The toxic work environment was widdling at my resilience, changing me in ways I hadn’t expected. I realized it was going to change me before I could make any marked differences, so I left while I still recognized pieces of myself. There had been a history of pregnant microagressions, from policing my hair and tone, telling me I was too fat for certain clothes, taking items from my desk, and dismissing my claims of a necessity for race equity training.
Early August 2018. In my work mailbox there was a folded up piece of printer paper pushed into the back of the box and folded into almost a bite size piece. The note itself I couldn’t swallow. Typed, with my name misspelled at the top, it accused me of being a transgender female and insinuated they had been watching my comings and goings in the morning when I arrived to determine the truth.
My stomach dropped to pits I didn’t know it could reach. Being cisgender, I wasn’t going to claim I knew the struggles the transgender community faced, but this person thought I was and thought there was something wrong with me because of it. My already anxious mind went into overdrive, and the tornadoes in my head were creeping back. How many black folk had been persecuted, murdered, how many communities pillaged because of assumptions made about their physical bodies/skin? Also, why the fuck was someone watching me?
As the IT guy was consulted about our computers, I took time off to lay in bed, stare at the walls, and berate myself for not being “stronger.” (If it’s not obvious, that’s not a healthy coping mechanism but was a clue into signs I was ignoring about my mental health).
A week and a half later I return, arrive early and repeat Kendrick in my head. We gon be alright. Doyouhearme doyoufeelme we gon be alright. Under my legal pad was another piece of printer paper, again into a bite sized bit masking what was inside. Typed and folded similarly to the first, the note said (TRIGGER WARNING)
Nigger, nigger, nigger.
Get the strap and the lynching.
Nigger tranny whale
Forget stomach drops. I started hyperventilating, screaming internally, and looking for somewhere to hide. I felt small. I felt like my having the audacity to exist was going to end with a rope and bulged eyes.
Police were called, statements given, walk throughs done to show how it had to have been a coworker, managers told. The mailboxes aren’t accessible to the public, and someone who didn’t work there wouldn’t be able to reach my desk without being stopped and directed elsewhere. I had a glimmer of hope when a detective mentioned hate crimes, but ultimately no further action was taken after I said I wanted to wait and see what became of a workplace investigation and suggestions surrounding safety.
For 2 months, I continued to go into work every day, barfing before I got there, a constantly fast beating heart that soon felt normal, unable to keep food down, and surveying my surroundings with hyper vigilance. Unfocused, uncertain and terrified to piss anyone off, I questioned myself for 8 hours a day before going home and wondering why the walls felt suffocating. How did I navigate a country founded on anti blackness and structural oppression, knowing that this prejudice had crept down to someone I saw at least 40 hours a week and rubbed elbows with in the break room. How violent was their hate? Was today the day? Most coworkers didn’t know what had happened, including the sprinkling of other staff of color- where they in some sort of jeopardy too?
Slowly, I became a shadow of myself. Isolated, hair uncombed, showers optional, and the unasked questions swirling around in my head were taking over. As supervisors stared at me with looks of concern I’ll assume were genuine and offered to bake me cookies, I avoided eye contact and wondered why no one had yet to mention an internal investigation. Was there one going on? What was I missing?
The questions piled up and the answers were few and far in between. All I knew for sure was IT couldn’t determine whether or not it was printed at work. Like 5 year old me, I assumed I was wrong and it wasn’t that big a deal. But I couldn’t shake the terror that consumed me.
The microagressions had been happening for the 3 and a half years I had worked there, but the 2 months following the notes started to mold me into someone I didn’t recognize, from the hollow eyes to the constant wondering if it was a “real” death threat. This wasn’t me. I eventually went to a new job, deleted my old colleagues’ numbers. Sometimes I still wonder, who did it? Did they really want me dead?