Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

The Awful Reality of Prejudice

I loved my job as art therapist. Then racism intervened.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Jul 24th, 2016 10:15 pm
Blanche Brown. Photo courtesy of NNS.

Blanche Brown. Photo courtesy of NNS.

I am an artist who believes in the healing power of art so much so that I’m pursuing a path to become an art therapist. As part of my ongoing experience I got a job as a staff therapist working with autistic children.

My job entails working one-on-one with children in their homes. I work as part of a team of therapists and I do very intensive therapy 30 to 40 hours per week. We have permission to be in the home and the parents are told to set aside a dedicated room where we can work with the child without distractions.

I was really excited when I got my first assignment. Everything seemed to be going well; Daniel and I were connecting as we got to know each other. On a typical day I worked with Daniel on specific programs and every so often we took breaks. During breaks we really built a rapport together as we played with toys and games, ate a snack and giggled; you really have to be willing to tap into your inner child.

As part of our therapy, senior staff occasionally visited the home to check on my interaction and progress with Daniel.

After about three weeks I got a call from my manager. She said, “Blanche, bad news—the child’s parents contacted us requesting that you be removed from the team.” I was shocked. I replied, “What did I do wrong?” I was really disappointed — I mean, this is something I love — working with autistic children. Self-doubt set in and I was really hurt. The manager assured me that everything was OK, not to worry; they will find me another assignment quickly. Needless to say I couldn’t help feeling like I had failed somehow.

A few weeks later I got a call that I had been placed with another child! I was optimistic and excited about getting a new opportunity. So, I started working with Anthony getting to know him through working on his programs, playing with him — doing what I love. About one month into the new assignment, I received another call from my manager. Imagine my horror when she told me Anthony’s parents wanted me removed from the team. My manager was very apologetic and admitted she didn’t know why this was happening since the senior staff had observed me and reported that I was doing a great job.

A lot of things went through my mind as I remembered the first assignment I was pulled from. Was it because of my ethnic clothing or my dreads I was wearing at the time? As the conversation continued I faced the awful reality that the reason I was pulled from the team was because I’m black.

I asked my manager why, if I had been performing well, did she think I was taken off the team. She said the only thing she could think of was racism. So, there it was. I was being denied an opportunity to do something I loved not because I was unqualified but because of my skin color. I told my manager, “I’m glad you said it because I was thinking the same thing.” Her response was, “I know. It’s a shame, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can really do since they are the client and our customer.” So, that’s it? My employer would not stand up for me and I was left feeling oppressed — absolutely nothing would be done about it.

Now I’m in a no-win situation. What is going to happen next? What does the future hold for me? Will I get another assignment, and what would happen if I did? Why didn’t I say more to stand up for myself?

At this point I don’t know if I can face taking on another assignment.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

10 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Awful Reality of Prejudice”

  1. David Krueger says:

    Thank you for sharing. It’s obvious you have a gift and a passion for sharing that gift. The rewards you’ll receive from breaking through with a child will be worth the struggle. I hope you continue on for your sake and ours as well.


  2. Matthew Kleman says:

    My thought on this is go ahead and take another assignment. If this happens again, I would hope you could receive more specific feedback on the reason why. Your employer must have confidence in you if they are willing to keep you on board. Maybe, this was a coincidence but who knows? Whatever – I think it’s unfair to you that you are not being given a clear explanation or reason as to why you were taken off these assignments. Hang in there! Don’t give up!

  3. Speculation says:

    There is no proof of racism, just an insinuation by the writer, and/or a gut feeling.

    What a horrible OP-ED to print.

  4. me says:

    There was no racism. If these families were racist, they wouldn’t have let you work with their children for 3 and 4 weeks. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t racism, and shame on you for blaming that. Because when you use non-existent racism as your excuse, it brings skepticism to REAL instances of racism.

  5. J says:

    MPS has lots of students with disabilities who could benefit from your skills and passion. I had a volunteer come to my class weekly to so something similar. It was wonderful.

  6. Todd Spangler says:

    For your own good, you really need to press this issue and determine exactly why these two families requested this. Your manager needs to provide you with more feedback than just throwing up her hands and saying that racism is all she can think of. Objective feedback from the clients involved is required if you are to progress in this career.

    From what you describe, I think it is unlikely that racism is the actual issue, but it is certainly possible. The families may be uncomfortable with some aspect of your personality, demeanor, or technique (or even your artwork), some other issue apart from your differences in skin tone. There are a number of people I can think of who make me feel uncomfortable or who I find annoying in some way, and I think most of them are likely very good people. Almost every person that falls into this category for me happens to be white, as I am.

    An example in my case is a former friend who is a poet and whose work is well thought of by many, but in my case, I find his work to be so banal and insipid that it is actually offensive. He is a fine person, and remarkably intelligent, but I have gradually come to the conclusion that, somewhat like his poetry, our personalities are simply not compatible.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    It’s remarkable how many people know for a fact racism wasn’t an issue. They weren’t present but they know.

  8. Lamont says:

    Time to leave, your wasting your time here in Milwaukee,
    We need people like u in Chicago….come join us….forget Milwaukee!

  9. Muhammed says:

    Without fail, you have the whiterspainers jumping on her, saying there was no discrimination or racism. Milwaukee is one of the worst places to be black in America, and that is a well deserved reputation (unfortunately). Maybe, listen to her. Take her comments at face value. And hold off on commenting until letting her piece digest for an hour.

    Following the Dallas shootings, someone drove by my car and called me the N Word out the window before speeding away. All I was doing was literally driving with the windows down. When I told some white friends, their first reaction wasn’t “that’s terrible” it was “are you sure?” It’s a double slight, not addressing the actual issue while minimizing and actively rejecting my experience. Small example, but in a lot of cases, us black folks are doubted every time there is a real incident of prejudice or racism.

  10. Jason says:

    It appears to be strange to me. Maybe it is racism did they interview you before you met the children? Are you the only non white employee in the services you provide. I admit I am judgmental but based on your writings and picture you seem no threat to my child. I must admit (hypothetically)if I call for an Uber and some Rastifarian with dreadlocks or woman is wearing a hijab is my driver part of me wants to call for a new Uber but in the end I probably hop in for my ride.

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