The Only Black Guy in the Office

Assimilation Is Inevitable for Black Professionals

I keep it realer than most while on the job, but there are limits to how freely I’ll speak around my co-workers

The Only Black Guy In the Office
Published in
4 min readJul 20, 2021
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

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Around this time last year, I had a professional breakthrough. Last summer, in the midst of various American institutions being taken to task for upholding systemic racism, I decided to shed my code-switching ways once and for all. Longtime readers may remember me pouring out a lil liquor for my White voice and making a personal promise to more closely align my out-of-office and on-the-clock personas. I’ve been logging on to work as my full Black self ever since.

I have no regrets about this subtle yet meaningful choice. Keepin’ it real hasn’t gone wrong yet. But if I’m being honest, there are still words and phrases in my vocabulary that I reserve for outside of work ecosystems. It’s especially palpable for me after spending weekends around my people — homecomings, weddings, cookouts, family reunions — before rejiggering the lexicon come Monday morning.

As soon as we were both seated, he started apologizing profusely, saying he had no idea of the connections between “itis” and harmful racial stigmas about laziness.

These tweaks aren’t about making anyone else feel comfortable. It’s more about reducing friction due to lingo getting lost in translation. For the sake of my sanity and convenience, what I want to say to my co-workers — whether in a meeting or during small talk — is usually conveyed in a manner I know they’ll understand.

Working virtually has only heightened these differences. I find myself wanting to communicate in video meetings or via Slack the same way that I do on my Very Black group texts or when I’m engaging on Clubhouse. But I don’t have patience for the question mark or thinking-emoji replies. Below, I’ve listed five common phrases or words that have recently come to mind while working — and the five things I…



The Only Black Guy In the Office
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Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.