Working While Black: My Obnoxious, White Male Coworker Thinks He Knows Everything

October 29, 2015  |  

As told to Veronica Wells

After years of working in the corporate world with nothing but White men, I, a young Black woman in my mid thirties, was thrilled to finally be able to follow my passion and begin writing for a small, but very racially diverse newspaper in Pittsburgh. Since my coworkers are mostly people of color, there’s a general level of tolerance and overall “wokeness” at the office and I love it.

After years of swallowing snide, racially tinged comments and listening to conspiracy theories about President Obama’s Islamic roots and plans to take the country to hell, it was nice to be around people who understand what it’s like to be a minority in America. And I existed in my new utopia for about six months before the company hired an ad sales person. Our office is diverse so there are White folks there; but again they’re cool. I assumed that this new guy would be cut from the same cloth.

I was wrong.

From his first month in the office, this man, we’ll call him Shawn, proved he had probably never been around people that much, let alone people of color. He was sweet enough and I genuinely don’t believe he meant anyone any harm, it’s just that his entitlement was showing. From the day Shawn stepped on the scene, he was under the impression that he was someone’s boss. When that was actually never the case. If me and my coworkers were speaking openly, in common spaces, about business, Shawn would almost break his neck, hustling his way over to the conversation that literally had nothing to do with him.

At first I just attributed it to being a bit nosy. I tried to give him a pass, realizing that it’s hard to be the new guy and we all want the tea.

But it wasn’t long before I learned his curiosity was more than just being informed and included. Shawn had something to prove.

As the months passed, and he became more comfortable, his behavior became more and more obnoxious. I learned that I would be working with him and a handful of my other coworkers on a special project. We all met to brainstorm ideas. I noticed that anytime I proposed an idea, minutes later, Shawn would remix it, throw in a few new words and pitch the exact same thing. After two good times, I finally had to call him on it.

“I just said that.”

He stared at me blankly before saying, “I know. I’m just rephrasing it.”

It took every ounce of the Holy Ghost in me not to jump across that table and come for his neck.

Instead, I just told him, sternly, that my words didn’t need to be rephrased. I even made a bit of a show out of it, asking my coworkers if they’d understood my idea. They did.

After that I cut all of my interaction with him to the bare minimum. I don’t want to lose a job I love for checking an annoying White man.

Still, I would hear him interacting with other people. One of my coworkers was warming up her lunch in the kitchen and he leaned over her plate, asking what she’d brought.

“Oh just some grilled shrimp.”

“You have a grill at home?”

“No…”

“Well, then it’s more like pan fried.”

“Oh, ok thanks.”

Shawn seemed to have all the answers, though no one ever asked for them.

Interestingly enough, when we met with him for him to provide answers about his own job, something he should have been happy to share, he was full of “I don’t knows” and “I’ll get back to yous.”

My favorite Shawn story happened just a few weeks ago, when he was once again, eavesdropping in on another conversation. This one wasn’t about work and so my Black coworkers were speaking Ebonics. Again, it was a private, casual conversation in which one of my coworkers used the word “finna.”

“Finna…I think you mean getting ready to…” He spun around and marched back to his cubicle, shoulders high, as if he had just made the world a better place.

Ugh.

I don’t know what Shawn’s aim is exactly. All I know is that if you’re trying to ingratiate yourself with a new group of people, you don’t go about it by trying to prove that you’re smarter than them, especially when you consistently struggle to prove it.

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