For one award-winning Black L.A. author, light skin was no refuge.
“I’ve had to move three times in six years to change employers in the face of racial discrimination,” says Michaela Williams. “The light skin gave employers permission to discriminate.”
Williams’ latest move left her job, and the future of her son, in shambles.
Her employment contract, signed last year, was terminated early this month. A notice of discipline was delivered to her by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
After a three-year battle between her and her local school district, Williams has won her rights and will be allowed to return to work with full benefits—including paid vacation and sick time.
Her attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Employment Lawyers Association are weighing in to help, along with the Los Angeles school district, which declined to comment on the case.
Despite her win, Williams feels defeated—not just by the school district and its failure to support her in the fight to keep her job, but by the discrimination that prompted the district to dismiss her contract.
For more than a year, Williams went to work every day wearing a hijab, the traditional head-covering practiced by Muslim women. That was not her choice.
“I didn’t want to go to a school where I had to wear the head covering. I wanted the security of knowing that I could feel safe wherever I went,” she says. “I wanted to work with kids, not just read books in the library. I wanted to be around them. But I did not want to be labeled a refugee; I did not want to be thought of differently by my employer.”
As an immigrant who grew up in a family-supportive household, Williams had heard stories of discrimination—from her grandparents, whom she called “my parents,” who used to ask her if she had family in the United States to remind her that her family was undocumented.
“My parents sent money home to help me send my siblings to school, to buy food, to buy a phone, to pay rent. Even after I left home for high