From a Predominately White Institution to a Predominately White World
A PWI didn’t prepare for me Corporate America like I thought it would.
I was a bit wide-eyed, trusting, and had a lack of parental guidance. I was taught you that if work hard and you keep your head down, the world would see your worth and in turn reward you. Let me tell you I am a ridiculously hard worker and I have had set-back, after set-back, after set-back, after set-back.
I’m the type of person if I don’t know something, I will learn everything in my disposal on the subject. See: makeup, styling, photography, analytics, Microsoft Office, and most recently TikTok. I watch experts, ask for study sessions with peers, reach out to people that know more than I and offer to pay for lunch or an hour. I will make a way in whatever it is I am trying to do. I attended a multitude of blogging workshops over the years before I just started writing here. This isn’t a Langston Hughes Poem, I mean life for me ain’t been no crystal stair despite the name (Get it, my name is Krystal) but I put into it what I expect to get back.
I chose to attend a PWI or rather it was chosen for me. I was excited to attend one of the best institutions in the world but from day one, it was an uphill battle. I didn’t have a support system at school. Being one of only a few minorities, I felt like we were put in competition instead of there being comradery. Looking back, I wish I would have went to a school where I could have been loved on more before I had to face this cruel world. When I tell you in most of my classes I was one of one or at most one of two minorities. I would go most of the day without seeing someone that even closely resembled me. My roommate was a white girl from high school, who the first month of us living together, went to the administration to complain I was “dirty” because I hadn’t washed my hair. We had to have a meeting to explain to her that Black hair is different and her assumptions were racist. So even at home, I didn’t have a safe place to lay my head without being judged.
Not to mention the divide of the black kids: African kids stuck together, as did the Caribbean kids, and geographically people stuck together as well, those east coast kids didn’t want to let anyone into their click. So when my first two friends at the University were guys from my old neighborhood, I thought I had hit the jackpot! Well, that happiness was short lived. They proceeded to make bets about raping me and then one of them sexually assaulted my second day on campus in front of my drunk, passed out roommate while the other covered for him. And then again sophomore year, as I was leaving a party with mutual friends, I was drug down a main hallway and assaulted in a student lounge. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly open after those experiences. This is not to say I couldn’t have been assaulted at a HBCU, but I think people might have believed me, rallied behind me even, and maybe I would have not had to face it alone. The one black professor I knew on campus, I went to him to talk about it and he suggested I brought it on myself. He brought up how I dressed and maybe if I wanted to be respected, I wouldn’t wear shorts with a body like mine. What’s interesting, they are all still on my Facebook page even though I haven’t spoken to any of them since graduation. I keep my friends close but, my enemies closer. I digress…
I had a math class where I attended every in-person class session, every study session, every office hour, and even did my homework in a group of six together. Yet, somehow they would get A’s on everything and I would get F’s. The harder I worked, the worse my grade got. When I brought it up to the head of the department, she said chalked it up to me not working hard enough and then accused me of copying the other students work. I said how could I copy if we all have the same answers because we worked together? Sigh! I got an F in a class that was mandatory for my major. That was the hardest working F I ever got! Because of that grade, I couldn’t graduate in my major after three and one-half years of study. I had to pay for classes at another University, in a new major just to graduate in four years. Why was it so important to graduate in four years? Because, I was a fourth generation college student and they had all graduated one-time and also my parent would cut me off if I took longer. I couldn’t catch a break.
This was a lesson in life that would haunt me. It didn’t matter what I did, that professor and math chair thought I didn’t belong in the math department so, I wasn’t going to pass. I could have gone to study sessions on the moon and I wasn’t going to get that math degree. It pains me sometimes that I spent three and one-half years working towards something to throw it all away. I did graduate on time with a degree in Psychology. I will say with few the Psychology classes under my belt, I am better for it as I do have a better understanding of people and their actions.
…Back to my first job, I was hired to replace the admin that was retiring. I was just happy to be employed after a year of trying out the stock market life, and it was not for me. I should have known I was in for the bullshit because on the first interview I went with my hair curly. The recruiter said oh they loved you however they just told me to tell you the next time you come in make sure your hair is combed. I got the job but, when I tell you they gave me every damn task under the sun. I worked late every single day and sure enough my first write-up came about a year in. They said I was too distracted, and I said I support 40 people with no help, what do you mean I am distracted? I went to HR and the write-up came off my record. I was up for a promotion soon after that but somehow they “forgot” and lost my paperwork as my manager retired. A new coworker was hired, and was trained to get the certificates I already had as they said to me he’s a guy so he gets it more. I should “stay in a woman’s place” I even had white female coworkers tell me I was making it hard for myself and I needed to be more like them.
