Whomst among us is above the occasional subtweet? It’s so accessible — passive aggression right at the tips of your Twitter fingers, seemingly innocuous to everyone but its intended target. The perfect outlet for pettiness. We’ve all been there. But after I fired some stray shots at a former employer, I was shocked by the volume of replies that came rolling in.
You see, in the year of our Lord 2020, companies are doing a complete about-face on their previous racial politics, particularly as it relates to Black employees and their alignment with ending systemic racism. Overall, sure, you love to see it. But in some cases — like my past gigs, where the powers that be clearly didn’t give a shit about the few Black lives in the workforce — the 180 was just laughable. Like, really? This you? And so, without pointing elbows, I let the Twitterverse know. Bullets ain’t got no names, word to Nipsey. But suddenly, colleagues of the past (who I apparently forgot to block) were reaching out to clear their consciences, dumping their White guilt at my feet like a bag of dirty laundry.
One thing I’ve recently realized about “progressive” White folks: If there’s anything they hate more than racism, it’s appearing racist. And being the conduit for that absolution of their guilt is draining as fuck. Unlike the awkwardness of dealing with my current co-workers’ weird feelings, now I’m forced to reopen old wounds just to help them feel better about being an asshole years ago. It’s like confronting the Ghost of Christmas Past — except Ebenezer Scrooge is doing the haunting. And he’s rocking a Karen haircut. And instead of calling the manager, he is the manager.
I ducked the first message, a “hope you’re well, man” Instagram DM from Andrew. He was actually fairly cool to work with, save for some annoying micromanagement tendencies. I just double-tapped to “like” that one. My old nemesis Shereene came out of the woodwork to say I randomly came to mind and that she wished we got to connect more when we worked together. “Thanks for reaching out,” I replied. But I was most surprised when Lenny texted me and cut right to the chase with a boilerplate mea culpa: “I want to apologize for any pain that I may have caused.” My response that it was water under the bridge wasn’t enough — he wanted to get on the phone to chop it up and let me know just how sorry he was. Out of curiosity, I agreed.
I couldn’t help but suspect that the call was self-serving, not just to absolve his own guilt but also as a preemptive strike to avoid being dragged on social media. But the gag is, that’s not my style; I didn’t even care enough to revisit the saga until, well, now.
Throughout the call, Lenny kept going back to the fact that he had “undervalued” me during my time under his management, but he never got more specific than that. I had an idea of what he had in mind, though. There was one time he dangled an opportunity to take the lead on a new, innovative campaign — that just happened to be contingent on my willingness to spend my entire Christmas break working on it. I opted not to (I was spending the holidays with my folks, and Mom Dukes was not having it), but expressed my eagerness to be considered otherwise, you know, on company time. I wasn’t, but you can take a wild guess at the background of the person who eventually was. Go figure.
That wasn’t Lenny’s lone misstep, though. During one of those performance reviews that are all the rage in corporate America, he gave credit for one of my more ambitious projects to another team member. Honest mistake? Perhaps. But it was still documented as such, despite the swiftness with which I corrected his ass.
I eventually lost that job, one of the casualties of a swoop of layoffs that had a tinge of shadiness to them. Although I was assured that the decision wasn’t performance-based — with an emphasis that bordered on sketchy — it felt more like cleaning house than responding to industry forces. Lenny’s remorseful outreach all these years later helped to confirm some of those suspicions.
The dramatics on this call were just… *chef’s kiss.* (Seriously, at one point he referred to these vague regrets as his “cross to bear.”) The thing is, I’d long moved on from these situations, and revisiting them momentarily brought back up some of that old resentment. And while I brushed them off during this long overdue phone call, I damn sure didn’t plan to let him off easy. So I offered a challenge.
“I appreciate you reaching out, but if I’m being honest, this isn’t doing much for me,” I said. “How do you personally plan to not ‘undervalue’ Black employees who are currently working with you, and develop and promote them into leadership positions?” Some stop-and-go speech and awkward silence followed, and while there wasn’t a conclusive response, it seemed like something he’d already been mulling over and would continue to do so.
I felt a sense of satisfaction — it seemed like he’d truly done some reflection on how he was complicit in the bro-ey, whitewashed company culture and ways he might affect change in the future. But I couldn’t help but suspect that the call was self-serving, not just to absolve his own guilt but also as a preemptive strike to avoid being dragged on social media. But the gag is, that’s not my style; I didn’t even care enough to revisit the saga until, well, now. Maybe I should’ve sent my Cash App info, just to see what would happen.
That’s the thing about those who are grappling with their own White guilt — even when it’s about you, it’s about them. One can only hope that these uncomfortable feelings are actually inspiring changed behavior. Otherwise, there will likely be plenty of tweets without names on ’em to go around.