Social Group or Gang? My One of Many Stories of Race In The Workplace

To many, this story and the title is nothing new. It's definitely not new to me. I have been working for "the man" since I was 17 years old (by "the man" I mean a place of business that is not black owned). I have experienced many things through my years of working for a paycheck. From the kitchens of fast food restaurants, to the service of customers, to the offices of accounting departments; I have experienced many things. Favoritism, ageism, sexism, racism and all the other "isms" a person can experience in the short 6 years of work experience I possess. I have many stories but the story I tell over and over again is not the one about a co-worker calling me a "nigga" on the job and not getting fired, or getting fired for calling off at a job when other people who called off multiple times were still employed ( THAT WAS WRONG CHICK FIL-A). The story I love telling is the story about association by skin color. If you don't follow my drift, association by skin color is when someone groups you into a stereotypical box because of your skin color. Thinking that all White people enjoy rock music, all Black people enjoy grape flavored things (I HATE GRAPE) , all Mexican people work hard, all Asian people are smart, etc. I have noticed us people of color have the most damaging stereotypes out of all races. Lazy, angry/violent, "hood"/"ratchet", and enjoying grape flavored things (I REALLY HATE GRAPE). But that's a different post for a different day ( "POST MAY OR MAY NOT BE COMING SOON" ALERT *DJ Khaled voice*) I want to stick with association by skin color and tell this almost funny but disappointing story of the most memorable "race in the workplace" story I have to date. I tell this story to many black and non-black people because it helps them understand how some people have been taught (conditioned) to associate black people with things that are ill-natured. Since kindergarten, we learn to associate things with other things to understand the good or bad about a certain thing or situation. Associating the stove with heat helps you not get burned, associating good behavior with rewards helps you understand actions and choices you have, and associating DeQuan with violence helps you to stay away from *insert any damaging stereotype about black kids*. The first two associations help you; the other one oppresses another race. This association that the media and others have created is what is wrong with race relations in America today. This is what caused this story and probably millions of stories like this. But I’m not here to give you another reason to despise Dick or Sally in sales who only talks to you to ask black culture questions because their daughters "hit the folks" and twerk in the mirror.  I'm only here to get these details off. So here we go!  

This all started with a coworker of mine at one of my many jobs. Some of us went out for lunch one gloomy afternoon. Being the only younger black man going out for lunch with all middle aged white women; you can tell this may or may not be a good experience for ya boi. It's not that bad though. I sometimes don't go to lunch with them because of those exact reasons, but you can’t pass up a free meal..... EVER! So I usually snap myself out of those thoughts and go with them to eat. Usually during lunch, the same ol gossip stories about the job starts as we pile into the car. Someone not doing what they are supposed to be doing, people who aggravate them, office rumors about relationships, new work policies, and whatever else they can gossip about is usually the topic of conversation the whole ride there and back. I try my best to not get into gossiping with them. The main reason for that is because I honestly enjoy most of the people at that job. Even though I did have problems with some things and people, I did not want to be the topic of the gossip to another person about what I said later. Y'all ladies know how y'all are (shots fired).

At lunch, we do the usual "work meeting/ things going on in our personal life" talk. Lunch usually turns out to be the highlight of the trip due to the fact that I’m usually starving before then and having to listen to 4 women gossip about everything doesn't help either. So you can imagine I’m not in the happiest place once we arrive at the restaurant. So after lunch we ride back together and usually have more casual/ gossip talk but today was different. New year’s had just passed, So Tammy (NOT A REAL NAME) went around and asked what everyone had did for new year’s. Everyone took turns and said the normal "Watched the ball drop on TV with my husband", "Went to a family party", etc. New Year’s happens to be my birthday and I took 4 days off of work for that weekend because of the New Year/birthday events I had going on that year. So they knew I had done some pretty fun stuff. So Laura asked me, "So what about you Ben?” I didn't want to give to much information or go into a long explanation so I just told them, "I went to a New Year’s Eve Ball in Columbus, Ohio for New Year’s Eve and had a birthday dinner for my birthday on New Year’s Day." Laura gasps and says, "Oh my goodness! You went to a ball?" Acting all surprised like a young, fly baller like myself can't rock a tuxedo to a ball (haters gon hate). They ask to see pictures and I show them. I'm not selfish with the swag, plus I took really good pictures that whole weekend. I then continued to explain the details of the shindig, but for some reason when I got to telling them what GROUP planned the event, I was stomped (shout-out to the CUYLP). So I said, "It was thrown but a social GROUP down in Columbus. I can’t think of the name right now, but they do different things for the community and young professionals trying to make it." My co-worker then looks around the car and laughs and says, " Hmmm, are you sure it wasn't a GANG? Gang starts with a G too. Maybe it was a social GANG." She then goes into this long ballet of how gangs "do things" with the community and recruit "young people". As all of this buffoonery is coming out of her mouth, I look around the car and see my supervisor and other co-worker laughing. I then hear an uncomfortable sounding laugh from Kristine, sounding as if she just laughed because everyone else was laughing. I look over at Kristine and slowly shake my head because she laughed even though she probably figured it was kind of offensive. As I still look dumbfounded because she is still talking about gangs. I proceed to cut her off and correct her. I said ( in a very non-confrontational voice, almost in a joke voice. Didn't want to lose my job over a joke), "Well Laura, gangs also kill people, I’m almost for certain that my mom wouldn't want me going to a party with killers there. So I’m almost 99% sure it wasn't one of 'those' parties". She then quickly responds back saying, "Well how do you know there were no killers there?" in a "I’m fishing for laughs" type of voice. I said, "Your right, I could have just had lunch with some *insert fake laugh*" and stuck my head right back into my phone.

We get back to work and I felt upset but at the same time un-bothered. It was a feeling of, "Wow, I can’t believe she said that." But then a second thought of not expecting anything less. Mind you, it was a joke, but the reality of the matter and the thing I pondered later that week is if I were white, would the thought of "Gangs" even have crept into her mind? That's the question I always ask myself every time I think of this story. In the situation, it amused me. Another white person using the association tool we were all taught from birth to make a racist remark. I think it’s funny but it really ties into what’s going on today in the world. A young man named Benjamin Hemingway with a squeaky clean background (private Christian school educated all my life, a pastor's kid with no record, kids, or gang affiliations) who works at the same place as you making the same amount of money as you could be categorized into a joke about gangs. It’s definitely not a big deal as I still enjoy Laura's company and she actually is pretty funny.

I try to defy all the stereotypes that come with being a young black man in the workplace ( getting to work on time, making deadlines, etc) for the exact reason of not being associated into the stereotypes of the masses. I try and do it without comprising myself but it’s tough. Everyone like me probably has many stories like this one but I thought to share mine. Funny or not, this story is what is wrong with America today. The media learned association of young black men and women (especially men) to violence, aggression and "parties thrown by a gang" goers.  If I were a "Piru" affiliate, she would know it!

*Drops mic and crips walk off stage*