I Am Not A Slave
Staff meetings are always weird in my office. My consulting team is very diverse, and everybody’s just trying their best to communicate with each other. We all mediate racial, gender, political and generational differences while trying to figure out what holiday event we’re having this year.
During the closing minutes of last week’s meeting, we started talking about the upcoming Christmas parade that was set to take place down the street from our office. Then the organic, granola, Tom’s of Maine wearing, Prius-owning, white woman, Kate, interjected with her own story about how she was in a bicycle parade last year. She described a bike that had been modified to resemble a chariot, horses and all. She said that someone hand-carved wooden figures to attach to the side of a giant tricycle while two bike-horses pulled it down the street. As Kate continued with her irrelevant-ass story, Emily, a 20-something white coworker said, “I’d love to do that! Could I get a whip and join in?”. Kate responded, “Of course!”, pointed at Trevor and me, then said,
“These two could be your slaves”
Yup, my coworker suggested that I be a slave during an office meeting.
As I shook my head, I looked at Erica and Tiffany, the two Black women on the team. They both just stared at me, waiting to see what I would do. I looked at Trevor, and he was just shaking head and nervously laughing. His face was also redder than Oklahoma. “We’re on the same page”, I said to Trevor. Then I looked at Kate and said,
“Just not in the same boat”
Our manager threw a sheet of paper in the middle of the table and exclaimed, “Oooookaaay. Let’s stop. Let’s just stop. What’s next on the agenda?”. I’m pretty sure Kate didn’t mean any disrespect, but I felt disrespected nonetheless. Emily already established that there was a whip involved. That should have been a red flag for cultural sensitivity off jump. Kate pointed at my Black ass and said I could be Emily’s slave. I’m still thinking about that shit. I expected different behavior from a person who drives a car like this
It’s sort of ironic how racial equality is often associated with treating people the same, but treating people the same can sometimes make you seem racist. Trevor probably didn’t take offense to Kate’s slave statement, but he’s probably never felt like the most threatened demographic in United States either. The trans-Atlantic slave trade lasted for 400 years and its residual affects continue to adversely impact my race. So yeah, it offends me.
But that’s only part of the problem with calling me a slave. When you work in diverse office, you have to adjust your behavior according to your ever-changing environment. Yesterday, Tiffany came up to my desk and asked me to which shelter we were donating canned food . After I told her that we were sending the food to the shelter downtown, she said,
“Okay, cool. I just wanted make sure it was diverse. Can’t be giving all this food to White people”
As sort of fucked up as that statement was, she still at least waited to tell me that shit when no white people were around. When I was in the locker room at the fitness center, me and the coworkers were packing up to get back to work. As coworkers put on shoes, shaved and put paper towels under their armpits, I started applying my Sta-Sof-Fro hair conditioner on my head and beard. There were four Black guys packing up when the last white guy left the locker room. As soon as the door closed, Andre said,
“This negro got afro sheen. That is so Black”
You damn right it is.
But you get the point. You have to be aware, and more importantly, you have to make adjustments. When I was doing research on the economic disparities among different demographics in a sampled county, my results indicated that the Hispanic population had the lowest adjusted gross income. I decided not to bring that information up during lunch with Hector, my El Salvadorian coworker. I’m sure he wouldn’t have gotten particularly offended but, why teeter the racial line with irrelevant information? Feel me?
Be conscious of other people’s perspectives, it’s essential to all communication. Being ignorant or oblivious is not okay. Essentially, don’t be sorry, be careful. If you prefer exhibiting racial sensitivity, avoid suggesting that your Black coworker become or resemble your white coworker’s slave. This nation will never be “post-racial” enough for that.
I Am Not A Slave.