Wednesday, July 19, 2006

token negro rules

yesterday i found myself in a precarious situation. my co-worker was attempting to discuss politics with me. see, as token negro i understand the rules i must abide by in order to make my stay here as drama-free as possible. in the case of yesterday's conversation, i didn't escape unscathed. 'corn-fed guy' started ranting about 'crazy cynthia'...cyn.thia mc.kinney for you uneducated folk out there. he goes on about how he wish he was in her district so he could vote her out of office. i said nothing. he continued on with his diatribe, this time saying that black people are ashamed of her because she doesn't know how to act. i frowned at that...and said nothing. finally, he exclaimed "i hope the people in her district are smart enough to get rid of her crazy ass."

i forked a brow at that statement...and said nothing.

see, cuz i don't talk about politics at work. not if i can help it, anyway. mind you, i wanted to open my mouth and tell him that he didn't know how black folk felt about mc.kinney because he didn't hang around enough of us to know. i wanted to say she's no crazier than the rest of the fucking politicians in washington. i wanted to say all he had to do was look at the guy he voted for, b.ush, to see who the insane folk look at and be like "now THAT nigga's crazy!"

instead i said nothing...cuz token negro don't discuss politics at work.

there are a number of other things i suggest other token negros do if you wanna stay out of the drama. here's a list of them. add to it as you see fit.

1. get a copy of the dress code standard in writing, then never deviate from it, even if you see some of the other folk doing so. that person wearing the booty shorts is probably the boss's secretary and he got his own reasons for allowing her to do that shit. you're not fucking the boss, so you don't have it like that. the guy wearing the tank top? probably the top sales guy in the region, which means they're gonna let him do whatever the fuck he wants as long as he's bringing in the money.

in the case at my gig, i was told it was 'business casual'. meanwhile, the rest of the campus had a more formal dress code, so i wanted that shit in writing. they tried to just tell me what i could wear. nah, i want that shit in writing. cuz see, even though that might be a fucked up reason to get me fired, it can happen. it's all a part of that whole "insubordination" shit. no, to prevent that, i asked for it on paper and as specific as possible. i got just that, with a list of 'acceptable' gear vs. 'not acceptable' gear.

when it came to my hair, it initially wasn't a problem (and ain't really one now...) i had a fro when i was hired and didn't grow locks until i was a couple of years into the gig. in other words, i snuck that shit in on them. they've never said anything derogatory about my hair. in fact, i've gotten nothing but compliments from folk here. i'm not sure what that means, but it ain't on the list of 'non acceptable' shit, so i'm gonna roll with it.

2. don't assume 'flex-time' means 'come in whenever the hell you wanna'. i learned that shit from experience. when i was first hired, i was told i was on flex-time...and nothing else. of course in my mind that meant i could stroll up in the spot at noon if i wanted to. i did that shit for a week before i was pulled into the office and told i had to choose a time to come in...and it had to be at least four hours before when i was coming in. luckily they didn't fire me, but i was scared shitless for a hot minute after that. to avoid my mistake, make sure if they come at you with that 'flex-time' bullshit, you know it really mean 'we expect you to be in by 8 a.m. everyday.'

3. don't assume when you see other folk coming in late and/or leaving early that you've got the same freedom. again, you don't got it like that. mind you, the folk around you been doing the shit for years without repercussions, but you STILL don't got it like that. here's the the token negro it is more times than not assumed you have the 'get over on whitey' gene in you which makes you suspicious. many will assume you harbor some kind of irrational hatred towards white folk and are looking to get over on them at any possible moment so they will be on the look out to make sure you follow the 'rules', even if nobody else does.

4. do not get fancy with the potluck dish you bring to the company barbeque. your co-workers will not eat that shit unless it's soul food like collard greens or ribs, cuz black folk know how to do collard greens and ribs. if you try to pull off that gourmet chef shit you gonna find your dish the only one with the spoon sticking out of it untouched. even if you're a great cook it matters not. black folk don't do cooking courses and there's nowhere else we can learn how to make a spinich quiche, so someone's gonna assume you fucked it up...or think it's some new way black folk came up with to make collard greens.

5. assume you are not trusted by anyone around you and that the word of your co-worker will be accepted over your word. i also found this out the hard way. i took a couple of weeks of vacation about two years ago and came back to the accusation that i'd been ordering office supplies for personal use. i was silent during the meeting where i was being accused, never mentioning the shitload of copy paper i'd seen folk around me take home. when i was asked what i had to say for myself i gave them a detailed list of what every last bit of shit i ordered was used for. there wasn't shit my boss could say. he got red in the face, then told me i could go back to my office. the chick who'd made the accusation had to take it back. turns out she was trying to get me fired so she could get her friend, whose job was getting phased out, brought in as my replacement. however, the fact that i was even brought into the office let me know who he was inclined to believe from jump, even if there was no proof this was the case. that was a harsh lesson to learn, as i figured as long as i did my job, it was all good. i never even questioned whether or not i was trusted. i just assumed i was cuz i had given them no reason NOT to trust me.

don't be naive like i was. that trust thing ain't just for office supplies. it applies to other shit, too. document what you do and what you purchase if you have to, but cover your ass. it's a cynical view i know, but the office environment is just like everywhere will have some people who won't trust you just cuz you're black, so be prepared.

