“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
how I keep from going under”
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5
On morning while at work, my supervisor asked me to come into his office to discuss something. After going through the daily morning pleasantries, his demeanor then changed and he went on to accuse me of something I didn’t do. He stated that he knew I had done it because it “sounded” like me.
I need to go back a few months and days before this to set the stage. We have an employee in our unit who can only be described as a “dog-fucker”. He is extremely lazy. Here’s the paradox. He spends more time and energy trying to get out of doing his work, than he would expend if he just did his job. My supervisor assigned another employee, a Black co-worker to mentor this dog-fucker. It’s important to note that this mentor and I are the only two Black employees in this unit. When my supervisor told me of his plan, I advised him that this plan wouldn’t work and gave him my reasons why. About three weeks later, the Black employee emailed the dog-fucker and supervisor stating he was no longer going to mentor him. There were some serious issues and the Black co-worker rightly determined that the dog-fucker was setting the stage to go off on medical stress leave and lay a complaint of workplace harassment against him as the basis of his stress.
This is what led to my meeting with the supervisor. He was of the opinion that this Black employee wouldn’t have written that email, in such a way and withdraw from the mentoring the dog-fucker, without first speaking to him. Therefore he knew that I was the one who had actually written the email because it was something I would do and the contents of the email “sounded just like you”. The truth is I had nothing whatsoever to do with it. I only knew about the email after it was sent. I asked my supervisor if he had spoken to the Black employee and asked if I had written the email or had advised him on what to write or had anything to do with it at all. He answered that he had and the Black employee had informed him that I had nothing at all to do with it.
After a heated discussion where I proved that I had nothing to do with the drafting of the email, my supervisor then stated that maybe I had inadvertently influenced the Black employee by my opposition to the mentoring program. I explained that I had no discussion with any of the employees in the unit about my opinion of the mentoring program, as this would have undermined his efforts. I then asked if any of the employees had informed him that I had expressed my opposition to the program to them or to anyone else and he stated no one had. So I rejected this theory.
My next question to my supervisor was if he believed that this Black employee hadn’t written the email or was influenced by someone else, there were five other co-workers in the office (all white), so was he going to interrogate them also to get to the truth of the matter? He stated he was not… that he was only concerned if I had anything to do with the drafting of the email. WTF!! I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I told him that because I was Black and the mentor was Black, didn’t mean that I had any influence on him and whatever he decides to do.
Well… then the shit really hit the fan!
Let me briefly summarize what then took place. My supervisor contacted the manager of our unit, as well as Human Resources and the Union and falsely claimed that I had accused him of racial discrimination and harassment. They then instituted the workplace harassment policy… on my behalf… although the policy clearly states that if I wanted to make such an accusation, I would have to do it myself in writing to a manager not a party to the allegations… which I didn’t do. The next day, my supervisor then brought me into his office and read a prepared statement that I had made an allegation of racial discrimination and harassment against him and to let him know what he could do to resolve this issue.
I was stunned but refused to play his game. I informed him that in no way did I make any such allegations. Further, I was aware of the policy that such allegations would have to be made in writing by myself to his manager and this was a clear conflict of interest, breach of our workplace harassment policy, as well as an abuse of process for him to bring me into his office to discuss this. I told him I knew he was only doing this “to cover his ass”, because if I wanted to make this an issue of racial harassment and discrimination… due to the way he went about dealing with this issue, first by accusing me of something I didn’t do, then stating that I was the only one being investigated in regards to an issue involving another Black employee… I would have a legitimate case against him.
I refused to get involved in this workplace harassment
sham procedure. I informed him and subsequently our manager, that this wasn’t a racial issue, which would have let him off the hook in my opinion. This was clearly a case of my supervisor exercising poor judgment, making a bad decision and when the mentoring program failed, instead of taking responsibility for it, he was looking to use me as a scapegoat for its failure. It was an issue of a lack of honesty and integrity on his part, which was further demonstrated in his violation and abuse of the workplace harassment policy to discredit me.
A few months after this incident while on parental leave, I was contacted at home by a co-worker who informed me that there was a rumor going around that my supervisor had contacted our Union and told them that he had brought me into his office to “call me out” on something I had done and I responded by playing the “race card”. Once I returned to work, I contacted the Union and those who were identified to me as spreading this rumor. I didn’t get into the details of what had occurred, but I made these points known:
- If my supervisor had stated that I had played the “race card” in any dealing he had with me, then he is a liar. He is the one who “played the race card”.
