Working a regular nine-to-five has shown me what in-your-face microaggression looks like, but remote work comes with its own set of tense moments and heated words.
Although I have only been freelancing professionally for a year or so, I’ve been working on my own since 2011. Like my situation at the paint store, I’ve experienced a form of aggression (and to some extent grooming) from one of my first freelance jobs. I came upon this animation job through my alma mater’s job board. Looking back now I should have been a little wary of the situation given the job board’s track record. I remember talking to the company’s founder and going over the project. Having been burned once before, I went into the situation expecting an ordinary freelance job. I spent a few months working on this industrial video with satisfactory results. The job took a turn when I was offered a full-time position. At first, I enjoyed the prospect, but things soon soured as the founder wanted me to do things outside my skillset. My biggest warning sign came when a young lady interning for the company suddenly quit. She emailed me afterward with some frightening accounts of her time there. But by this point, I saw the writing on the wall. He started to overreach when it came to not only my work life but my personal life as well. To make things once, I had dragged my brother into the situation (something I still feel bad about till this day). Looking back now, I could see the grooming that was taking place. Isolation was definitely the next step in his plan. After some time, we got out of that situation, which was a blessing given the company closed down a year later.
But before that experience, I dealt with a fellow Black creative who took advantage of my naivety as a recent graduate. This position came days before my undergrad graduation. I was super excited about getting my name in the credits of an animated production. Like my previous account, I found this on my alma mater’s job board (see the pattern). Quickly, my dream job became a nightmare as I spent months going back and forth with this client over the direction and aesthetic of the project. One of my pet peeves as a freelancer are clients who give me “creative freedom” with stipulations developing in the process. The whole back-and-forth led to an email filled with anger, gaslighting, and condescension. It led to self-doubt and anger about my animation skills to bubble to the surface. My anger turned to motivation as I finished the project with simple animation and went on my way (with only half of the funds promised). The saddest part for me was that I never quite recovered from that experience.
Fast forward to 2018 where I interned for a well-known pop culture magazine. Like many internships, the experience had its ups and downs. I happened to be the only Black person and one of two BIPOC in the entire office. But one moment stood out to me and shown how even “allies” can show glimmers on unexpected aggression. To put everything in focus, I did overstep my bounds as an intern in promising a feature without checking with the publication. But the next thing that happened wasn’t warranted and was more of a power move than a teachable moment. I told my supervising editor about my talk with the PR for an unknown band. This led to a back-and-forth in a Slack chat where I admitted to my fault. I thought it was resolved as the band got the feature, but it wasn’t. Later on, I received an email meant as both a dressing-down and a vent session. I remembered reading the email and getting agitated and annoyed at the same. I mean if you’re going to come at somebody make sure your grammar and spelling are on point. In true Aquarius fashion, I dismissed it as another angry “White privilege” moment and went on about my day.
In summer 2019, I accepted a contract position with a well-known web publication. I admit to accepting the position more out of desperation for a job rather than journalistic integrity and money. That being said I enjoyed my time there for the most part. During my time there, I experienced various degrees of microaggression and gaslighting. During my tenure, I was one of a few BIPOC writers creating content for them with only one BIPOC editor. Having a carousel of editors with different approaches to writing led to some moments of doubt and questions about my skills as a writer. On more than one occasion, I have had side conversations that verged on condescending and demeaning towards my efforts to improve. What made the situation worse is that it was always the same three editors – two White and one BIPOC – always seemed to have a problem with me and my writing. Most of it dealt with insignificant components I was barely getting paid for. The White female editor has always been a little nasty towards me for some reason. But the later conversations were filled with everything from condescending “bro” talk about my writing to accusations of plagiarism. The amount of time and effort I put in my work didn’t yield significant returns for me. On top of the fact, that in an act of “performative activism” the lead editors tried to incentivize writers to help find BIPOC writers AFTER the Black Lives Matter movement began gaining momentum. At the moment, I’m at a crossroads when it comes to that position.
These experiences taught me what to do and not do when comes to treating your employees more like flesh-and-blood humans rather than bricks in the wall. I still have not let others’ negativity taint my perspective about being a freelancer.
Next week is back to business as usual as I return tracking my writing journey.