Have you ever been the only black man in an office full of outspoken, conservative co-workers? No? Well, let me tell you what it’s like.
It’s the fucking Twilight Zone, fam. Every day I spend eight hours listening to my white co-workers talk shit about Obama, slag Black Lives Matter, and say things like, “Well, if they would just listen to the cops …” It’s like yo! Is there not a Hey, White Dude, You Legally Must Chill clause in the employee handbook?
Every morning I wake up, open my mobile banking app, and pray someone has deposited a million dollars into my account. I do this because every day brings me closer to my breaking point, and I’m going to need an insurance policy when Debbie from HR calls to ask if I put Elmer (not his real name) in the Sharpshooter until he rapped the entire Good Times theme song.
Nobody has a million dollars for me, though, and rent is still due on the first every month. That leaves me to do same thing America has always expected me to do with my pain. I bottle that shit up and keep it moving.
It’s easier to do that on some days than others. A hard day is the day after Philando Castile gets killed by a cop. I’m sitting at my desk flipping back and forth through Outlook and YouTube when I see Ron (not his real name) get up and go into Jed’s (not his real name) office, the usual safe place for trash opinions. I think nothing of it because, again, I’m only here to do my work and keep those direct deposits coming. But then, as I expected, I overhear (because he’s always fucking yelling) Ron going off about how “it’s sad that black people have been shot by the cops, but they have to be more cooperative with the cops …”
I’m absolutely befuddled. There’s literally video that shows the man dying after a bullet was fired into his body for no reason, yet Ron still has the audacity to tell us it’s our fault that we continue to face police brutality. That’s some tough shit to hear while you’re just trying to get through the work day.
I’m confused because I was under the impression that even the most backwards person can look at a video of a man being shot in front of his daughter, while she comforts him from the backseat, and think “Hmmm … That was pretty fucked up. Maybe I don’t need to try and justify that cop’s actions.”
I’m angry because I have to work with a complete idiot and no matter how strongly I feel about his behavior, there’s nothing I can do about it because our entire office is full of people who believe the same things. How I do I know? When my superiors do their absolute best to unnecessarily slide Obama jokes into simple conservations, it becomes pretty obvious where everyone stands. I can’t call HR and then expect to not be identified as the one who sent the complaint. I mean, let’s be honest, even the dumbest person can look around the office and use the process of elimination to see who might not fuck with their political opinions.
And I’m hurt because I know, had that been me in that video instead of Philando Castile, Ron would be in the office spewing the exact same rant: “It sucks that Dante got shot by the cops, but had he been more cooperative and not blinked, he’d still be alive.”
I hate coming to work every day thinking it’s Us vs. Them, but that’s what it feels like when you’re in this sort of environment. I never speak in the office, because I don’t trust that any of these people truly care about my well-being. If I slip up and accidentally show any personality or personal feelings, it’s only a matter of time before they get me out of the paint. At the end of the day, I’m just out for survival, and the only way to survive is to never break character. I’m Stanley from The Office with this shit. I can’t ever let them see a single ounce of the true me, because they might figure out that they got Will instead of Carlton.
So instead of doing a sprint into the office and serving my coworkers a hot plate of facts, while also reminding them that there’s a black man in the office, I calmly walk over to my door, reach for the knob, and close it in the most passive-aggressive “I heard that shit you were talking, and I’m going to let you know I don’t fuck with y’all by doing this” manner possible.
That was my strategy for a long time, until I finally reached my breaking point a few weeks ago. I’m at the annual sales meeting with the entire company when we’re getting a drink at the bar and Colin Kaepernick comes on TV. Ron looks up and Oh shit. He’s hot. He starts in: Blah blah blah FLAG FLAG blah blah AMERICA blah blah blah MILITARY.
I’m listening, but I’ve spent enough time on Twitter to know exactly how to ignore this argument. The only problem is, I’m seven Crown vanillas deep and that little bottle of personal feelings that I’d left capped up so tightly is about ready to explode. I try to keep it contained by reminding myself of the role I’ve chosen to play, but as I hear the words “freedoms you experience,” God sends down that ultralight beam that says “Gon’ head and get that boy.” I’ve finally had enough.
I remind him that Kaepernick is hurting anyone by protesting, and that kneeling during the national anthem has nothing to do with disrespecting the military. I’m getting angrier and angrier and my voice continues to rise. This is when other company employees in the hotel bar have started to notice our discussion. They attempt to diffuse the situation with some “Come on guys, let’s just relax” shit. But it’s too late. That juice is in my system and the cap has been removed. I’ve already blacked out. I spent 2.5 years listening to Ron rant about Obama, and now it’s my time.
Meanwhile, Ron, who I’ve never seen shut up, is completely silent. This is clearly not the response he expected to get tonight, and I’m suddenly feeling triumphant. I take one last sip from my glass, decide it’s time to maximize my pettiness, and hit him where it hurts his Texas heart most. I stand up from my chair, stretch my arms, and end with the final dagger: “And honestly, Barack Obama would fucking dunk on your beloved George Bush.”
There’s no way Bush can hoop. His lateral quickness is virtually nonexistent and Barry O would jab-jab-rock Bush the fuck outta his Steph Curry 2s. Whole family just embarrassed. Jeb over there crying. Michelle asking if Bush’s wife wants to run twos, but Laura scared as hell. These are just facts, and sometimes you have to pull out facts to hit someone where it hurts.
I still have my job. The direct deposits are flowing and on top of that, the office is a whole lot more silent these days. I’m pretty sure these people still hold the exact same beliefs as before, but at least they pipe that shit down when I come through. I enter the building and the streets immediately clear. Instead of office meetings, they now go on walks to discuss their incorrect opinions. It’s beautiful. My voice was finally heard and now the office is officially a No Fly Zone for the bullshit.
Dante Jordan is a writer living in Dallas, TX. He enjoys making people laugh, taking days off, and binge eating on weekends.