THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

Free Booze Isn’t the Only Reason We’ll Miss Holiday Parties in 2020

’Tis the season for office shenanigans and spilled tea

My body may be in 2020, nursing a hot toddy in PJs from the comfort of my couch, but my mind is already in December 2021, where I’m faded with my co-workers in a perfectly tailored suit. This year will go down in history as one that strained work-life balance like never before with few outlets for relief. Of all the social delights Covid-19 kicked to the sidelines, company holiday party season is one of the hardest things we had to say goodbye to. I didn’t care too much about missing out on Carol’s green bean casserole (with cranberries?!) when the company potluck got canceled, but the holiday party is a no-skip situation. Where else am I supposed to let my hair down while re-upping on all the hush-hush company tea?

Try as HR might with prom-like Zoom sessions and extra home-office reimbursements, nothing boosts morale like the hype of the annual holiday soirée. And no matter what Silicon Valley dreams up, you simply can’t digitize a good fête. (Why do the French have so many words for “party” anyway? If shit goes south, I know where I’m moving.) The lavishness of a company’s celebration can vary depending on your job situation, and I’ve experienced the whole spectrum, from tricked-out office common spaces to bought-out buzzy restaurants with car service to the CEO’s house for after-dinner drinks. But across the board, the same things will likely be present: an unofficial fashion show, plentiful drinks, co-workers who have taken advantage of those plentiful drinks, and the year’s worth of gossip that results.

On any other day, taking on the role of Iyanla and opening my ears to chatty co-workers would annoy me, but in this case, it’s the main event. Holiday functions are when I’ll really find out about work matters from people and channels I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Once the right senior colleague gets enough sips in them, all of a sudden I’m hearing about who’s about to get fired, who’s messing around with who, and which assholish boss was close to getting cussed out after a presentation.

It’s a party, yes, but I haven’t forgotten about the space I’m in. Black people know the drill. We’re looked at as the “fun” people by default, but more than anyone else, we have to monitor just how much of it we’re really having.

It’s a prime opportunity for good intel: Once the inhibitions drop, that’s when folks get talkative about how much they’re making, how much they’re desiring to make, and if they have any job interviews lined up. It’s a perfect chance to take the pulse as to whether or not I need to be seeking employment elsewhere or asking for a raise. I’ll do the same on behalf of my friends’ holiday parties as a plus one, snooping around to see what valuable information their co-workers will disclose to me, a total stranger.

Occasionally, you’ll encounter colleagues who need to talk your ear off about how much they suddenly love you. Once they’re good and drunk, they want to tell you how much they respect you. Mind you, we only talk once or twice every three months, but suddenly I’m “one of the coolest people to work with,” all said with slurred words. And all I have to do is nod, say an occasional “uh-huh” or “thanks,” and watch their drink so that it doesn’t end up spilling on my shoes. We all know that after the holidays, we go back to normal and barely talk to each other in the office. Fine by me. If you’re going to have amnesia, then I’ll just act like you forgot everything you said while you were drunk.

Aside from the open bar and loose lips, one of the greatest joys of a holiday party is seeing my co-workers out of their element, especially my managers and supervisors. It’s great to rub elbows with them and share laughs in a more relaxed manner than in the office. But as much as I enjoy these functions, I already know from jump not to get carried away like my frattier peers — free Uber ride home or not.

No matter how many trips I make to the bar, you’ll never be able to tell how lit I am by looking at me. It’s a party, yes, but I haven’t forgotten about the space I’m in. Black people know the drill. We’re looked at as the “fun” people by default, but more than anyone else, we have to monitor just how much of it we’re really having. I don’t need supervisors thinking that my turn-up warrants a conversation the following Monday.

But who knows? Maybe after such a year of separation and struggle, 2021’s parties will be lighter. Maybe people will crave a good let-loose session without fear of consequence. Either way, I’ll be there front and center — working the room, keeping it cute, and chasing my cocktails with water.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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