As a Black woman in a rural, mostly white, and red state, I worry about racism regularly. These fears were particularly present during the years I spent working in a traditional office workplace.
After graduating from college, I regularly applied to multiple open positions at a time. But I wasn’t able to even get a call back until I started applying for temp work. Even then, I was tasked with only menial work like scanning documents. It was frustrating, and it was hard not to question the involvement of racial and gender bias.
And my fears extended well past what I was tasked with into how I presented myself. Was it ok to wear my natural hairstyles and afro in the workplace? And even if there were no formal suggestions that my hair was “unprofessional,” did I run the risk of being perceived as a “distraction” as my coworkers spent much of the day staring, asking questions about, and at worst touching my hair?
Even when intentions weren’t malicious, I couldn’t help but feel out of place as the only Black person in white spaces. To make matters worse, it seemed impossible for me to get hired for anything beyond clerical work – and I didn’t go into tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to be locked into just paperwork.
Pregnancy just heightened my anxieties, and childcare became another major worry.
I wasn’t sure who I could find, let alone trust, to watch my Black son. Research has no shortage of documentation chronicling the ways little Black children have their childhoods stolen by anti-black bias and racism – even in preschools, a place that we imagine should be safe and nurturing for all children.
I needed a way to avoid the emotional impact of constant microaggressions, protect my son from indoctrination into a racist society, and push past the glass ceiling. And, of course, another significant factor was our status as a military family. To avoid being alone with my kids when my husband travels for work, I often take my kids to visit my family out of state. This made contract-based childcare impractical.
After my son was born, I worked part-time in a clerical position that was okay with me bringing him to work with me. But as he got more mobile, this arrangement was no longer feasible. Babies and clerical work don’t always mix – neither phone calls nor the wires were baby-friendly – and my boss told me that the arrangement couldn’t continue and I’d need to find childcare – but that was something we still couldn’t afford.
If I was going to find the perfect career, I’d have to create it myself.
My family was struggling, my marriage was strained, it was all a lot. And though no circumstance was perfect, working from home seemed like the best option. I thought flex work might be a good fit, and I had the education and credentials, but rural America simply has limited flex work options.
If I was going to find the perfect career, I’d have to create it myself. I decided writing would be my way out. My husband gave me the space to give it a try, though it would be months before I made my first dollar. But when I did, I knew it was possible to help my family, even if it was only a little.
I learned to work around my son’s sleep schedule. The fruits were low, but the freedom was priceless. I couldn’t believe that I could replace small portions of my income and still have the chance to take walks with my son during traditional work hours.
Each month, I was able to contribute slightly more to our family’s income. First, I made enough to cover my car payment. Then, I learned to find gigs that could allow me to contribute to the grocery bill and later the utility bills. I didn’t feel like a burden anymore and eventually, I exceeded the income of my prior part-time job.
Things got harder when we found out I was pregnant with our second child. I wouldn’t have paid parental leave, but had I not worked from home, I have no idea how I would have dealt with my severe nausea, debilitating depression, and month-long work trip my husband took during my first trimester. Working from home saved me when I needed to take a break from it all and leave the state for a week to preserve my mental health. And it was there for me when I needed to recover from retained placenta during my second pregnancy. Years later, those health scares are the foundation of my current career as someone who primarily writes about health disparities.
Working from home isn’t perfect. It’s hard to be fully present for my children and my work simultaneously. I may be tired, but my newfound sense of control and limited exposure to racial bias, gender stereotypes, and inflexible schedules make it all worth it.
About the author:
Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a writer who specializes in sociology, health, and parenting. Her work has appeared in Healthline, Yes! Magazine, HuffPost, Allure, and many other publications. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or check out her website.