The Post-Racial Break Room

The black man in the office is judging you

Whenever people ask the question, “Is the U.S. post-racial yet?”,  I always laugh at the assertion that we could ever be post-racial, even if our President is black. The current generation experiences race differently, but we do experience it. Shows like “The Office” and “30 Rock” not only address race in ways that are humorous, but are nuanced, very much like racism in current times. However, what we should not become is a society that is not talking about race.

A story to illustrate my point:

A few days ago, I was talking with my roommate on the phone in the break area of my job. I was sitting next to some of my co-workers, including an African- American man in his early 50s. My roommate asked if I thought she would get to my cousin’s house for dinner on time, to which I replied “Girl, you know we’re black folks. We’re not going to start on time.”

The co-worker in question mumbled something about how I shouldn’t say things like that about black people. I replied, “I’m not talking about all black people; I’m talking about MY family members, who are black.” He continued to mumble something about how I’m supporting and reinforcing a stereotype. I said “If you took offense to my remark, I apologize.” To which he replied, “ Oh, it won’t happen again.”


One mark of where people are in terms of identity awareness is when they react to one aspect of injustice by perpetuating another. My co-worker, upset with me for (in his opinion) making a statement that encouraged the oppression of blacks, attempted to use his male and (questionable) age privilege to put me “in check.”

One thing I like about the place that I work is that providing constructive, immediate and respectful feedback is a norm that is established from training and mentioned often. Ever since I read the book, “Critical Conversations,” I’ve adopted the belief that the main factor that can erode any working relationship is a lack of respect. Without respect, you don’t have an environment where you can provide information that will help someone improve, as well as receive such information without being threatened.

I asked my co-worker if I could talk with him quickly and privately before I left. Once we were off to the side, I re-iterated that I apologized for offending him with my comment. I told him that while I invite anyone to call me out on anything I do or say that bothers them, I told him that in order for such a confrontation to be productive, I ask that I be engaged and not just reacted to.

Through this serious but calm conversation, we came to the conclusion that what we were dealing with was a generational issue. To him, making a remark about how being black means that my family is unlikely to start dinner on time is the same as, in his words, rappers calling other black people “nigga” in song lyrics. On the other hand, I felt I was acknowledging that time is a cultural construction, and that every culture addresses the importance of time in different ways.

But most importantly, our conflict represented a generational difference in how race should be dealt with in mixed spaces. My co-worker took the most issue with the fact that I had made that comment in front of two of our non-black co-workers. He was from a generation when black people took personal responsibility for how non-black people (mostly white people) viewed us as a racial group. We had to be on our best behavior around them, lest we cause them to view all of use stereotypically.

I personally hope that I never live in a “post-racial” society, but if this is indeed a goal we should aspire to, I want to live in a society where race is not ignored, but put into a proper context. Where each of us is accepted for ourselves, including our cultural selves. Where there is a firm and universal understanding of the difference between “in-group” and “out-group” with regards to comments like the one I made.

Most importantly, I want to live in a society where we don’t have to act in fear of being culturally misunderstood. I am not going to accept the burden of giving someone else permission to be racist, and no one else should either. Antoine Dodson should not have black intellectuals jump down his throat for being himself on television and reacting to his sister’s attempted sexual assault. I understand where my co-worker was coming from, but if the current state of cultural relations should teach us anything, color-blind post-racial “racelessness” should not be a goal. Our President is racially black, culturally multi-heritaged, and, despite his education and experience, should not be judged for not starting dinner on time.

2 thoughts on “The Post-Racial Break Room

  1. Free Reeves

    Thanks smallpro! I know so many people like your co-worker. I think part of the goal of equality is freedom, right? Make sure you show your co-worker this:


  2. smallpro

    this reminds me of the eldest african-american @ my place of employment who refuses to eat any watermelon while at the job, under any circumstances, soley for the fact that there are white people present. very well-written article, per usual.


What do you think?