What a Year Writing About Being Black in Corporate America Taught Me About Race
Illustration by Michael Kennedy for LEVEL

What a Year Writing About Being Black in Corporate America Taught Me About Race

When keeping it real goes right

A few weeks ago, I got my first whiff of celebrity status. And it was horrifying.

I got a text from my boy James, a member of the POC posse at a former job. We’d stayed in touch over the years, and he’s elevated to a meme swap acquaintance — basically a half-rung below what I’d consider a friend. It’s always good to hear from him, though, and when his name popped up on my phone, I was already prepared for a good laugh. His latest correspondence, however, wasn’t a silly TikTok video or Bernie Sanders Photoshop job.

It was a link to my anonymous column, The Only Black Guy in the Office.

Apparently, he got a kick out of an entry I’d written back in September, listing 2020-appropriate professional email greetings in lieu of the perfunctory “hope all is well” opening. He sent it along with the phrase “BIG MOOD” and a bunch of laughing emojis. I was shook. On one hand, I was hyped to see that he found humor — and a shred of truth — in a satirical piece that had already been a hit with Medium readers. The fact that it had circulated wide enough to land on his radar was an added point of pride. But the overwhelming emotion was paranoia. Did James connect the dots? Had he discovered that I was Miles Morales, secretly slinging essays about the overwhelming Whiteness of corporate America under a masked identity? (Yes, I just compared myself to the only Spider-Man who matters. Deal with it.)

The encounter comes to mind as I reflect on this past weekend, the first birthday I didn’t celebrate with cake (but probably should’ve). Saturday marked one year since my first published The Only Black Guy in the Office post on this platform. Aside from being a gainful side hustle, it’s become such a significant aspect of my life that it feels like a persona of its own. This column has become a form of therapy — a weekly vent session to process the good, the bad, and the fuckery of my professional life.

As such, there’s a reason I write under a pseudonym, with names and identifying details warped as to be unrecognizable to the subjects of each column. (Unless you’re gonna pull my IP address, I’ve at the very least got reasonable doubt, word to Hov.) I’ve seen my pieces out in the wild before, reshared on Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn. But when I got James’ bubbled iMessage, it felt like my two worlds were colliding.

Penning The Only Black Guy in the Office has been life-changing, and much of the catharsis has come from the response I’ve gotten from readers. I see a gang of y’all in the comments section week after week: cosigning, empathizing, validating. That shit goes a long way, especially considering my perpetual state as a workplace token. (I’m basically a real-life Winston from New Girl.) Aside from a few close friends who know I write this column (sorry James), there aren’t too many folks with whom I can be truly candid about these things. Y’all’s support is everything.

Ditto to those with a different professional experience, who have extended grace, kind words, advice, and understanding. The fact that my life and times are illuminating for folks with different backgrounds is equally validating, and helps to give this column a sense of purpose that extends beyond myself.

And then there are the trolls. I see y’all leaving comments, too. It’s often the same folks who insist that the premise of my column, which puts race at the forefront, makes me a racist. It’s laughable, and often unwitty. But I hope y’all keep reading. I’m not gonna hold your hand through explaining the ugliness of an oppression that’s outside of my control. But try to open your mind. One day, you just might get it. Or not. Whatever.

When I first started writing this column, I questioned whether my experiences were significant or plentiful enough to warrant a weekly cadence. But given the way 2020 showed its ass and transformed life for all of us, source material has had a Karen-like abundance. And committing these thoughts to screen, whether on White guilt, code-switching, or coked-up colleagues, has truly helped me to sludge through the shit. So no matter whether it’s in a conference room, Slack, or Zoom, I’m gonna keep showing up for y’all every week — honest, thoughtful, and Black as hell.

As for James, I played it cool upon receiving his text message. After the approximately four-minute read time had elapsed, I replied with a few cry-laughing emojis in response. He kept it pushing with some chitchat that made it apparent he had no idea that I was the man behind the brand. Phew. I was in the clear. After a little small talk, I wrapped things up the only way possible.

“Hope all is well.”

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