After US shelter-in-place mandates sent millions of employees home, many Black women found themselves navigating their workdays free of the usual micro-and macroaggressions that followed them at their predominantly White workplaces.
Last year, an Essence Magazine study found that 45% of Black women felt the workplace was where they most often experienced racism, subsequently facing mental health issues as a result.
Lachi isn’t surprised by these findings. She doubly understands the challenge of workplace cultural discomfort as not only a Black woman but a person with a disability. Before branching off to pursue her career in music full time, the talented artist, who is also blind worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City. She said the traumatic experience made her realize she could never work in a corporate setting again.
“I don’t speak publicly much about my pre-artist career, my days at the office, namely because of the trauma with which I left,” she told Essence. “While I actually loved the job itself, as desk-job-excel-sheet-y as it was, I struggled with toeing the line between demanding respect and being perceived as ‘aggressive’ or requesting accommodations and being perceived as a ‘burden’ on a weekly basis.”
Among many other microaggressions, she recalled one of the most hurtful incidents that left her reeling in the workplace because of miscommunication with her boss.
“This one is the hardest to relive,” Lachi said.
She shared she was forced to write an apology letter despite her White male manager using derogatory language towards her after taking issue with how she handled an inter-office issue with another colleague with a disability.
“I sent him an email stating that while I understand he is older and more senior than me, I don’t believe I deserved to be spoken to that way and hope we can resolve things.”
Two hours later, she was the one asked to apologize by HR for perpetuating ageism.
“The chief EEO officer let me know the coworker complained that I’d been ageist by calling him “older” and that I needed to write him an apology and cc in the EEO office and my direct chiefs,” Lachi recounted. “I told her the circumstances of the incident, and the response was, ‘I can draft the apology for you.’ So me, a black entry-level woman with a disability, wrote an official apology letter to a senior-level white male as directed by the EEO office because I dared to politely stand up.”
She said her naturally confident personality was interpreted as aggressive so often by a few of her white co-workers, she started to question her own voice.
“After some time working in the role, I texted one of my girlfriends ‘how do I, as a black woman, advocate for myself to white executives without coming off as aggressive,’” Lachi said. Her friend wrote back, “Change ‘white executives’ to ‘anyone’ and you got yourself the perfect riddle.”
That text changed the trajectory of her career forever. It was at that moment she decided to demand better for herself.
“As most Black women know, especially Black women with disabilities, holding in our innate ambitious drives, keeping silent about our self-worth and competence, it can only last but for so long,” Lachi told Essence. “As I’d been touring with my music on weekends and PTO days, I was already well in with a host of music moguls. And I remember complaining about work to one and them saying, ‘you’re not making enough money there to be miserable. May as well do something you love.”’
She said she turned in her resignation notice shortly after and focused on building her music career as well as intersectional equity, two passions of hers.
“I love being a recording artist, but it turns out what I really love, my true path, is being an artist advocate for other people with disabilities, especially those in the race and gender intersection,” she said.
Now, apart from sitting on the Recording Academy Advocacy committee, Lachi is also a proud advocate for all government agencies and regularly conducts Disability and Disability-Intersectional Etiquette training sessions. Since striking out on her own, she’s not only happier but earning the pay she deserves.
Along with her musical work, she’s deepening her disability rights advocacy by partnering with RAMPD.org, a coalition for recording artists with disabilities. “As I explore the badassery of disability through a YouTube Series, I am meeting the most incredible peers and colleagues,” she shares.
She said she realized that Black women creators with disabilities are strong, critical thinkers and outside-the-box problem solvers with ambitious goals. They just have to believe it.
“It takes time but has lasting effects, and the first step to true self-advocacy is the self-confidence needed to stand up.”