Plus, 24 examples of microaggressions
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Good morning and happy Monday! This month we’re focusing on the topic of discrimination and adversity. Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing stories from Iowa women who have experienced discrimination in and outside of the workplace.

Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s newsletter:

Have a great week!

– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

‘I had to conform to another way of living in order to get ahead’
Photo by Emily Blobaum.
Bopha Mom-Baccam has been a Re/Max real estate agent for two years alongside her husband, Sullivan. This interview, which has been formatted to be entirely in her own words, has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In the real estate world, there’s not a lot of minorities. My husband was a real estate agent before me. I remember him saying that he felt weird going to networking events because everyone had their own groups. He said, “I don’t know where I fit in. I’m the only Asian person and I look like a kid. I feel like no one takes me seriously.”

All of a sudden he stopped going into the office and I asked why he was working from home and he said, “It’s not welcoming. I can’t wait for you to be an agent, too.”

Representation truly matters. We’re constantly educating our own kind about how real estate works. When I go meet with my Asian clients, when they’re talking to me about what they want in a home, I understand it. I can put myself in their shoes.

People are always surprised to know that I grew up the way I did and grew up experiencing prejudice and racism, because they only see who I am now. They didn’t see the struggle I went through.

My parents immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in December of 1981. I’m the youngest of eight children. The first five are closer in age and then the last three of us are closer in age. My oldest sibling is 26 years older than I am. I am the only one who was born in America; everyone else was born back in Cambodia. So for me growing up, I didn’t know the back history of my family. I would hear stories, but all I heard as a little girl was that I was privileged and that I had opportunities that my siblings did not have.

I grew up in a very strict household. Being a girl in an Asian family, there’s a lot of high standards that they want you to meet. Our thoughts and our opinions ... none of that mattered to our families. So growing up an American and also having values of an immigrant, it was very hard for me to balance. I can speak my native language even though I was born here. My parents didn’t allow us to speak English at home because they said that we’re going to be speaking English for the rest of our lives. My dad was really fearful that we were going to lose our language. When I got to kindergarten, I remember not understanding a single word of English. They put me in an ESL class where there were other Asian kids. I remember being confused because they looked like me, but I didn’t understand any of what they were saying.

We lived in a rougher neighborhood of Des Moines. Most kids in our neighborhood growing up would play outside and ride their bikes. We could not do that. We had neighbors that hated us because we were Asian. I remember having to call the cops multiple times a week because kids in the neighborhood would throw bricks at my parents.

Most of the kids at the bus stop either did not know any Asians or had never seen them. They called us chinks and gooks. I had never even heard of those words. I didn’t know what they meant. I remember a girl saying to me, “Do you have a staring problem?” I had nowhere else to look but her. I started crying and she started yelling at me. Every day at the bus stop was so bad. On our way home one day four boys came up to my brother and I and started pushing us. I of course started crying, but my brother fought them off. I remember thinking that we couldn’t tell our mom and dad because parents in Asian families teach you not to be confrontational. They teach you to move on.  

I didn’t tell my mom that story until five years ago. She had no idea what we went through as kids. When I would see my American friends’ parents come to the office and speak up for their kids, I would think about how my parents couldn’t do that. That made me feel sad, especially now that I’m an adult and have kids. If my kids came to me and said that they were experiencing what I had experienced, I would have been there in a heartbeat. But my parents were working multiple jobs. They wouldn’t have been able to take off time. They were always so fearful of losing their job.

I didn’t want to be Asian. I went to school with all Caucasians and African Americans. Their families ran very differently than mine. I got a taste of it by convincing my dad to let me go to a birthday party in fifth grade. It was the first time in my life that I saw another family outside of my own. When I went to my friend’s house, I remember thinking, “Wow, their parents let them do so many things.” I had to babysit my nieces and nephews, clean and cook. Back then, I hated it. I always thought I was being robbed of my childhood.

I was very ashamed. I was ashamed of coming from a huge family because all of my friends had either two or three siblings, or were an only child. I would lie and say that I only had two brothers. I wouldn’t count the first five of my siblings because I didn’t want to have to explain to people that they were my siblings.

I also remember wanting my parents to be divorced, even though I didn’t know what it meant at that time. My friends would always ask me what I was doing on the weekends. I was always doing the same thing, being with my family and babysitting. My friends would say that they were either going to their mom’s or their dad’s house. I saw the tricks that my friends played on their parents, where if one parent said no, they’d just go to the other. My mom was way stricter than my dad, so I used to always say, “Gosh, I wish she’d get a divorce so I can go to my mom’s one weekend then go to my dad’s.”

My mom had me when she was 43. My dad was 47. Sometimes I would tell people that my sister was my mom because when they would pick me up, they would ask if my dad was my grandpa. I was embarrassed of my whole childhood.

