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The best part about working from home is fewer microaggressions

As a Black woman, my commute is often exhausting—and not because of the distance I travel to my office.

The best part about working from home is fewer microaggressions
[Photo: Corey Agopian/Unsplash]

There it was. The fateful announcement. Shelter-in-place until the end of March.

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Woo-hoo! That is what I exclaimed to myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was worried about how the virus would affect those I love. I went on a texting spree asking family members if they were well. But I also began to think about the ways in which working from home would improve my daily life.

One: No need for an extra getting-ready routine. Hello T-shirts!

Two: Skipping my normal commute from Oakland to San Francisco means adding three uninterrupted hours back to my day to direct toward growing my coaching business.

And last but certainly not least: As a Black woman, working from home means conserving mental and physical energy that I typically waste dealing with microaggressions—those casual, but extremely harmful behaviors often directed toward people of color.

I most commonly experience microaggressions during my daily commute. These behaviors have included people:

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  • Staying on their front porch as they see me “approach” on the sidewalk.
  • Returning to check the door again to ensure it’s locked.
  • Clutching their purse as they walk by.
  • Checking their pockets for their phone and wallet to confirm it’s still there.
  • Crossing the street.
  • Keeping their distance at a crosswalk light. (This one is really subtle.)

But in all these examples, all that is seen and compared is the color of my skin. Clearly intimidating. 

A six-foot, somewhat burly white man made this extremely obvious as I was walking by him and his two friends one pleasant day, rushing to catch the train.

The three of them crossed my path. As they stepped out in front of me from where they had parked, he saw me, and then turned to his friends, “Did you grab everything from the car? Did we lock it?”

His friends, a couple, turned to him, confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, you know, don’t want any break-ins.” He nodded behind them at me.

Yep, that’s life in the Bay Area. Eight and a half years, and it doesn’t get any better. And unfortunately, it does not fade away, nor have I become numb. The impact of the seemingly harmless microaggressions simply build on each other. Will I ever be able to truly call these neighborhoods home? Likely not.

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Unfortunately, I have traveled to different cities around the U.S. and around the world, and experienced this. And this is not just white people. I have experienced the same actions from Latinx people and the East Asian community.

Here’s the thing: a seven-minute walk in hot blazing sun in the middle of the day, and this nonsense. A 10-minute walk during a cool morning heading to work, and this nonsense. What a great start to the day.

Once you’re aware, you can’t go back. Most of my Black peers experience the same thing. Some shorter, some taller, some darker. But all the same behaviors.

“You, too?”

“Girrrrl, if I hear one more car locking . . .”

“And when they cross the street when you’re coming.”

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Who knows. Maybe the solution is to get a car. That way, I’d only have to risk microaggressions as I head to the garage. But it would also mean I’d have to spend thousands on a car in a city, risking my life on the road, struggling to find parking, and avoiding toll times.

I did not realize how much of a toll these microaggressions were having on my physical and mental well-being.”

So, yes. When they made the announcement that we were shelter-in-place mandatory, I thought about my commute.

I did not realize how much of a toll these microaggressions were having on my physical and mental well-being—three hours of being a Black woman every day on my commute. 

I mean, I knew there was an impact. My conversations with peers (white and BIPOC) would be riddled with examples, exhaustion, and an exit plan. But I still did not fully understand the true cost of these microaggressions until shelter-in-place happened. It has been like night and day.

These days, I only leave my condo every three weeks. Head to the grocery store, gather enough food for three weeks, then walk back home. Yes, it’s a heavy walk back with four bags of groceries, but it’s worth it.

I told one of my teammates at work this, and she was like “Vanessa! You have to go outside.” People think it’s because I’m concerned about the virus getting me. Nah. I limit my trips outside because I don’t want to be exhausted.

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For many BIPOC, microaggressions are not limited to our commutes. I’m lucky that my work feels like a safe zone, but for many, that’s not the case. Microaggressions happen all day long in many offices: When the security guard in the lobby asks where you’re going but lets your white coworker walk right by; when the person sharing the elevator clutches their purse; when your boss makes comments about your hair, or expects you to explain a new diversity initiative. 

At my last employer, these microaggressions were next level. I had a coworker who was from the Czech Republic. One day, she explained to one of our mutual friends that she no longer wanted to hang out with me. According to her, my talks of the racism and the microaggressions I experienced made her uncomfortable. She did not know of a solution or the right words to say. So for her, it was much easier to opt out entirely. But BIPOC don’t have that option. Microaggressions take their toll—mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Remember the group of three friends from earlier? Well, there’s more to that story. As I walked by in front of them, the other two realized their friend was referring to me, and they called him out.

“Oh my goodness, that was so racist. Why would you say that?” In that moment, they were serving as allies. I actually teared up. Then I made it to the train and breathed it all out. It’s the one glimpse of hope I hold onto, even if it was from three years ago.

So it’s nothing personal, coworkers, I just don’t want this microaggression vacation to end.


Vanessa Zamy is a high performance goal-getting coach, author, and founder of Your Vision’s Catalyst, LLC, a strategy and project management consulting firm for small businesses. She coaches aspiring entrepreneurs on how to launch their business without quitting their day job using a combination of business coaching, life coaching, and project management principles.

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