5. you cannot get drunk at or bring alcohol to company functions. many folk there already have limited exposure to black folk so you're probably the lone black dot in many of their universes. they probably got all their 'education' by watching programming that gives them an 'accurate' depiction of the black experience in america...shows like 'friends' or 'will and grace' know, where black folk show up every five years or so in the form of a two-episode love interest. either way, they're sure they've got an idea of how black folk behave when inebriated and it's probably not flattering. a couple of drinks is the maximum for you, just to let them know black folk don't get belligerent and sloppy after only one drink.

a couple of years ago i was at a division function overflowing with gui.ness sto.ut, mich.elob,, and bu.d beer. it was the first time i'd attended such an event and i was blow away that they'd allowed alcohol for such a thing. after i got over the initial shock, i walked over to the big tub holding all of the beer. i was immediately disappointed at not seeing my beloved corona or heineken bottles stacked among the others. i grabbed a michelob and went over to the corner where i could drink in relative privacy. fifteen minutes into the party the first drunk materialized in the form of 'butch anne 1', the only female program director among us at the time. her buddy and former love interest 'butch anne 2' (both were named anne) was also in the cups. they started getting loud and cracking bawdy jokes and everybody was right there laughing with them, including me. then 'b.a.2' starts a story about how she ended up at a tar.get store one night dressed only in her night gown. everyone thought it was hilarious and the next day folk were recounting the tale followed with "that anne...she's so funny!"

you can't ever be the one to tell a tale like that to your co-workers. no stories about bad sex or moments of drinking mishaps or other times where you end up embarrassed can be shared with your co-workers. in this case, self-deprecating humor will only make you look like you've got a drinking problem. you tell a story like that while drunk at a company function and the next day you're gonna get called into your boss's office where he or she will begin asking you questions like "is everything alright at home? do you need to talk to someone about your 'problem?' is there anything we can do to help?"

keep your stories like that to your friends unless you want your co-workers to start acting like you're a functioning alcoholic and you find brochures on alcoholics anonymous mysteriously appearing on your office desk.

6. do not form alliances with anyone and keep off-site interaction at a minimum. otherwise, you'll find yourself in a shakespearean tragedy like othello, caught up in a web of lies before you end up committing career suicide. the workplace ain't the spot to make friends. even if you get familiar with folk, recognize that the bottom line is you will be hung out to dry if the other person's position is threatened (and you'd be the same way so you can't even front.) know that any associations at work are for the express purpose of making someone else's job easier while affording him or her greater access to promotion through networking. if you see that shit as anything more significant, you're playing yourself. if you want to make friends, find them outside of the job. otherwise, there's the possibility your dirt will be all over the office, right down to your favorite time of day to take a dump. they'll know that beneath your brown exterior lies someone who isn't to be feared and that shit ain't cool unless you like to be dumped with bullshit work. keep it mysterious and it'll work in your favor. if they don't know you, nine times out of then they will approach you with respect, unsure of whether or not you'll cuss them out. while normally having them assume you're hot-tempered isn't necessarily a good thing, in this case it is because they won't come to you with the bullshit.

7. never, never, NEVER by all that is holy discuss politics at work, especially if you're not voting like everyone else around you. initially everyone here thought i was a democrat cuz you know, all black folk are democrats. if you came out of the womb with a significant amount of melanin in your skin, you are immediately registered as a democrat. i made the mistake of correcting them when i said i wasn't a democrat. then they assumed i was a republican and in this spot, there are only two and "those other parties run by bleeding heart liberal commie scum". so now they think they can talk to me about how wonderful conde.leeza ri.ce and coli.n pow.ell are and expect me to agree with them because i never bothered to correct them in their assumption about my political leanings. they assume because c.r. and c.p. are black that i'm down with them cuz i'm black. i've been privey to way too many conversations about how accepting bush is of black folk because after all, cond.eleeza is black, so he must love black folk otherwise he wouldn't have given her the gig. i've always held my tongue, sometimes biting into it so hard i can feel the taste of the blood as it coats my gums.

in the case of 'corn-fed guy', he assumed i shared his hatred for 'crazy cynthia'. i kept quiet, and eventually he just shut the fuck up. the way i see it, folk are gonna think and believe what they wanna. i'm not here to convince folk their beliefs are wrong through discussion. i'm doing that shit through action. either they figure it out or they don't, but that's my way to keep this shit absent of drama.

if you know of some other 'token negro' or 'token (insert ethnic affiliation here)' tell me about it. i can only speak from my experiences but i'm sure there are more out there.