Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not Funny.

I work in 2 different health care systems, on Mondays I work at one (in a hospital) and then the rest of the week I work at the other (in a clinic). The one I work at on Mondays definitely has it's issues. The department has been dysfunctional since before I started 3 years ago, management isn't really interested in addressing the needs of the staff and I don't expect this to ever change. My work situation isn't ideal. I'd love to have one full-time job, preferably at the clinic that I work at during most of the week. I love my clinic. It's not without it's problems, no job is, but the environment is much more relaxed and both my managers really value the work I do and the staff.

On Monday I was at the hospital. It was the end of my day and I went into the break room (in all honesty because there as a pink box in there and I wanted something sweet). On the table in the break room a piece of paper caught my eye. It had 4 dogs on it (pre-baby I was pretty much obsessed with dogs) so that's initially why I picked it up. It was a photocopy of 4 dogs and underneath was this caption:

"This morning I went to sign my dogs up for welfare. At first the lady said, 'Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare.' So I explained to her that my dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, can't speak English and have no freaking clue who their Daddy's [sic] are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify. My dogs get their first checks on Friday."

I blinked.

I had seen this before and it had upset me. But the fact that it was sitting on the break room table in my department office really jarred me. I walked out into the office where 3 others were (one of them a manager for the home health liaisons with whom we share an office) and held it up and asked if they knew who had put it there. They replied with the name of my manager.

MY MANAGER. The person who makes decisions about our department, who has the ability to hire and fire, who does our reviews, who is the face of our department within this hospital.

I was literally shaking when I went to the phone and called her. Her main office is in another part of the hospital. I asked her if she was the one who put the "joke" on the table and she said she had. I asked her if she knew how incredibly offensive it was and she said (dripping with condescension), "I'm sorry." I again asked, "Do you understand why this is racist, classist and offensive?" Honestly at this point I think I was yelling. She replied (again dripping with condescension), "Well, I guess I can see how it could be construed that way."

"Construed that way."

Meaning it's the person who is taking offense who has the problem.
Meaning I am the one who is getting it wrong.

She then told me to just throw it away. I hung up on her.

I marched down to HR. Thankfully they were still there as it was the end of the day. I spoke with a consultant. She said she would need to speak with someone else and she would get back to me.

Our HR department (as with most HR departments) has been notoriously bad at advocating for the staff. I'm of the belief that HR is there to protect the management and that's all. They want you to think they are there for the employees but it's been my experience that they are not. That said, the person I spoke with was not the same HR person that "supported" our department in the past so I was optimistic that things would turn out better.

When I stormed out of the office on my way to HR, I did make a big stink. By that time other people had come into the office. Several people had seen the paper and not one of them had said anything about it. NOT ONE. I understand why a person of color would not feel comfortable or safe speaking out like this. Given the history of abuse in our department it really isn't safe for basically anyone to speak out because they WILL become a target, which I fully expect will happen to me. But I was disappointed that I work with so many social workers and no one else called the manager out on her bullshit. Let me say again, I understand this, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

When I was making my way home I called one of my co-workers who hadn't seen the "joke" and was explaining it to her. This co-worker in particular has had a long history of being targeted in the department. She has spoken out on numerous occasions and it has always backfired on her. She was blown away by what had happened. She was proud of me for speaking out. She was glad that I had said something.

Apparently after I left the office to go to HR, the manager came into the office, red faced, looking for the paper and was told by the admin assistant that I had taken it with me. Then she fired off a 3 sentence email:
"I am sorry that I passed on a cartoon that was insensitive, and offensive. I never intended it to be hurtful to anyone. Please accept my apology."

If you're familiar with apologies after someone has done or said something offensive, you'll know that one by heart. It almost always includes the word "intend" or "intention" and it never illustrates that the perpetrator of the offense actually understands why what they did or said was so egregious.

Needless to say this whole thing has been on my mind for the last few days. I'm incredibly saddened that this happened. I knew that management was awful but I didn't know that it was this bad. I didn't know that racism and degradation was considered okay. I didn't know that other managers would think it was acceptable.

I'm a new social worker. I graduated with my MSW in 2008 and I know how green I am. My beloved licensure supervisor called me naive at one point and I don't dispute that I am. It's only been in the last 10 years that I've really started to examine my privilege. I generally pass as white, most people wouldn't recognize me as a person of color although I identify as Filipina, so I've worked hard at examining what it means to be considered white, to have class privilege. In the last 2 years, since we decided to become a transracial family, I've really looked at myself and my world and continue to try to be the best ally possible. It is a learning process, it will go on until the day I die. It's a constant journey, the hardest one I will ever go on, but one that I cannot turn away from. Ever.

What kind of person would I be if I read that "joke" and said nothing?

How could I look at my family, both my family of origin and the family Ben and I have together, if I didn't say anything?

How could I live with myself?

It makes my last "Mindful Monday" post so much clearer. Saying nothing would make me complicit in the marginalization of my son, my family, my friends and all the people I serve as a social worker.

I don't know what's going to happen now. I know what I'd like to have happen. In a perfect world this manager would either be demoted or transferred out of our department. How could anyone trust her after that? How can she be responsible for a department, the department that provides access to free medication, transportation, housing, advocacy for other resources?

But I have a feeling that nothing is going to happen. I have a feeling that this will get swept under the rug like so many other things in our department have been. I have a scary feeling that I will not get as many shifts as I have been getting, that somehow they will edge me out of the department. If that happens I'm prepared to contact as many people in the organization as possible. I'll send a memo (as suggested by Resistance) with the "joke" as an attachment. I'll send it to every manager that I can find, every higher-up I can think of. I'll send it to every local paper, explaining that this is what a major hospital in Portland thinks is okay, that this is how this hospital views it's patients.

But for right now, I'll wait and see.


Anonymous said...

I am SO sorry you are having to fight this battle. On the other hand - I think you can really win. This is unacceptable in any corporate environment, but especially considering your clientele. And, you are in PDX. If you can stay super calm (never easy for me) and make a professional PR plan about what you want to have happen next, the employers' hand will be forced to deal with the manager. Yes, you may lose shifts and even your job - I know nothing about the law and how it protects "whistle blowers" or if this even qualifies for that category. But I do know PR. And I do know if would be easy to take this public so that the organization was forced to reply publicly.
Good luck.

Melanie said...

I may need to pick your brain then. I'm pretty reactionary, I think that comes with being so green. But I am fully prepared to go as far as I need to. They're an organization that has a serious mission statement about helping those in need so this would not look very good for them at all.

Smiths said...

I admire your strength Melanie. And so many other qualities you have. You are an example to me. Thank you.