This post requires reader participation. First choose a subtitle for this post from the list below:
- “How Far We Have Come, How Far We Have Left To Go”
- “What It Can Teach You About Your Colleagues”
- “What the F–k?!”
The division I work in is on the verge of shipping — “releasing” for those outside the software industry — the latest version of a pretty big product which has been under development for almost 3 years. To celebrate this momentous event, all employees who have contributed to the product are being rewarded by the company with a “Ship Party.” The twist is this particular party has been advertised as a costume party. Costumes are not required but they are strongly encouraged in the name of good, wholesome fun at the end of a challenging product development cycle.
I have debated back-and-forth on whether I would participate in the costume portion of the party since everyone on my immediate team intends to participate and have been pressuring me to do so as well to “lead by example.” My wife is like me when it comes to things of this sort which means she is not too keen on playing dress-up and just wants to go and have a good time. If she were to agree to don a costume it would be up to me to choose something she would approve and to handle the logistics.
Since my colleagues have been pressuring me I decided to enlist their help in selecting costumes for my wife and me. This is where things took a turn to the, shall we say, interesting (or perhaps enlightening). What follows are two excerpts from actual conversations I have had with separate colleagues at separate times.
Disclaimer: I am a Black man proudly working in corporate America. The people on the other end of these exchanges are on the opposite end of the melanin spectrum. I mention this not because I believe there is any correlation between that physical human characteristic and the opinions/ignorance unintentionally expressed through one’s words; but because I believe there are some things that get lost or overlooked when we attempt to identify with each other that turn out to be comical when put into their proper context.
Colleague 1: “Are you going to the party?”
Me: “Yeah, are you going?”
C1: “Yep! Are you wearing a costume?”
Me: “I haven’t decided. I can’t think of anything to wear.”
C1: “Why don’t you go as a pimp?!”
C1: “Or what about a gangsta?” (Editor’s note: notice the -sta.)
Me: “Umm, I was thinking of something a little less, uh, controversial. Like a professor or lawyer.
C1: (Agitated) “Na, that’s boring.” (Pause) “You should go as a rapper.”
C1: “Plus you have a bald head. It would be perfect.”
Me: “Are you and your wife going to the ship party?”
Colleague 2: “Yes, we’re going as ____ and ____. Are you and your wife going?” (Editor’s note: redacted to protect the innocent.)
Me: “Yeah, we’ll be there.”
C2: “Are you dressing up?”
Me: “We haven’t decided yet. We can’t decide on costumes.”
C2: “You two should go as Ike and Tina Turner!”
Now, dear reader, help me with my dilemma. Should I:
A: Rage against the machine Heathcliff Huxtable style and prove that a bald-headed, Black man can be a professor, lawyer, etc. without being immediately hackneyed or summarily dismissed with some veiled euphemism for “unauthentic”?
B: Go with the flow and further the stereotypical belief that being a Black man in America is synonymous with being a great pimp, gangster, rapper or legendary wife beater (especially when you throw in the catalytic bald head)?
I am scared if I consult another colleague he/she might suggest my wife and I go as Dred and Harriet Scott which would surely land me on the 6 o’clock news.
“Give us free!” — Cinque, Amistad