What My Coworkers Don’t Understand

Sandie Cheng



is that most days, I don’t want to wake up. It’s not that I am suicidal nor have I planned a time. It’s just that I watched a man nonchalantly grab a shotgun, place it under his chin, and pull the trigger without hesitation. It’s just that my whole body froze when I saw the way his body fall limp on the chair and the way his head exploded like a crimson, sticky firework; the way his dog walked in to see what the commotion was all about, and the knowledge that his mother had watched the whole thing on a Live feed. It’s just that I didn’t scream, cry, or react at all. I simply put my phone down and lied awake until the next morning, the supercut of a stranger’s death playing over and over in my head.  And when I told my coworkers the same ones who are responsible with serving you ads on social media and all over the Internet — over Slack the next day,  they said, Oh, I’m sorry you had to see that, annoyed that I had changed the subject to something other than click-through-rates and budget allocations. I sent them an article written by NBC, to prove that it was true, something TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram  were simply scrambling to delete from their platforms. Their AI (see: traumatized moderators located in third world countries) just couldn’t keep up with the speed in which anonymous users uploaded the video. A real, topical issue for advertisers like themselves. It was relevant, I swear.


I forced myself to smile through the rest of my Zoom meetings, wondering what algorithm knew that it’s not that I’m suicidal, it’s just that I don’t know what there is to live for anymore, and I haven’t known —  not really, anyway —  as long as I am not white in the United States.


We all survive in different ways.


After all, Grief is non-linear, I had said 3 months earlier to the newly formed DEI committee when George Floyd was murdered. It’s not that my coworkers are racist. At least, they do not mean to be. It’s just that they watched a broadcast of a white cop nonchalantly kneel on a Black man’s neck for 9 minutes and did not budge once, even when he begged for his life,

I can’t breathe,

I can’t breathe,

I can’t breathe,


and finally whimpered




to the hard asphalt smashed against his cheek

unable to turn his head toward the sky.


Every agency had a DEI committee then. Every corporation released a statement. My coworkers committed to do better, to make sure this never happens again and again and again as if they could advertise their way out of systemic racism and violence. One coworker lectures me about bringing politics into the workplace and asks — no, let me rephrase —challenges me, like the Devil himself would: who I would call, if not the police, when I am in danger? 

The CEO reads White Fragility and sends his book report in an email. There is a Zoom meeting about it. All four of the Black employees turn off their cameras, and I follow suit. Later, I get a Slack and she tells me, it’s not that her eleven year old son is suicidal: it’s just that he jumped out of a two story window once after HR told her that the racism she reported would “resolve itself :)” and he could no longer bear to see his mother so heartbroken.


Mothers everywhere rose up in Portland and across the United States. Precincts erupted into flames, storefronts destroyed, and from its ashes: heart wrenching, earth-shattering grief. When I found out a maskless, white man coughed and declared Make America Great Again toward my father, the only Asian face in a socially distanced line at a Bank of America in California, I too wanted to burn down every bank until I found this man and brought him to his knees.


Which bank was it?


Why did everyone just stand there? !

My father just shrugged and said,


This is just how Americans are when they are afraid.


When I was younger, my brother, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran, watched Band of Brothers over and over again from the DVD box collection I gifted him one Christmas. There’s a scene that goes like this: the American soldiers see the horrors of Auschwitz and immediately go to the nearest town to get bread for the starving, dying Jews. The German baker yells at them to stop this at once, as the Americans raid his bakery and load up their trucks with every scrap of food they could get their hands on. Distraught and furious, one of the American soldiers grabs the baker by the lapels, points a gun under his chin, screaming, You Nazi fuck, accusing him and all the German citizens of being bystanders to the horrors of the Holocaust. You’re not a Nazi? How about a human being?! Huh?!


So then,


why did everyone just stand there?

Meanwhile, concentration camps have long lined the borders of the States. And as I write this, we know that thousands of detainees have been raped, sterilized, tortured, and sex trafficked. There is a genocide right at home. I wonder who will be our saviors, grabbing us and shaking us, screaming, You ICE fuck. Are you a human being? Huh?



are we?


What my coworkers don’t understand


is that, most days, I don’t want to wake up. It means nothing

more and nothing less.


it’s just that     

if I am honest,

it means I already feel the weight

of shame,

as the eyes of history stare

back at us and see


that all the likes, shares, followers, comments, clout, hashtags, Zoom meetings, ads, engagement rates, click-through-rates, analytics, emails, professional development, touchbase, impressions, conversions, cost-per-click, total spend, follow ups, and DEI did not save us from burning,


after all.




Sandie Cheng is an Asian-American writer from Riverside, CA. She is the creator of the history podcast, “Now In Color,” and her work has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Hyphen Magazine, Bustle, and more. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her magical cat, Hygge.