The Only Black Guy in the Office

Nothing Unites a Team Like a Terrible Boss

I never thought I’d say it, but (some of) my colleagues have become a support system

It’s been two months since my colleagues and I began working from home, and since then, my social life has completely transformed. Social distancing has snuffed out my weekend DJ gigs and most in-person interactions outside of the office. Routine catch-ups with friends and family have lost their usual cadence, now confined to handheld devices or computer monitors. With the endless conference calls required for work, I barely have the mental bandwidth to carry personal convos over laggy Wi-Fi.

This drastic lifestyle switch-up has come with a plot twist I would’ve never expected: I’ve grown much tighter with my co-workers. Not everyone — surprise, surprise, a lot of these dudes remain assholes, even in the face of imminent societal doom — but these trying times have really cemented my bond with the workplace homies.

It was bound to happen, if you think about it. Sure, I used to see these same folks in the office every day, but telecommuting ironically fosters a more intimate collaborative experience. Slack messages in our barely SFW private channel are now more rapid-fire, replacing the PC lunch table banter. Instead of occasionally tuning out during IRL meetings — gazing through the window or disguising doodles as note-taking — I’m forced to literally stare at my teammates’ unshaven faces and quirky backgrounds on Zoom calls. I’ve even started turning on my own laptop camera with more frequency. Go figure.

My connection with this particular multiracial party of four existed pre-pandemic, although back then it was more surface-level. It’s always great to have an office clique, and that goes double when you’re one of the few Black people working there. With these folks, there’s a commonality that feels surprisingly comforting. We share interests, outlooks on the world, and — perhaps most importantly — a disdain for upper management. If we can connect on talking shit about our bosses, it’s usually a telltale sign that we’re gonna get along just fine. I might even accept their follow requests on Instagram.

There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie that not even an open office plan could achieve. And that’s been a surprising source of support as the quarantine days meld together like a Kit Kat in a hot-ass sweatpant pocket.

I tend to be about my business and unbothered by office politics, but I usually buddy up with a handful of peeps at every job (on rare instances, that just might include another Black person!). We’ll discuss the latest Netflix binge, personnel or policy changes that are likely to affect us, unpleasant interactions with other coworkers, and whether those hushed executive meetings mean it’s time to start updating our LinkedIn pages.

Some of these bonds start over the most trivial common ground, but can become powerful, pivotal alliances. Before my office life, I worked at a boutique shoe store in Seattle with a White guy named Terry. In our very first floor shift together, he went on and on about Lords Never Worry, a largely forgotten A$AP Mob mixtape. It got shitty reviews when it dropped back in 2012, but as a fan of Rocky, I had to respect his deep-cut dedication. That didn’t win my trust alone, obviously, but the tag team effort that followed sure as hell did.

Neither of us were fond of the store’s manager and assistant manager; they’d arrive late and leave early, often with little or no notice, leaving us to fill in or work outside of our scheduled hours. Even worse, they were also doing a bunch of shady shit like stealing merchandise — for which everyone caught heat. Terry and I were already a couple months into hating them both, mentally compiling grievances and sharing with each other evidence of their misdeeds. We jointly reported them to the regional managers, which led to their swift termination and our promotion to their positions. It was an unintended coup, but hey, the shoe fit.

I haven’t taken part in that kind of uprising in the white-collar world — trust, that’s not for lack of righteous temptation — but past alliances have helped me maneuver effectively, especially with regard to climbing the corporate ladder. When the growing sentiment is that shit’s hitting the fan and it’s time to move on, it’s great to have folks you trust to look over each other’s résumés, serve as references on applications for other gigs, and trade job postings elsewhere. And if someone jumps ship, they damn sure know to reach back and make the link with recruiters at the new spot.

Fortunately, despite the recession, my position is on solid ground, so I’m not worried about virtual job interviews (ugh, could you imagine?). But with Covid-19 remaining a nationwide crisis, my conversations with the workplace homies tend to go a level deeper, allowing space for quarantine chronicles and candor about the uncertainty of the future. There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie that not even an open office plan could achieve. And that’s been a surprising source of support while I try not to go stir crazy in my apartment, the days melding together like a Kit Kat in a hot-ass sweatpant pocket.

I’ve always kept my work persona buttoned-up, but it feels good to be able to show some vulnerability with a select few colleagues. Wait a second, what is this feeling? They’re starting to feel like… friends. Who knows, once things begin to normalize and we can all agree to eradicate the phrase “virtual happy hour” from the cultural lexicon once and for all, maybe we can hit a bar for a few beers. First round’s on me.

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

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