Photos: The Image Bank/Triggerphoto/Adamkaz/Gotham/Getty Images
The other day, while organizing my new home office space, I came across an old “I Voted” sticker, buried at the bottom of a box, still unpeeled. As I slid it into a book, likely to go unseen until 2024, I remembered that election season — and all the accompanying headaches that Advil can’t counter — is in full swing. Then I breathed a sigh of relief. Because this year, I can actually avoid getting sucked into politics talk with my co-workers.
The likelihood of us being back deskside come fall is looking bleak. I’ll keep it two Virgils: I’ve had my “damn, I miss the office” moments — well, with a few exceptions — but I’m 100% fine with missing out on the inevitable water-cooler conversations that take place every four years around this time. Especially after the heaping dumpster fire that 2020 has been.
Watching Kanye unravel has been a cringe-worthy experience for all parties involved — yes, even Ye’s newly minted Birthday Party — but he’s still my fallen-from-grace icon. This is Black-folk bidness.
It’s not that I’m an anti-politics guy; I keep up with the issues, and I vote. I’m just wary of falling into debates with people who are on totally different wavelengths. My job is full of opinionated chatty Charlies — they live for this shit. I, however, do not. Allow me to explain why.
1. Peak Trump fatigue
Let’s just get this out of the way: After Election Day 2016, nothing was the same. It’s often felt like living in The Twilight Zone, an odd time in which the leader of the free world is also a man-child who probably shouldn’t have authority over his own Twitter account, much less the country’s nuclear codes.
For as long as He Who Shall Not Be Named holes up in the White House, his loyal supporters will still be out here walking among us — loud, proud, and ready to evangelize about his “greater America.” Or perhaps worse, they’ll be quietly toting their toxicity around their respective workplaces. Like mine. They’re easy to identify: that guy who waits just a few extra moments after entering the office to remove the MAGA cap, goes full contrarian whenever Barack Obama’s name is spoken, and brandishes mini American flags in mugs on his desks as loaded symbolism. No, I don’t want to talk politics with you, guy who says “libturd” and watches Fox News in the break room at a curiously loud volume.
2. Having to draw lines in the sand
Remember the day 45 won? For those expecting Hillary to walk away with the W, not only did November 8, 2016, cast a dark cloud over America, but it also made crystal clear the divide that would cleave so many social interactions to come. On which side of history did you stand? Did you support an arguable racist, a creep, a xenophobe, a tyrant — or nah? There was no gray area.
Around that time, small talk with non-Black folks — whether at the doctor’s office, on a subway platform, or in your Uber pool — had to be prefaced with some sort of disclaimer, just to let you know where they stand. That they’re not an enemy. “Man, I have never been more sad in my life. I cried that night.” Safe. “I’m still embarrassed that America let that happen.” Safe. “I’m finna move to Canada.” Safe. “It might be interesting to see how an outsider shakes things up.” Threat!
There’s this necessary internal process of drawing lines in the sand. Whether it’s a new hire or a Ted I haven’t met yet, I don’t feel like doing the song and dance of figuring what side of the fence a person might be on (assuming they haven’t immediately qualified for the cutoff list). I prefer to skip that analysis altogether in favor of the general principle that these are simply my co-workers — not friends, not enemies, just Slackmates.
3. I don’t get paid to be a great debater
I’ve never been one to fancy devil’s advocates. While I can argue my way through hypotheticals — shoutout to my high school debate team — I don’t necessarily enjoy that much back-and-forth. If my co-workers want to discuss a controversial new federal policy and how I feel about what’s going on in the ballots, fine, let’s talk about it. I’ll turn on my internal timer and humor the discussion. (FYI: 12 minutes is my cap.) Hey, you ask the questions, I’ll answer them, and vice versa, but don’t get riled up and try to go tit for tat when I have a sharp criticism about your favorite problematic politicians.
4. I still care about Kanye’s mental health… and my own
The past couple years for Kanye West have been rocky, no Balboa. For those of us who’ve followed him from The College Dropout throughout the reign of his G.O.O.D. Music empire to coveted Yeezy drops and Calabasas gospel revivals, his creative offerings haven’t blinded us to the fact that he’s long past just being in the sunken place.
Most would agree that Yeezy, now a 2020 presidential candidate, doesn’t have the political credentials for the Oval Office (although the jury’s still out on whether his last-dash campaign run is simply promotional trolling for his next album, Donda: With Child). But his most recent breakdown at a campaign rally in South Carolina showed that emotionally, dude is in shambles. Watching him unravel has been a cringe-worthy experience for all parties involved — yes, even Ye’s newly minted Birthday Party — but Kanye is still my fallen-from-grace icon. This is Black-folk bidness.
Surely, many of us have that one family member who keeps you in a constant state of SMH. For me, that’s Kanye. I damn near disowned him after he called slavery “a choice,” put disrespect on Harriet Tubman’s name, and rocked that goofy-ass red hat time and time again. But it still feels like his actions, foolish as they may be, reflect on Black people as a whole. Because racism. So, while I might air out Mr. West when I’m speaking with cohorts of the same complexion, I’m much less comfortable having that conversation with my White colleagues, who I can’t help but feel are making broader judgments. I might even feel — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — a tad bit defensive.
It pays to be selective about workplace conversations. Sports? Cool. The latest Netflix binge? Why the hell not? But whoever long ago said to never discuss politics or religion in polite company was spot-on. My reluctance to politic with co-workers about politics — whether they’re Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Libertarian, Green, Birthday Party, whatever — doesn’t mean I’m sensitive, uninformed, or ill-equipped to engage in touchy discussions. It simply means that a) it’s not my job, or b) I just don’t want to. Plain and simple. Can a brother just get a stress-free shift for once?