For all my badass ladies.
Image management is something I work on everyday. I recently learned that I am thrown “off-center” when my experiences do not always coincide with the images I made for myself. Simply put, I don’t live up to my own self-images. This can cause bad days. However, other factors do contribute to my “off-centerness.” And, when I am off-center, then I have bad days.
As I continue down my path of being a working professional, I realized that my public defender image is very important to me. It’s a large part of my essence. I am terrified of making mistakes and not making the right decisions for my clients. I also struggle with drawing the line between helping my clients and standing up for myself. So, when I believe that someone thinks I am not a good public defender, my mental health can’t take it. My anxiety increases. I don’t meditate, I attempt to distract myself, or my mind focuses too much on the event that pissed me off. I simply forget how to take care of myself because my anxiety overwhelms me.
However, some people will never see me as a good public defender for deeply rooted biases. I cannot control that no matter what I do. (If nothing I do matters, then all that matters is what I do.) As a woman of color (don’t you dare roll your eyes at me, this is a large part of who I am and will fucking write about it as much as I want), I’m expected to conform with my stereotypes such as weak or angry (the latter applies more to Black women than to South Asian women). When I exceed those stereotypes, such as being competent and confident, I am met with hostility and quiet rage.
I cannot control how people perceive me. I naturally assumed that people will like me because I am nice, smart, and sensitive. I don’t intend any of my actions to harm anyone. But, when someone cannot look past my race and gender, I can’t do anything to change that person’s perception. Even when I am not at fault, I am lectured about being incompetent. It is like, “well, this white man can’t be wrong so it must be the brown woman I gently bully until I feel better about myself.”
Any time someone lashes out at me, I have the following thoughts:
Men are too emotional to hold any positions of power.
See, this is why we need more intersectional leaders
When you start a phrase with “no offense to Ms. Srivastava,” how do you expect me to take it?
How do you think this interaction is going?
Is this over yet? No, still going?
All I said was, “good morning.” How am I rude?
No, you idiot, you can’t do that or say that to me. Really? Still going?
Do you hear yourself speak?
I wonder how Michelle Obama would react.
I should totally buy that tinted foundation Meghan Markles wears. Should she run for President?
Jeez, he’s still lecturing me as though I am incompetent.
Is this the first time he’s ever spoken to a woman before?
Tell me something: were you born with a tiny penis or does it shrink every time you interact with a woman?
Should I write a book?
Wait, is he mad at me for doing my job properly? Again…
Why are you like this man?
Go fuck yourself. Wait, can’t say that out loud. Good thing electronic print is forever!
Get a therapist! That’s better. Maybe I should say that out loud. Nah. I don’t have the emotional capacity to drag this out.
Now, I can’t say any of those out loud without getting yelled at by fragile men. But, what I can do? When dealing with fragile white male egos, I turn to the expert: my mother. As I vented over the phone, I could imagine a soft smile coming across her face. (Finally, she must be thinking, I am not alone in this.) She listens carefully as I vent then waits until I am done crying to advise me.
“Beta,” she says softly, “women of color make men feel insecure. If they lash out, then it shows their weakness. When they see us doing our jobs beautifully and zealously, they feel threatened by not us – but their own problems. Problems that they have placed upon themselves. It is completely unfair that we have to adjust to their insecurities. But, I will say this. You are strong and compassionate. That is why Durga-Ma made you an attorney. You fight for people and for the right thing.”
When I see white men lash out at me, I think about what my mom said about their problems. (How sad are their lives?) Lashing out is a form of expression. It demonstrates frustration with those around us and, quite frankly, ourselves. Unfortunately, lashing out is a short cure to feeling better about yourself. It’s like a drug. You may use drugs for short term relief because it instantly makes you feel better. But, the effects are only temporary. It doesn’t cure you. Yet, you can’t stop using it as a solution. Eventually, you use it so much that you’re convinced that it’s the only solution.
Delusional by this thought, you believe you’re perfect and the world is out to get you. You start to see your lashing out as strength, not an obvious weakness. And, when anyone points out you need help, you get angry and frustrated to the point where you can’t even comprehend the thought. All of sudden, your rationality is gone. Simply put, continuous lashing out makes you a lost cause. Also, the only person who can fix you, unfortunately, is you. No one can make you change unless you want to change. So, we have to deal with your lashing out and its consequences.
I am not here to make you sympathize with white men problems. That is Hollywood’s job! Rather, it’s important to understand this behavior. However, marginalized groups are forced to adapt to this bad behavior. They are never allowed to show their perfectly valid frustrations. We are forced to be better by learning how to channel that energy into something productive. By doing such we are more aware of our emotions, the cause of them, and how to handle them. (Something that “those who lash out” may never learn. This is why we need more intersectional leaders.)
By understanding those who lash out and by figuring out how to deal with my image issues, I can cope with the bad days. I find myself not miserable, but chilling with my dogs and dancing to Bollywood music until my legs get tired. When white men lash out, they want to control you. They want to remind you that you’re beneath them. It’s all about power. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that they’re doing it., They see nothing wrong with their behavior. It’s easier for everyone if they learn how to be better people: learn to understand and channel their emotions then unlearn internalized bias. But, like I said earlier, they won’t change unless they want to. Rather, unless they are inspired to change.
Daily reminders that your mind is important will help you cope with the bad days. Take care of yourself and each other. Be mindful. Be kind. And don’t tolerate bullshit.
That’s all for now! I only share so people like me feel less alone.