THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

When Co-Workers of Color Cosplay as Allies

My company’s diversity committee is pushing forward to make positive change — but not without posers disturbing the process

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Halloween is still more than a month away, and yet my co-workers are all dressed up in the most popular costume of the season: an ally! The get-up isn’t difficult to spot. It’s mostly displaying a fair-weather enthusiasm about the news cycle, along with performative activity on social media, with little real-life action to show for it. At this point, it’s to be expected. But as the new diversity committee at my job continues to push for positive change at the company, I’ve been surprised to encounter some wishy-washy peers of the same hue — pseudo-allies who look just like me. Am I wrong for wanting to turn these folks the hell away?

In the beginning, no one anticipated having to make restrictions to join the committee. The collective was created with the intention of moving Black and Brown employees’ concerns forward, so of course we welcome all people to support that mission. We’ll need all the help we can get. But what we don’t want is to rub shoulders with people who look the part but only impede progress. Non-White allies aren’t above being problematic. Our core group is pretty solid, but what about other people of color who want to join but have a record of sharing some questionable shit that was definitely anti-Black, anti-Brown, and anti-justice? How do we include them? Should we?

For example, one biracial man in the office has said a few questionable things in the past. He’s played literal devil’s advocate by vocally supporting some of Trump’s most divisive policies, and has openly “wondered” on social media whether Black Lives Matter and Antifa are hate groups. Those Instagram story posts have long vanished into the digital ether, but another co-worker took screenshots and privately shared it with a few of us in the office. All I’m saying is, Nelson Mandela he’s not.

You can imagine the shame in watching one of “our own” allies fumble the ball — someone who’d most directly benefit from the changes we’re looking to enact.

Anyway, we heard through the grapevine that this dude had the nerve to be mad that we hadn’t extended him a personal invite to join the group. First of all, we’re not out here sending out golden tickets. Who do I look like, Black Willy Wonka? Everyone who joined the caucus either volunteered or was asked to take part due to their position in the company (for example, a human resources rep). The guy never bothered to reach out; he just assumed he’d be roped in. Be blessed, beloved. We’re all good on this side.

Then there was a White-passing woman who made a dramatic pledge of dedication to our cause, only to jump ship. During a side conversation about employee affinity groups who could join in tandem with us, she jumped in and appointed herself de facto leader of her group. She really talked that talk. “I really support and stand for what you guys believe in,” she said. “This is always something that I wanted to talk about.” Just owning that soapbox. By the end of the following week, though, she backed out of the whole plan of action she’d proposed, with no real explanation. You had this whole spiel, just to dip out when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and actually execute? I’ll never understand the theatrics when the end result is just low-key wasting the group’s time.

It’s embarrassing. We’ve had White allies really pull their weight to try to push our momentum forward, sending out tough emails to our leadership team in solidarity with us and utilizing their White guilt for good. So you can imagine the shame in watching one of “our own” fumble the ball — someone who’d most directly benefit from the changes we’re looking to enact.

It’s a touchy predicament. Usually I’m all for giving people chances, but at this point, dead weight can drown. If our code of conduct is to make sure that we’re creating a safe space for our group, and it’s clear that letting this or that person in may compromise that safety or introduce discord, then I’d rather just cut the cord and keep it pushing. Hopefully by the time Halloween rolls around, you’ll have dropped the front and be showing your true colors.

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

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