THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

I’m No Longer Using My White Voice at Work

Sorry to bother you with this latest 2020 self-discovery

The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Published in
4 min readAug 11, 2020

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“Sorry to Bother You.” Photo illustration, source: Annapurna Pictures

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You never really remember your first time code-switching. It just sort of happens. More like whistling than riding a bike (although, like cycling, once you’ve got it down, you can do it forever). Code-switching is just one of those talents that you subconsciously sharpen until one day, one moment, the opportunity calls for your pitch, diction, and overall energy to take a form of their own, and it just leaps out: your fully formed White voice.

For Black people operating in spheres where Whiteness is the default setting — especially those who deal with paying, borrowing, or procuring money — code-switching is one of the most crucial talents you can possess. (Not to mention dealing with law enforcement, which is its own modus operandi with much higher stakes). It dates back to W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of the double consciousness that’s necessary to survive an oppressive society. And while it’s a relic of problematic respectability politics, smiling and throwing a little extra enunciation into your speech game is one of the few tools at Black folks’ disposal to disarm prejudiced White folks in corporate America.

I started developing my White voice before I even realized it. As a kid, I was always reading, building up my vocab through Black Panther comics or horror fiction like Goosebumps (R.L. Stine, what up!). Back when phone companies would deliver big-ass yellow telephone directories in the mail, I’d even flip through those, perusing neighbors’ addresses and information about local businesses. English classes were a breeze — much to the ire of some of my hating-ass peers — and I’d also taken speech and acting lessons, which furthered my ability to adopt different personas and express myself effectively no matter what room I’m occupying.

When I was old enough to have business of my own to handle, my lingo would convert instinctively, like I’d taken a hit of helium and just finished…

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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.