After two years of work and write-ups, I was transferred to another department. When I tell you I worked for the most racist band of idiots that the company had to offer. I spent the next six years being ridiculed. They would literally sit around and make fun of my college degree and my blackness. If I was one minute late or early for lunch I was written up for not following rules. If I came in early, I was written up. If I stayed late I was written up. Also they hired new accountants who would constantly make mistakes so it was my job to clean up all their accounting work. I got physically ill from dealing with them. Weekly, I was having panic attacks and finally I had a asthma attack I couldn’t stop. I called my doctor trying to get a lunch appointment so as not to miss work and he told me to go to the emergency room. I was hospitalized for two weeks for having low-grade pneumonia and what did I come back to? You guessed it another write-up for not finishing my work before I left for “vacation.” HR was no help. They would tell me I was making the situation more difficult by complaining.
The other people that worked at the company weren’t much better. I was sexually harassed constantly. There was a guy in the mailroom that literally hide around the office and take pictures of my ass as I walked by. One day on happenstance I caught him when he forgot to switch his phone to silent, this fool was crouched down in a broom closet with a camera. The people in the mailroom wore uniforms, and the highest concentration of black people. Whenever I went to the mailroom for anything, I was often mistaken for a mailroom employee by white women and was asked to get them soft-drinks or copies or anything else. Whenever I was at the copy machine in my work wears, someone would come and ask me why their copy job was taking so long. The manager of the mailroom even spread a rumor we were sleeping together so he could get clout among the Black people. I just tried to keep my head down and get through the day. I knew every person of color in the office because there were so few of us, we would have small words in the hallway like it has to better than this, take it day by day, and a few smiles and head nods but that was all the community I could muster. My famous saying everyday “I’m just here because they pay me” and literally that’s the only reason I still showed up because why else would I deal with that.
My last six months there were the worst. My male coworker got drunk and left his work laptop in a cab and was told boys will be boys. I was written up for paperclipping a document instead of stapling it. I brought up a plan for the next quarter and was laughed at, when my coworker mansplained it, he was lauded. I finally had had enough and said he just repeated what I said and you act like you can’t hear me! My boss says in the meeting “did I have to be such a black bitch about it with all that attitude”. I walk out and speed dial HR… they tell me I misheard him and has actually making the environment more hostile. My bosses boss calls me into his office after I hang up the phone. He wants to talk to me about my future and basically says my days are numbered. He says have you thought about a career in retail. I think you would be great at folding, since you are so organized. He then tells me I am taking a job away from a qualified white person and I should be happy they hired me and I should act more grateful. At that point it just gave my coworkers free license to act a fool to me.
Some of racist things I heard were: I looked ethnic when I didn’t straighten my hair, I didn’t act Black except when angry, Trayvon Martin deserved to die because he was a gangbanger (This was the coworker who actually liked me), did I carry knives because I thought all black people carry knives, was it hard for me to learn to learn to read coming from the ghetto. Of course I would get upset, I would I was told time and time again I was over reacting to their comments. My last day, I took a mental health day because I just couldn’t take it and you guessed it, I was told to come in and I was fired on my day off… on MLK day to be exact.
The many micro aggressions: I voted for Obama so how could I be racist, I bought you a book about Lincoln freeing the slaves for Christmas, isn’t affirmative action great, aren’t you glad you were the minority hire, aren’t your people supposed to be hard workers, being written up for actually using my vacation days, and told the good employees don’t use any days. How were they able to get away with so much during my eight and one-half years employed there? It’s simple; they were just following company policy. The policies were designed to be racist. And sure there were a few minorities who managed to get an office, a decent title, a worthwhile pay check but they weren’t treated any better. As it was just a good ole boys club and how dare a smart black women try to stick her nose in the business. I should have just been a cute, dressed well, do all their work, never raise a fit, and maybe just maybe they would eventually see my worth.
I thought I was going to a prestigious school would have prepared me for anything. Meaning I would come out sharp, smart, and ready to take on the world. I thought I would learn more than my counterparts and in a few years, I would be a Vice President, or even have my own small company. Instead, I was prepared alright, prepared for a lifelong uphill battle and I don’t even think I have made it off the ground yet.
Every position thereafter has been more of the same. White men and women take credit for my ideas, tattle to bosses for every small mistake I make, lie on me, and soon or later after I am used up, I am let go for not fitting into the company culture. I want to say I realize it now. I did myself a disservice by going to a PWI. I see my Spellman sisters and Howard University Alums and how they love on each other and I am jealous! I want that! I want to be excited about Homecoming weekend and get to see people I know, love, and having a deeper understanding with. Instead I avoid alumni weekend like it’s my job. If I had it to do over again, I would not have chosen a PWI because it prepared me for the worst but, didn’t give me the best.
Microaggressions are real, and Black women are held to a different standard. Racism is at every level, and at any level is wack. Hindsight is still 20/20. Sharon Osbourne just last week told a black women she wasn’t allowed to feel when she was upset over being called out for her racist antics. Sharon was fired, but, this is the exception. In every corporate role I have had, when a white women challenged me, I was called the aggressor. They were allowed to express their thoughts no matter how racist and I had to take it. With each piling aggression I would get a file, and then I would be fired and the white woman was always promoted for the mental anguish. In the words of Elenor Roosevelt, “Well behaved women seldom make history”. Well, after my last 20 years of fighting the good fight, that must mean only one thing. I am destined for greatness.