My Journey to Renewal as an Afro-Latina During Covid
A first-generation Afro-Latina, Samantha E. Erskine shares her personal, work, and cultural experience during Covid.
After 15 months of Covid-19 isolation, my mind, body, and spirit needed a change of scenery.
As a Research Fellow working remotely for Catalyst for the last two years while also pursuing a PhD in Ohio, I appreciated the space, and privilege, to think, write, work, and just be during lockdowns. The downside to all this remote work, as many of us have learned, however, is the blurred lines it creates among our work, home, and school lives. And as an Afro-Latina, I found that constantly being on-camera is difficult when trying to heal spiritual wounds caused by ongoing racial trauma and mega-threats (negative, large-scale, diversity-related episodes that receive significant media attention). It is exhausting to invite people from our professional and intellectual lives into our private homes and engage in the performance of “happiness.” This is one of the emotional labors of “professionalism” in White spaces.
Now, many organizational leaders are summoning employees back to the office, and they are especially focused on flexible work-life arrangements for those with caregiving responsibilities. Yet people like me, who are single with no kids, also benefit from, and want, remote work. We too live with pressure-filled days and want to better manage our work-life needs—especially those of us who are women of color dealing with the combination of misogyny and racism. We too want to be productive and healthy while saving time, money, and the stress of commuting.
When I took stock of my life in year two of the pandemic, I was bummed I could not be around people I love. Although I was in constant connection with friends and family via WhatsApp and FaceTime, our virtual connection was not the same as actual face time. I was in isolation.
Moreover, due to chronic stress, lack of sleep, and overwork, every part of my body shut down during this pandemic. I had eye strain, back pain, joint pain, sciatic pain, and inflammation in both of my legs! For relief, I threw out my office chair and bought a reclinable gaming chair that vibrates. In addition, my doctor advised me to buy blue-light-blocking glasses and rest every part of my body, including my eyes.
Longing for an escape, and hoping to heal and renew my mind, body, and spirit, I booked a trip to Costa Rica, where my mother and most of my close family members live—after first receiving both Pfizer vaccination doses and waiting the requisite two weeks for my body to build immunity. I embarked on a month-long research, writing, and self-care retreat; spent time with my family (whom I hadn’t seen in 17 months); and enjoyed time in nature, which is essential to combat the effects of chronic stress and sacrifice syndrome.
As I planned my sabbatical, I experienced misogynoir, a term coined by Moya Bailey in 2008 to describe the confluence of misogyny and anti-Black racism. As an Afro-Latina living in the US with family in Costa Rica and Panama, trips to my motherland and fatherland are a normal part of life as a first-generation American. When I told people I would be in Costa Rica for a month, however, I received reactions that implied I was going on an exotic and frivolous, rather than a self-care, getaway.
Because I study organizational behavior, I can see the assumptions, expectations, and practices that give rise to those kinds of responses. Research points to the sad reality that organizations are often mired in toxicity and stress—with management practices that literally kill their employees; however, we live in a world that constantly expects women of color to struggle, cope, and survive rather than flourish and thrive. Our society romanticizes Black women’s—including Afro-Latinas’—capacity to be strong, resilient, and alone, which ultimately contributes to disempowering workplaces.
My month away helped me find a creative muse as I worked on my dissertation proposal and immersed myself in several research methods courses. In addition, I was able to fulfill my work for Catalyst. I appreciated the ability to take my work and school laptops with me to Costa Rica so that I could work remotely. This flexible work arrangement was essential to my ability to thrive, a combination of learning and having a sense of vitality.
Now that I am back in the US, refreshed and revitalized, I am hopeful that leaders will begin to create organizational cultures that center wellness—especially as the delta variant is raging and hospitalization rates among children and adolescents are escalating.
In addition, I hope that organizational leaders will center antiracism as a key value in their workplaces. My month-long retreat helped me better understand the “inclusion tax”—the cost of our inclusion in White spaces—and how important it is to eliminate it. Catalyst has a host of antiracist resources on its website. Check them out for suggestions on how to create more inclusive work environments.
Samantha E. Erskine is a research fellow on Catalyst’s gender, race, ethnicity, and culture team. As a PhD Candidate in Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, Samantha focuses her research on the emotions and practices of Whiteness, patriarchy, and antiracist feminist leadership. She…