I wanted to be [white] so bad. I started dying my hair blond when I was 14. I wanted blue eyes, so I wore blue contacts. I just wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to be an outcast. I remember my mom telling me, “You’re so pretty with your black hair.” But I didn’t understand what she was talking about.

The moment I stopped dying my hair was when my now-husband, who is also Asian, asked me, “Why do you dye your hair like that? Your hair feels like straw.” I thought that he liked my hair blond because he had only dated Caucasian girls before me. I stopped wearing blue contacts after watching the Kardashians. I thought to myself, “They have brown eyes and they look gorgeous. I’m going to try it.”

I think that if I didn’t conform to the American culture, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I took my parents’ advice and did things the Asian way, where you just go to work, don’t use your sick days and work like crazy, I would be stuck in the same cycle. I have tried new opportunities. I’ve started businesses. I’ve failed and I’ve also succeeded. In the American culture, they want you to take risks. I had to conform to another way of living in order to get ahead.

24 examples of microaggressions that Iowans have experienced
Discriminatory actions and comments are often clear and apparent. But it’s also important to address the seemingly smaller, daily instances of comments that showcase biases known as microaggressions.

Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, defines microaggressions as “the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”

While microaggressions may seem harmless, research shows that repeated instances can have consequences such as decreases in mental health and confidence, the perpetuation of stereotypes and the creation of hostile work environments.

The following are select instances of microaggressions that respondents detailed in the 2021 Fearless survey on women’s and gender issues.

  • “Do you plan to come back to work after you have your baby?”
  • “You’re pretty smart for a girl.”
  • Having people ask, “How was your vacation?” when returning from maternity leave.
  • Hearing managers refer to a group of assistants as “my girls.”
  • Hearing a male manager say, “Don’t hire her, she’s just going to go get pregnant and be gone.”
  • Hearing male managers assume that getting married means you no longer want to travel.
  • “You’re too assertive.”
  • “You’re getting married? There goes another good journalist out of the newsroom.”
  • “I assumed you were from another country because of your name.”
  • “Where are you really from?”
  • “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
  • “Oh, you were coming in to ask for a promotion? I thought you were going to announce that you were pregnant again.”
  • “You should smile more!”
  • “You girls are doing a great job!”
  • “You probably don’t care about this, but …”
  • Always being the default secretary or grabbing coffee for people.
  • “You don’t look gay.”
  • “It must be that time of the month!”
  • “No one wants to hear from ‘mom.’”
  • Being patted on the head.
  • Being called “kiddo,” “sweetie,” “honey” or “darling.”
  • “You girls don’t get it.”
  • Addressing everyone as “guys.”
  • “Don’t be so sensitive.”
Left: Former Iowa Secretary of State Elaine Baxter. Photo courtesy of Prugh Funeral Service. Center: Rita Hart. Right: Naval officer Kimberly Jones.
In the headlines
The Power of Visibility in Business Ownership
“I am a human being first. I am a Black woman second. Everything else follows that,” Bridget Cravens-Neely says. “I have three grown sons, Black men that I have raised in this country, in this city, in this community. I could not not be involved. Seeing the struggles they’ve endured was my motivation for standing up and saying ‘This has to change, it’s time.’” READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Pinterest and the subtle poison of sexism and racism in Silicon Valley (Time). With more women in state office, family leave policies have not caught up (NPR). Schmoozing and the gender gap (The Indicator podcast). She wants to kill ‘girl boss’ (New York Times). What a $17 million renovation looks like when women lead the construction (Fast Company). Girl Scouts launches major effort to become anti-racist (Mashable). The unending assaults on girlhood (The Atlantic). How to support loved ones during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and beyond, according to experts (The Lily). More shine theory (Call Your Girlfriend podcast). America ruined my name for me (New Yorker). How to make small talk after we've been through a pandemic (Vice). ‘I was fired by a client’: Breaking the taboo around menopause and the workplace (Digiday).
If you missed last month’s Fearless Friday event, you’re in luck — you can still catch a replay. This month’s Fearless Friday event is on April 30 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. We’ll feature stories of women who have overcome adversity and will detail discrimination that persists today. Sign up for the free virtual event on our website (if you’ve signed up for the series already, you’re good to go!)
Women of Influence nominations open
The Business Record’s 22nd annual Women of Influence event will recognize Central Iowa women for their contributions in the public or private sector. Winners are chosen based on the impact they have made in their chosen field or for their contributions through civic and philanthropic organizations. This event will also award the Iowa State University Ivy College of Business Woman Business Owner of the Year and Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines Emerging Woman of Influence.

To be considered, please submit a resume and cover letter specifically addressing accomplishments that meet the judging criteria. Letters of recommendation, while not required, are also encouraged.

Nominations will close on May 7, 2021.

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