Black in the Office

You know you’re adulting in the real world when you realize that you’ve become overly aware of your surroundings and day-to-day interactions. I mean extremely aware. Shopping at the store, walking around your school, eating in a restaurant with your homegirls.. all things I’ve been doing, but it’s an entirely different experience now than it was five short years ago. Shopping at the store, I now notice the sales associate attempting to subtly monitor my every move. Walking around my college campus, I now notice the averting eyes and the lack of basic manners. Eating in a restaurant with a few girlfriends, I notice how our service isn’t up to par with the service the rude ass white couple next to us, despite us being polite to our servers.

The next big thing is being one of the few Black people at work. Now I’m still fairly new to the working world, so my experience isn’t as intense as the stories I’ve heard. But in this economy? I’ll have my fair share of eye-roll worthy moments. So I work for my school in the department of residential life. When my first day of training came, I noticed two things: One, one of my supervisors was Black. Two, I wasn’t the only Black person. After my first deep sigh of relief, I was however, still very nervous around my caucasian counterparts because of my skepticism to white people in general. I knew that even though I may be biracial I am still going to be looked at as Black to everyone else. I will have to work twice as hard, blah blah blah. I know you know how this goes! Moral of the story, nobody can be trusted.

So I purposefully came off as intimidating, and if you know me you know how impossible that is for me. I never asked for help because I didn’t want to look like that Black girl who doesn’t know how to do shit. I took as many shifts as our scheduling would allow, and I only willingly spoke to one other person for quite a while, and that was only because we were partnered together to take care of a specific building. After the first couple of weeks I noticed the rest of my coworkers quickly building those bonds, helping each other out, picking up each others’ slack with no problem, and working in harmony. It’s not that I was disrupting the harmonious system they had going on, I was just stepping to my own melody, and our songs never clashed. They were doing their work, and I was doing mine. I only spoke to the rest of them when I felt like it.

I always just listened to my coworkers interact with each other, and noticed how some had better relationships with each other than others. So of course there was gossip. According to a couple of the girls, one of the guys was a little problematic. For example, before one of our staff meetings (that I had coincidentally been late to) he made a very tasteless race joke about Asians and Blacks (which is also coincidental, given that I am both) about our supervisors, one who is in fact of Asian descent, and the other was Black (again, coincidentally). I was inherently shocked. Y’all know that gif of Chili from TLC doubling back in disbelief? Yeah that was me. I never even got that vibe from him, but NOW? I’m definitely not about to take my chances. Nope. After that conversation, I either started nitpicking and looking for trouble, orrr my eyes were opened. I started noticing how a lot of them tried to somewhat force a common ground with me, trying to be relatable with any and everything. Hair. Music. Interests. I wasn’t feeling it, so I distanced myself even further away from them. Because, who has the time? Not I.

So, fast forward about three weeks later. Ya girl is fed up. I was tired, feeling burned out, not to mention that the people I encountered at work were lowkey irritating, and I wasn’t really getting the hours I thought I was getting. I was getting more on-duty shifts more than anything, and we don’t get paid for on-duty. It’s technically compensated by our free housing on campus. While that was cool and all… I’m tryna make this schmoney. So it was right before our second staff meeting. We were getting ready to make our schedules for the next two weeks, and I noticed that during those next two weeks, there was a shift that needed to have more than one person working a desk at a time. A partner shift.

At this point, I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy working the desk by myself. I got to play my own tunes, interact with the guests how I saw fit, I just had my own way of doing things. I was dancing to my own melody, and I wasn’t looking forward to making any remixes, especially not with these folk. But. Again. I’m tryna make this schmoney. I was struggling to decide between if I wanted to sacrifice my peaceful solitude away from the white devils for more hours. As I was contemplating this decision, the partner shift filled up. I panicked. And that panic showed me what I needed to do. Luckily, one of my supervisors looked over the schedule again, and noticed that we needed another partner shift. She offered the spot, and I quickly raised my hand and said, “I’ll do it.” I was genuinely nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. But I got more hours. I’m really gonna be making that schmoney now. It seemed so insignificant at the time, but looking back, it was really a step forward towards my growth.

The shift worked out. My coworker and I successfully greeted and checked in over 200 guests in those eight hours with no problem. Dare I say it, we bonded by the time our shift ended. I went home that night tired and happy, because my worst fear didn’t come to life, and my melody actually harmonized with someone else’s at work. It was on that five minute walk from the main building’s front desk to my room that I realized, my way of thinking was actually kind of toxic. While I was putting up this wall of resting bitch face with a side of don’t talk to me attitude, I was actually making it harder on myself. Not only was I making it harder for me to do a better job at work by not asking or accepting help until I had no choice, I was making it harder to collaborate with my coworkers for a better work environment, and getting more hours by picking up shifts, while overall helping each other out. It was also terribly draining, doing everything by myself. I started being more friendly and warm towards my coworkers; basically being more me (I definitely don’t push my luck with Problematic Gus. It’s better if I just avoid that completely). In a way, I was blocking my blessings (with blessings being more hours & more schmoney) because of this preconceived idea that if you don’t look like me, you’re a white devil out to plan my demise as a Black woman. I was constantly thinking like this when, sometimes, it’s not even that deep.

While I am more open and sociable with my coworkers, I am still vigilant of my identity in relation to them, along with the rest of my environment. I still understand that in the future, I can come across a situation where my integrity is questioned because I don’t look anything like my coworkers, Don’t get it twisted, I am still poised and ready to challenge anyone who does so. In other words, I’ll pop off if need be. The real lesson that I learned was that I can still have my own melody, and that with the right attitude, it can be played in harmony with that of my coworkers, creating a symphony that makes our work environment enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.

 

 

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