly clear: “The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.”
I have a sense of apathy toward the situation, but it speaks volumes even so many years later. Black women are consistently subjects of ridicule and punching bags. Our humanity is constantly stripped away from us, but despite all of the adversity, trauma and ugliness thrown our way, the beautiful thing is that we have chosen to show up and show out for ourselves no matter what. Still, we rise.