Finally Getting My Cubicle
This blog has a rather apropos name: 40 Acres and a Cubicle. In case you don’t get the reference, [read in case you're not the sharpest knife in the drawer] it refers to General Sherman’s Special Field Orders, Number 15. Issued on January 16th, 1865 – shortly after, I’m told, the birth of esteemed actor Morgan Freeman – this order provided for the confiscation of 40,000 acres of land along the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This land was to be divided in 40 acre parcels and given to approximately 18,000 freed slave families. Thus, we get the phrase 40 acres and a mule. [Note that no mule was ever promised]
What is more important than the historical roots of the phrase is what it has come to mean: A promise never kept. Or more closely, A promise with little inherent value. The orders were revoked in the Fall of the same year by then President Andrew Johnson. Black people get mad as Hell when someone reneges in a game of Spades. This shit is liable to make a newly-freed slave slap several niggas in the mouth. The name 40 Acres and a Cubicle was chosen because in today’s world, a solid job in corporate America stands as the new promise for the modern Black. The irony comes from the commonality that this, too, may be an illusory promise. It may be the dream of assimilation, wealth, cocktails parties and lunch “on the firm.” It may just be a nightmare.
WELL I’M FINALLY GETTING MY CUBICLE.
The other writers of this blog have been working in offices for some time now. My perspective here has usually been through the prism of my law school. Liberal-leaning and a paragon of “diversity,” I haven’t encountered near the same level of unconscious, subtle racism that my colleagues have. It may be about to change. Beginning at the end of this month, I’ll be working a fairly large-sized firm here in DC. Never mind the name. But the significance of it to me is that this will be my first foray into the career I’m paying a small fortune to enter. Will it be everything I dreamed? Will I be having “lunch on the firm?” Will I encounter many of the same hurdles my co-bloggers have written so eloquently about? No matter what comes my way, I’ve developed a fool-proof plan for minimizing racial tension in my new-found office lifestyle.
1. When asked about what music I listen to: Deny any enjoyment of rap, in fact, my response will always be “Classical.”
Music taste can be a sensitive subject. I enjoy the most ignorant lyrics sometimes. They often make for great songs. But in the workplace, this may garner me strange looks. Imagine trying to explain that you’ve been bumping the new 2 Chainz track to your supervisor when he asks what you’re listening to in the elevator. I can’t imagine that conversation not being awkward. A few days ago I was rather awkwardly asked by a Jewish classmate of mine if I listened to rap. He stumbled over his words and I could tell he didn’t want to offend me by presuming I did listen to rap. The non-Blacks often err on the side of caution when it comes to cross-cultural questions.
2. Resist the urge to go into lengthy descriptions about HBCUs. Or mention that Morehouse is all male.
It is always a constant struggle in cross-race conversation when I get asked about my undergrad. You say “Morehouse.” The Caucasian ear hears “Morehead” and the next thing you know, they’re telling you all about their cousin Sally who went there and asking if you know her. [deep sigh] My plan is to keep it brief when asked about College. “I went to school in Atlanta.” Should suffice. Maybe mention Morehouse, but always in the context of MLK so they can get the reference. That’ll save me a bunch of time.
3. If ever taken out to lunch, never order a chicken dish.
We’ve been here before. Though I find the bird delicious, and quite healthy when baked, it’s just too much of a risk to blow my cover by ordering the pollo. I know, I may be tempted, but I must remain strong. It’s for the good of the people that I am willing to make these sacrifices. With Great power comes Great responsibility.
4. Code switch when speaking with the Black female receptionist only. Everyone else gets standard English.
I often read the posts of my fellow authors with great scrutiny. They’ve written some great stuff in the past year. Code-switching has been a recurring theme. All people speak casually when around their in-group. It’s natural. But us Blacks, well, we gotta be careful. I was once responding to a question in my Criminal Procedure class, and used the phrase “Take the L.” I felt exactly like how one must feel when they sneeze accidentally and a fart makes a break for it with triumphant success. I gotta watch my words. Keep it real with the homies, but it’s all received pronunciation with everyone else.
5. Never, ever, answer the question “Is it true what they say about Black guys?”
Despite the low likelihood of this question ever being asked in a law firm office, especially considering the trouble Patton Boggs is about to be in, I’ve really gotta be ready for anything. This rule I’ve made for myself really speaks for itself.
Massa has finally set me free and I’m moving up to the big time. I’ll have a desk. I’ll have a cubicle. I’ll also have to keep my wits about me in a new environment. I will now be operating in the world of “The Man.” With careful attention to context, I know I can navigate the Corporate American jungle with success as a Black man.
Ya’ll wish me luck.