Ex Fabula Fellow Blanche Brown originally shared this story at “Race in the Workplace,” an event last spring. Ex Fabula Fellows tell personal stories to inspire community-led dialogue around some of the most pressing issues in the Greater Milwaukee area — segregation, and economic and racial inequality.
I am an artist who believes in the healing power of art so much so that I’m pursuing a path to become an art therapist. As part of my ongoing experience I got a job as a staff therapist working with autistic children.
My job entails working one-on-one with children in their homes. I work as part of a team of therapists and I do very intensive therapy 30 to 40 hours per week. We have permission to be in the home and the parents are told to set aside a dedicated room where we can work with the child without distractions.
I was really excited when I got my first assignment. Everything seemed to be going well; Daniel and I were connecting as we got to know each other. On a typical day I worked with Daniel on specific programs and every so often we took breaks. During breaks we really built a rapport together as we played with toys and games, ate a snack and giggled; you really have to be willing to tap into your inner child.
As part of our therapy, senior staff occasionally visited the home to check on my interaction and progress with Daniel.
After about three weeks I got a call from my manager. She said, “Blanche, bad news—the child’s parents contacted us requesting that you be removed from the team.” I was shocked. I replied, “What did I do wrong?” I was really disappointed — I mean, this is something I love — working with autistic children. Self-doubt set in and I was really hurt. The manager assured me that everything was OK, not to worry; they will find me another assignment quickly. Needless to say I couldn’t help feeling like I had failed somehow.
A few weeks later I got a call that I had been placed with another child! I was optimistic and excited about getting a new opportunity. So, I started working with Anthony getting to know him through working on his programs, playing with him — doing what I love. About one month into the new assignment, I received another call from my manager. Imagine my horror when she told me Anthony’s parents wanted me removed from the team. My manager was very apologetic and admitted she didn’t know why this was happening since the senior staff had observed me and reported that I was doing a great job.
A lot of things went through my mind as I remembered the first assignment I was pulled from. Was it because of my ethnic clothing or my dreads I was wearing at the time? As the conversation continued I faced the awful reality that the reason I was pulled from the team was because I’m black.
I asked my manager why, if I had been performing well, did she think I was taken off the team. She said the only thing she could think of was racism. So, there it was. I was being denied an opportunity to do something I loved not because I was unqualified but because of my skin color. I told my manager, “I’m glad you said it because I was thinking the same thing.” Her response was, “I know. It’s a shame, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can really do since they are the client and our customer.” So, that’s it? My employer would not stand up for me and I was left feeling oppressed — absolutely nothing would be done about it.
Now I’m in a no-win situation. What is going to happen next? What does the future hold for me? Will I get another assignment, and what would happen if I did? Why didn’t I say more to stand up for myself?
At this point I don’t know if I can face taking on another assignment.