The Frustrating, Awkward Dance of Being the Only Brown Person in the Office
When you weren’t looking your co-workers made ‘Encylopedia Latinica’ part of your job description
One of my proudest life achievements was not getting fired in my 21 years as a journalist.
When I accepted a buyout last year at a newspaper I’d worked at since graduating college, I was one of the lucky few in the journalism industry who got to exit on my terms. I saw many colleagues switch workplaces in frustration over career stagnation; others got laid off during the inevitable budget cutbacks. Very talented people I worked with changed careers completely when the journalism career mountain became too treacherous to keep a toehold.
Hard work and anxious nerves led to longevity and comfort, and comfort led to reflection. When I spoke to other friends who worked in newsrooms across the country, or in offices at tech companies, or even in coworking spaces full of entrepreneurs and artisans, we realized we were all coming out of a shared experience that never seemed to go away: Finding ourselves in situations where we were the only representative in the room.
I felt pride in having my byline, an unusual name that nobody could pronounce, above the fold on the front page of the newspaper. But it was hard not to feel some survivor’s guilt.
For the first 10 years of my employment, like many people of color working in offices with an under-representation of certain employees, I felt a bewildering mix of emotions. There was relief that I’d broken through to a mainstream media job at a very competitive time by impressing my internship bosses. I felt pride in having my byline, an unusual name that nobody could pronounce, above the fold on the front page of the newspaper. But it was hard not to feel some survivor’s guilt when I saw how many up-and-comers couldn’t get a job — or advance once they got in the door.
When I began my career, I was part of a diverse crop of fresh newshounds rising in the ranks. Like my colleagues in other workplaces, though, I found that young people of color didn’t always…