How I *Actually* Spent My Summer
Y'all don't know how long I've been waiting to write this very piece.
If you didn't know, this summer I interned at the Global Peace Foundation for their International Young Leaders Assembly. It's a partnership driven youth summit where young leaders from all around the world come to DC, New York, and Philadelphia. When I found out I actually got the internship I was really excited but slightly terrified.
I was in charge of promoting IYLA to the world, pretty much. I was a communications and global outreach intern, so I was doing all the social media and a whole bunch of graphic design work. While I'm not a graphic design major/minor, I did enjoy the work a whole lot because I took a graphic design class last spring that was ~amazing. Hands down best class I've ever taken.
While I enjoyed the work I did for GPF, I felt a little uncomfortable there throughout the summer and never felt that I could fully participate in the internship wholeheartedly.
Well, because of what happened during my first week there.
I believe it was my first day, actually. We'd just finished going out to lunch with all of the interns and were beginning to work on our respective tasks for the rest of the day. I'm, understandably, nervous, quiet, and excited to get to work. If only I knew what I was about to witness. Sigh.
Sitting right across from my desk were two white women that were considering a prospective new employee (I assume). I assume because they were looking at a resume. I'll keep their names out of this dialogue bit for privacy purposes. Now, obviously I don't remember how the conversation started exactly— it was 3 months ago. But I will include actual quotes from the conversation that I wrote down while they were talking because I knew as soon as I'd heard it that I'd be writing a piece on it as soon as the internship finished. I'll put an asterisk* by the quotes that are verbatim. Here we go. This is what they said:
White woman 1: Do you have that one girl's resume?
White woman 2: Sure, here it is.
White woman 1: *skims over resume* Shakiya? What kind of name is Shakiya?*
White woman 2: I don't know.—
White woman 1: Where is she even from? That doesn't sound American.*
White woman 2: It says she's from Baltimore—
White woman 1: Well I can see that on her resume. But who decided to name her Shakiya? Do parents think before they give their kids these names?*
White woman 2: Haha, I don't know.
Let the record show, at this point I'm like:
And I'm texting Carter and Courtney like
White woman #1 and #2 left the conversation at that.... for about an hour. I assume they actually interviewed the girl and came back for a little pow wow.
White woman 1: I don't feel like she'd make a good addition to our team.
White woman 2: She definitely didn't have a good energy about her.
White woman 1: I wouldn't hire her based on that name alone. Like, really? Shakiya?*
White woman 2: You know that's illegal right?*
White woman 1: I don't care. This is America and I can do whatever I want.*
White woman 2: But it's literally illegal in America.*
White woman 1: Whatever. *laughs*
White woman 2: *laughs*
And I'm lookin around the room like.... is anyone else hearing or seeing this right now? Have I been transported to the past where the equal employment act was never created? #HBOConfederate
(As a matter of fact, my entire existence at GPF perfectly mirrored Issa Rae in Insecure.)
And nobody said ANYTHING! Really y'all?
That incident set a tone of anti-blackness that I could never really get over. I was the only black woman intern at GPF and I certainly felt it. In one instance during a lunch and learn, I had a white woman presenter stop her lecture to ask me, specifically, to clarify:
"Is it a band called 50 cent? Or is it a person? I'm not sure."
Now what am I supposed to say to that? She stopped her lecture and was waiting for me to answer her. I literally just stared at her until someone answered her question.
Outside of that, I had a lot of people asking questions about my hair, fully expecting me to educate them on black hair and all its inner machinations. I have a blog to do that for me, which I suggested they read. They didn't.
I had a coworker INSIST that my hair was short and wouldn't believe otherwise until I pulled it down to show her what shrinkage looks like.
But I didn't want to! I'm in a professional setting, I just want to do my work and leave. Leave me alone!
I told my internship professor at UMD about all of this, and she told me that if I wanted to I could end the internship and still recieve credit for it, and that the university and the department of communication would not want me staying in an environment like that for the sake of a few credits. But after talking with my boyfriend and my parents I decided to stay for the whole summer and just tough it out.
Despite actually enjoying my work at GPF and supporting the overall mission, I just felt very held back in many instances because of this fear I had of fulfilling or rejecting stereotypes they may have associated with me.
So that's how I actually spent my summer. It was a textbook example of microaggressions in the workplace that were there to let me know that I'm different from everyone else, and it ain't a good thing.
But when people ask, "Oh how was your internship?" I just say, "Great." because Lord knows I don't want to get into it. I'm glad I had the experience but I'm also glad it's over.
So that was my summer.
Oh—and I also spilled an entire cup of coffee on my laptop and set my hair on fire.
Tune in next week!