The Only Black Guy in the Office

Why I Miss Working for a Black Company

Once upon a time, I wasn’t the only Black guy in the office

The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Published in
4 min readMar 22, 2021

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A Black person with very short hair standing with their back to us with their hands on their hips. They’re facing an office populated with all Black coworkers. Large glass windows show a partly cloudy sky.
Illustrated by Michael Kennedy for Level

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting LEVELMAN.com.

Last week, I had lunch with Adam, a friend and former colleague visiting from Portland. Outdoor seating, of course. He, like me, is part of the token Black employee gang at another company, so whenever we link up, we get into a competition of oppression Olympics: who faces the most annoying microaggressions, how our respective companies are botching diversity efforts, how much onus is put on each of us to bring about change at said gigs. You know — fun, light discussion.

Banter aside, though, we always make sure to toast to thriving (not just surviving!) in a Mad Men world. Neither of us envisioned making it to a point in our careers where we could take 90-minute lunch breaks and play a game of Whose Corporate Credit Card Will Cover the Bill? It’s not that we ever lacked confidence in ourselves, but more that we didn’t know what the wider world held. We’d find out soon enough, though.

Adam and I met fresh out of college, as new hires at a Black-run media company. While it wasn’t Black-owned, you’d never know it by looking at the workforce; executive leadership, senior-level staff, middle management, and entry-level roles were all predominantly composed of BIPOC employees, who were serving an identical clientele. I was happy to be there, but as time went on, Adam and I worried about whether the gig was a true résumé builder. Sure, the company gave us clout at local barbershops, but would the work we were doing be taken seriously by the mainstream companies where we aspired to work? We had no idea.

While Adam and I have reached higher altitudes on the corporate ladder, our quest for more power now comes in a structure that was never designed with us in mind.

It was the kind of self-doubt fueled by years of brainwashing — the pervasive belief that somehow Black companies that focused on Black people were nice to talk about at happy hour, but…

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The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Writer for

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