I have a story for you and, I am sorry to say, it is not a happy one.
My son and I completed work for a BIPOC art show, at a local gallery. I submitted a self-portrait that depicts a human alien. It’s a visual representation of the alienation I experience being out in the world.
I was fired from my job at a local hospital at the end of July of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. The painting that I submitted was started when I left my old job and finished at this time, because the feeling resonates.
I feel like an alien in my skin. Always holding too much in.
As I completed this self-portrait, I processed my thoughts and feelings about my termination. I filed a grievance because I felt that I was let go unfairly.
I had been honest with them when I disclosed that I had been diagnosed with PTSD. I was having symptoms, and I tried to ask for help or accommodation.
Working in a hostile environment made this extremely difficult, but I reached out.
No help was extended.
I have been having flashbacks of the way that one of my superiors, the one who fired me, treated me. This person ignored me consistently in group conversations and social functions, and did not make any effort to get to know me. They straight asked me if I felt like I “fit in” during a meeting about my work performance.
It’s been rough. I am tired of being silent.
I picked up my son from work that evening and expressed how angry I was at realizing the way that I had been treated. I am angry at myself for being allowed to be treated this way. I don’t understand why this person behaved like that and, of course, I pull the race inquiry — they are White, I am Brown and the others in the meeting were Black.
My hope in sharing is for the seventh generation — that they get to live a better life. If this were to happen in my great grandparents’ era, the Indian Boarding school era, they could not be as free as I am to share this story.
I am telling you this because I am realizing that perhaps my safe space is in academia, with people who are willing to check themselves. I think that I have been in denial — denying that race plays a role in my professional and other relationships, since I have been outside of the academic sphere. There have been other experiences, but this one is sticking to me and I have the determination to fight it. I am trying to figure out how.
I cried while explaining to my son that my dad said I am on a different path, and that my colleagues are “on my level” in response to me explaining my imposter syndrome.
I continued to cry as I explained that I have been googling resources for general social support for Indigenous people and find nothing.
My son said that my fight isn’t for me alone, but for our people. I agreed. I know that if I don’t fight this fight, then he will have to continue. All the while, we are a few blocks away from where protests against Rochester police are happening.
I have been having my own battles for the past two years, leaving me with little resources to be involved in the big battles that are happening outside my door.
I am relaying all of this because it is heavy, it is hard, and I need to get strong enough again to do the work of building a different world.
I am not even sure what I am seeking, I am just doing what my gut is telling me to do.
Perhaps I am seeking connection?
I feel like a mess over this.
I know that I cannot be the only one going through this or something like this. My hope in sharing is for the seventh generation — that they get to live a better life. If this were to happen in my great grandparents’ era, the Indian Boarding school era, they could not be as free as I am to share this story.
So I share for my ancestors who were not allowed to speak their truth. I want them to know, along with the seventh generation and all the ones in between, that they are not forgotten.
Photograph by Kalen Fontenelle
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC