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“As a black woman you need to work twice as hard,” my baba said.

With that message as the foundation of my upbringing, I held my head very high in every experience such as graduating with a BS and MPH. I focused extremely hard and received the opportunity to work alongside two acclaimed, talented neurosurgeons during my academic career.

After two months of training, a patient checked in and was directed to a room. I walked in, happy because it was my first week, opened the door and smiled “Good morning! How are you? I'm Yoha—,“ but before I could finish my name the lumbar-pained patient jumped out of her chair and said "NOO, who are you? The people here don’t look like you!” There was a pause. "I mean I've never seen you," she said attempting to correct her disbelief. I walked out immediately and was completely distraught when I asked my coworkers to finish my shift. I informed administration and they offered time off. I decided to also speak to my superiors and one surgeon said to the other as I walked into the room, “She’s lucky we are here for her.”

During a writers meeting our team played a round-robin exercise to develop creativity. We each wrote in a 30-second time frame and passed our sheet of paper to the left, either devolving or evolving the collaborative storyline. Once our original sheet reached our hands our lead asked anyone to read theirs aloud. In a room full of seemingly passive writers no one volunteered so she called on a coworker who was laughing while reading to herself. In this story, a man and his dog were lost and trying to survive in a forest. The tone shifted indicating another writer who added the protagonist's journey to find a ‘bitch’ in the woods and desire to ‘bust a cap’ in someone’s ‘ass’ in search of survival supplies, the tone switched again, ‘but he then realized he was appropriating black culture’. The room erupted. I was violently panged by what the white writers, my peers, had deluded themselves to believe were characteristics of black life and language — implications of criminality and made-for-tv slang — while they celebrated in united laughter.

Being the only black person on my team, I have felt alone and unheard at times. I have experienced certain levels of dismissiveness which had left me feeling invisible and completely undervalued. In trying to prove that I too matter, my work and my contributions matter, I often found myself working long hours. The company utterly lacks diversity across the board making it difficult for me to have a confidante or a sponsorship.

It has always been in me that, as a black woman, I have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Over the years, I have had to build a level of tolerance to put up with the microaggressions and implicit biases. It’s a mental strain to continuously juggle actual work while reconciling the levels of discriminatory habits of my peers, both implicit or explicit. How liberating is it to do your job without this weight pulling you down?

My story is no different than a lot of black women who grow up in the Pacific Northwest. I was used to being the only one in my high school AP classes and my economics courses at Western Washington University. I’ve gotten all too familiar with microaggressions, questions about my hair, the clothes I wear or the music “we” listen to. I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with “Hey girl” from that white colleague who doesn’t refer to anyone else by 'girl' expect me, the only black woman on the team. However, for my survival in white spaces, I cringingly accept it and respond “Hey Karen girl.”

Once while sharing my tough academic and work experiences with my baba, he said,  “I remember many conflicts you were in as a young girl from the age of six, at that time you may not have realized what was happening, but I was aware. I made sure to educate and support you. In those moments you were learning that you needed to work twice as hard." He recalled that I asked why my hair couldn't be straight as a young child, a question I had repeated from my classmates. Privilege lives in comfort not in fear.

I remember the televised trial of George Zimmerman in the hot summer of 2013. I watched square and stiff with the sliding door open to temper the moody air. The trial framed programmatic justice, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda’s inattention toward answering the necessary question:  who was Trayvon Martin, and follow-up press conferences alight with zinging laughter. But day after day, testimony after the next, I only thought of one character — the state’s star witness and her image befitting the ghettofied construct of Black citizens.  I wrote an incomplete essay the following years. An excerpt:

In the wake of pliable due process supported by lolling knock-knock openers, a new, intimate contact had been most astounding. Defense attorney Dom West —  repetitive to no effect, irradiating in intent — made clear, nationally, a great distance between a young black woman and the American relic, which promises the safehold of unalienable rights defined by the white majoritarian gaze.  Captured on a court bench and beholden to her new mediatory role, Rachel Jeantel, nicknamed Dee Dee, stigmatized mentally deficient and branded a “stupid ghetto bitch” by commenters, unlocked a vaulted door into the Black corpus. And through her eyes — fraught with knowledge of the American specter, narrowed in signaled offense, and often covered when wrecked by grief — a reflection of the American relic glared in adjudication.

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