At this stage in the WFH game, I’ve all but settled into the hyper-focused employee role. A great day for me is clocking in, knocking down tasks the way Lillard drains 3s, then peacing out to live my real life with my real friends. I’ve never quite craved office camaraderie as much as my 9-to-5 counterparts, and I’ve managed to duck-and-dodge happy hour hangouts, both physically and digitally. But something about couchin’ it daily — knowing in-person kickbacks are on pause for the foreseeable future — has shifted my spirit. After months of being anti during a somber news cycle, I decided to loosen up and join in on my job’s staff-bonding, morale-boosting activities. I literally have nothing better to do. What could go wrong, right?
I’m sure the members of my marketing team were shocked when I finally clicked “Accept” on a Friday afternoon happy hour invite, and even more tickled when they saw my IRL Black face pop up on the Zoom grid, swirling Jameson around in my coffee mug. They probably didn’t understand my previous aversion to these strongly encouraged extracurriculars, which often inadvertently lack consideration for Black and POC employees. For instance, in a past job, the People team’s idea of fun was asking employees to post baby pictures so that everyone can guess the coworker. Of course, I felt a way about it: There was no Earthly way to confuse my brown-skinned baby mug with anyone else’s. (For what it’s worth, my ’86 Sears photo with the custom onesie would’ve shitted on all of my colleagues’ baby flicks, but that’s neither here nor there.) I declined that invite with the swiftness.
It never ceases to amaze me how a moment of candor can spiral into an all-out “Ask the Black Guy” AMA, with people spitting out questions they know they’ll never have the opportunity to ask again.
This happy hour started innocently enough. Prior to the call, the host let everyone know the rules and the theme — there’s always a theme — for this Blast from the Past function. Everyone had to drop a “fun” throwback photo of themselves in the Slack chat. Not so bad. I gotta admit, it was hilarious to hear folks serve up their own visual blackmail from the MySpace era: pics that featured Von Dutch trucker hats, polo shirts, spiky hairdos, low-rise Levis, regrettable crop tops, and shutter shades for the select few who really fucked with Graduation-era Kanye. The LOLs rolled along as we reminisced.
Caught up in the laughs and the liquor, I offered a story about my former pride and glory: my huge afro. That was all it took. Immediately, my White coworkers, brimming with excitement, needed to see proof. I obliged, dropping an old photo into the channel. I should’ve known what was coming next: “Omg, I hope I see that when you’re back in the office!”
Never mind the fact that whenever we do get back into the office, my hair might be long enough to rival Luda’s pre-2006. I’d never give them the satisfaction — it’d only be a matter of time before I have to tell someone “no, you absolutely may not fondle my fucking ’fro.” But in the moment, I didn’t mind the surface-level fodder. It felt good to laugh along with no HR flags on the play.
Conversation drifted further into salon talk, and we chopped it up about our myriad hair color journeys. I made the mistake of sharing a photo from a few years back, when I went through a blonde moment around the same time Frank Ocean did. That cracked the floodgates; they were completely over the moon about it. “You should totally dye your hair again! You have a SoundCloud account? Oh! Ever think of getting braids? Man, you should do your hair like Travis Scott. That would be lit!” The comments and curiosities came tumbling out. I did this to myself, I thought with a facepalm.
It never ceases to amaze me how a moment of candor can spiral into an all-out “Ask the Black Guy” AMA, with people spitting out questions they know they’ll never have the opportunity to ask again. I hear the same thing from friends who, like me, are the sprinkles of black pepper in their offices. That’s why we have strategies to play along without giving away too much. When get-to-know-you games like Two Truths and A Lie come up, or you join a new team that asks you to share a fun fact, the first thought is: What can I say that keeps my personal life personal? I need to give you enough to tell me apart from my Black coworker, but not enough to think you really know me — gotta minimize the odds of being thought of as the “cool friend.” I’ve been there, trust me.
But I’m glad I’ve gotten to a place in my work journey — both with this team and with my own sense of self — that I can brush that shit off and keep it pushin’. Yeah, the hair questions were annoying, but they know not what they do, so I didn’t trip the way I may have a year ago.
It’s crazy how a little bit of quarantine will change a brother.