The Weight of The Last Straw
It was a little passive aggressive. Slightly rude. Unnecessary coming from a woman in her position. It was the type of comment that I have been reading, hearing, cringing at and then ignoring my entire adult life.
Except I’m finished with that, now.
I used to volunteer for a wonderful organization dedicated to a cause I care deeply about. It is full of women who have inspired me and helped me heal. I don’t work there anymore.
The last straw came on an exciting day. Tickets to our national conference were on sale and my little corner of the internet was all abuzz. It made up for the seven micro-aggressions I’d had to deal with so far this week (Yes, I count them). And then came number eight. It came from the CEO of the organization in the form of a passive aggressive comment on a Facebook post.
Why did it hit me like that? Why was THIS the one?
I am used to blatant racism, after all I live in Charleston, SC. I’m used to my family being murdered while at prayer and giving tourists directions using the names of men who enslaved my great-great- grandparents. The huge injustices live next door to the small and they all work on your soul.
And so I have curated my online spaces. About half of my list of ‘friends’ on each social media platform got purged after the election. I no longer agree to disagree with people on my humanity. Two friends and I set up a rule — no more white women for 2017. We are not accepting friend requests online or in real life. We don’t have the energy required to vet people and then wait for the other shoe to drop.
Yet, I have been naive about this particular space from the beginning. I’ve been blindsided there by ‘friends’ who indulge racist grandparents and those who just don’t want to talk about politics anymore. Because we share a particular life experience I have kept my blinders firmly in place and tried to fit my square peg into their round hole.
And so when this happened — this annoying moment, this small and mean power play, I thought about rolling my eyes and ignoring it. I thought about the week this woman had had. I thought about the stress she was under. I thought about this amazing thing she had wrought from an agonizing experience. I thought about her power, and the small role I had as a contractor for them on another project. I thought about the money from that 5 hours a week. It was one dollar more than I paid my babysitter, but if I did the work for them at night after my children were asleep it allowed us to pay for a babysitter so that I could work during the day to create my business. I thought about the women in the group I volunteer to run and how I adore them. I weighed all of that against my self respect.
Speak to her privately, my training in business said. My father has a Master’s Degree in Management, but I didn’t need to call for his advice. Swallow it, she’s the boss. Or speak to her privately. Write out what you are going to say so that it will be precise, measured.
Nevermind that she called me out in a public forum.
I talked it through with my partner. At first his advice echoed my own, and my father’s. And then my back broke and the tears came. It isn’t about her, I said. Or it isn’t only about her. It is about every woman who has done this to me for years. It’s about all the women online who pull shit like this all the time, get called out privately for it, apologize publicly and then look even more amazing, even more honest and caring and real. They end up with book deals and sold out speaking tours.
It’s about the women in Whole Foods who don’t think my daughter is mine because she has blue eyes, it’s about the woman in the pick up line who blocked my way for twenty minutes while she had a conversation with another parent — after looking directly into my eyes. It’s about the fact that I didn’t get out of the car and say anything because he is the only black child at that school and I was NOT going to have my son be the kid of the angry black woman. It’s about the women online who just want to go back to pictures of puppies or kittens and who ‘just aren’t political’. It’s about the ones who cry when you call them out on anything. It’s about the fact that it never occurred to hundreds of thousands of women who marched last month that all pussies aren’t pink. It’s about the fact that I called the token black member of the staff and asked her to raise the issue and STILL nothing happened. One of the few black volunteers called the only black staff member and got no response from an organization trying to reach out to ‘all’ women.
I am constantly asked to consider the full humanity and emotional circumstances of women who are never asked to consider mine. If they do it at all it is magnanimously. I have to do it to survive.
This small thing. The fact that it never occurred to her to simply ask me a question. The fact that she made the comment on a post with my name on it in a group I am the admin of and then denied that she was speaking about me. The fact that even after it was brought up she felt no need to reach out to me. The fact that even as I was hurt and angry I rushed to do her bidding. The fact that I questioned whether or not to say anything at all and then agonized over whether to stand up for myself publicly. The fact that I weighed my self respect at all.
And so I am walking away. From an organization I believe is important. From a group of women I adore. From the chance to submit a proposal to speak at the conference. From possible future endorsements of my business. From the five hours of work a week. From the work. From the access. From the feeling of being important, special, a part of something.
Because when my back broke I found the strength to stand up and say, “Stop”. I will not be spoken to or about like that. I will not. Someone else can spend 20 hours a week curating that community for free and someone else can have the five hours a week of pay. I will give up the babysitter.
I have no illusions that by writing this so publicly I am not bombing bridges to smithereens. But I stopped for a moment and weighed my self respect. The fact that I did so disgusts me.
It was a small comment. It was nothing. How much does a piece of straw weigh?