- If I do something wrong, I always admit and take responsibility for my error, so I never have to “play the race card” to avoid any repercussions.
- I am intellectually and ethically superior to my supervisor, so I would never have to “play the race card” to gain any advantage over him.
My only son turned five years old last week. He is a handsome, articulate, energetic, intelligent, fun-loving and gentle young man. He is the apple of my eye!
There’s only one problem: he is Black.
And as his father, I am challenged to do for him what generations of African American fathers have had to do for their sons for far too long in this country; I must inform him that because of his unique blend of gender and pigmentation, there are a different set of rules with which he must contend while growing up.
Nineteen years ago, on a frigid December night in Waco, Texas, what was intended to be a quick stop at the convenience store turned into a two-hour lesson on the racial history of America. A teenager, I was wearing a large jacket with a hood. As I readied myself to exit the car, my grandfather, with whom we were visiting for the holidays, proclaimed, “Take that hood off your head before you go in that store or they will blow your brains out!” Such sudden outbursts were uncharacteristic for my rather mild-mannered grandfather. I found his proclamation of the possibility of my abrupt and violent demise rather upsetting. And it was difficult for me to comprehend. I was simply going to buy some sodas, a rather non-hostile action in my opinion.
For what felt more like an eternity than two hours, my grandfather, grandmother, mother, and uncle awakened me to some troubling realities: 1) That my dark skin, then embracing a 5-foot-10-inch, 13-year-old frame, was a considerable threat for some people, and 2) that some people would not be patient enough to judge me based on the content of my character but rather would be fixated on the color of my skin, and that the color of my skin, viewed through the lens of their own prejudices, meant that I was the physical embodiment of their greatest fear (a big, Black man), fears reinforced daily by mass media. Ever since that fateful December night, I have lived life in full view of these realities.
Having added over five inches and one hundred pounds to that 13-year-old frame over the years, when riding in elevators, I have learned to give quick and easy smiles to disarm my fellow passengers and to ensure them that they are not in any imminent danger. I am mindful of my tone and the inflection of my voice when in conversation in mixed groups as I have learned that I am not afforded the same terms of conversation as others. For if I slightly raise my voice, instead of describing me as passionate, some will label me an angry Black man. Like countless generations of Black men, I have been followed in stores and stopped by police so many times without cause that I am pleasantly surprised when it does not happen.
Now, I, a latter generation Gen-Xer, must pass down to my post-Millennial son some of the rules of engagement for a Black man in this society: 1) If the police stop you make sure you stop in a well-lit area and don’t make any sudden moves. In fact, verbally broadcast your actions (i.e., Officer, I am now reaching into the glove compartment for my registration). 2) Always get the receipt after making a purchase, no matter how small, so no one can falsely accuse you of theft later. 3) It doesn’t matter if the white kids are doing it. Your punishment will always be much more severe if you are caught doing the same. This is also true for adulthood.
I must inform my son that even if he were blessed to graduate from an Ivy League law school with high honors, having served as the editor of that prestigious school’s law review, and go on to be elected the President of the United States of America, even then, some people will consider him to be unqualified for the job and question whether he is a “true” American on account of his Blackness. I will tell him about James Byrd, Jr., the fake drug scandal of Dallas, the Tulia drug busts, and other contemporary instances of societal racism in our home State of Texas, even as previous generations of Black fathers have spoken to their sons of Emmett Till, the Tuskegee
Experiment, and COINTELPRO.
And yes, I will tell him about Troy Anthony Davis. I will tell him that even in the face of compelling doubt surrounding his conviction, the cries of other nations, or the pleas of former U.S. Presidents and Nobel Laureates to spare his life, poison can be injected into his veins, for in the eyes of some, he is considered to be an animal that must be put down at all costs.
I will take part in this familiar, yet painful, ritual, for as the Apostle Paul articulated to his sons and daughters in the faith, I would not want my son to be “uninformed…about the troubles we [have] experienced” in this country (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Then I will tell my son, “Go and change the world!”
- Canadian Senator Talks Race Relations
- The Economist: How To Build A Religion
- Black Yoda: Straw (Colored) Man Arguments
- Truthdig: The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Recalls Obama’s Fall From Grace
- Breaking Brown: barack obama doesn’t like black people (and that includes troy davis)
- “To All” – A message from Troy Anthony Davis