I’ve been doing field observations in different cities for the last month or so. I used to be excited to go on business trips, now I actually fantasize about being at my desk at the office when I’m driving a rental car at 5 o’clock in the morning in the middle of nowhere. Plus these trips necessitate 12-hour work days. It sucks. Okay, sorry for using this blog as a catharsis, moving on.
The project team went on a trip yesterday. Rose (Black, early 50’s), Jessica (Black, early 20’s), Mike (White, early 30’s) and I went out to a customer service center in the middle of nowhere. We headed out at the crack of dawn in a rented SUV while Rose took seniority over the radio, even though Mike was driving. Jessica decided to mess with Rose by changing the radio from the back seat. As soon as Jessica changed it to a rock station, Rose turned around and snapped.
“You will NOT change the radio! I know you ain’t…”
Then Jessica interrupted her and said, “Rose, are you yelling at me?”. Rose stopped herself , “I’m sorry, I forgot where I was for a second. Usually if they’re young people in the back seat, they’re my kids or something”. Yeah, ingenerational diversity influences behavioral adjustments in the workplace too.
We changed the station back to Al Green, then I tapped Rose on the shoulder and said “Uh, word? You just gonna go Madea on us at 5 in the morning? Daaaaang Rose!”. Jessica was dying laughing. Rose and I talk shit to each other all of the time; she knows not to take me seriously. I turned to Jessica and asked her if she actually liked rock. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to get music recommendations (to search on Mediafire or Hulksare of course). But then Jessica replied,
“Is it weird for the White girl in the car to like rock? Ha ha.”
Then I was like
Yeah, Jessica isn’t Black. I had been bamboozled.
At first I was reluctant to believe the truth, but Jessica said she was White, and she was serious. Then Mike said, “I don’t like rock” and Rose replied, “You know Black people created rock right?”. Rose’s cultural 2 cents and Mike’s dissociation only solidified the fact that I had been talking to a White girl like she was a fellow Black person for the last 10 months. It quickly became apparent that everyone else in the car also believed that Jessica was White, and my brain was about to explode.
How could this be? How did I not realize my mistake earlier? Its nearly been a year for goodness-sake. It’s fuckin ridiculous. My dad was Haitian with a very light complexion, and I always had to tell my friends at school that I didn’t have a white daddy. But at the same time, when I first learned about Morehouse alumnus and Howard University’s “first Black president”, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, I was like,
So maybe my race-dar isn’t the best. Jessica has mad freckles, her nose looks nearly like mine, her hair is curly, I got niggas lighter than her. Look, all I’m saying is that she looks Blacker than Mariah Carey, and people say she’s Black.
I had been talking to Jessica like she was a Black person. I always wondered why Jessica was always amused with what I had to say. She thought I was hilarious, even when I wasn’t trying to be funny. But the feeling was mutual. We had conversed at length during these trips and we are actually like-minded individuals. She’s one of the 10 people that I’m coolest with in the office. Accordingly, I decided to completely ignore the fact that she’s White. *Gasp! Odd, I know. Jessica is the first person whose race I’m attempting to ignore. I have to do it, but it’s interesting. I’m not tight with my coworkers. Like, I have no Facebook friend/coworkers. So for me to trust a White coworker enough to not do some racist shit, or judge me, or make assumptions when I don’t code-switch takes a lot. However, communication and time can alleviate that trepidation.
I’m young and I still learning. My first year in a racially diverse workplace has been filled with unanticipated and challenging social situations. Learning is, essentially, a change in behavior do to experience. I just wish I could have changed some of my behavior before I made one mistake.
Forgive me ya’ll.