As told to Veronica Wells
I just started a new job about two months ago. It’s a sales company so they try to foster a lot of team-building activities. Once a month, new hires are invited to go out to dinner with the veterans. These socials are supposed to be times when we share what we’ve learned on the job. But from the two times I’ve gone, people just sit around telling what I call “Red Neck Tails.” During my second week on the job, I ventured out with my team of all White coworkers to a cheap restaurant. Naturally, they were curious about the new Black girl on the team, so they had plenty of questions.
Somehow word had spread that I had attended college. They started there.
“So Mariah, did you actually finish college?”
“Umm…yes, I graduated.”
It was an odd question and I wondered why they posed it to me. But their reaction seemed to explain it.
Many of them looked downcast, before admitting, one by one, that they had only finished a year of school before dropping out.
Clearly, they were trying to compare themselves to me and discover where they ranked compared to the new Black girl.
I thanked God that I had the balls to negotiate my salary during my initial interview. My experience and education proved that I simply deserved more.
The next few after work outings came and went without my attendance.
Months later, they hired another person who seemed to be struggling to adjust to the social structure in the company. Once I found out this new hire was attending this week’s mixer, I decided to tag along just to reassure him that he wasn’t the strange one. His new coworkers, with the exception of me, were just off. Call it moral support.
Someone chose Mexican this time. Amidst tortilla chips, salsa and plenty of refried beans, my coworkers, sounding like Donald Trump clones, starting saying incredibly racist things about Muslims and ISIS. I attempted to change the subject.
Once I did, then they came for me.
To provide a bit of context, my manager is a White man from a small town in Ohio. And now that he makes hiring decisions, he mostly hires his friends, also from that small, predominately White town in Ohio.
One of these men started telling a story of his loyalty and gratitude.
“One day, this man in a bar came charging toward me. It was Steve who came to my rescue. He took a bottle and broke it over his head.”
Amused by the visual, I said, “Oh yeah, Steve does seem like the type to pop the trunk.”
Everyone’s face seemed to light up with intrigue.
Then the survivor, storyteller spoke, “Mariah, you’re getting all ghetto on us.”
He said it with a grin, almost as if he didn’t realize he’d just insulted me.
I swallowed my irritation before saying, “First of all, ghetto is a noun, not an adjective.”
He countered, “Well, it can be used as an adjective to describe a certain type of person.”
“And what type of person is that?”
He stumbled and mumbled, saying nothing.
Quickly running out of patience, I asked “Do you realize that’s offensive?”
You might think he would have too ashamed after a comment like that one. But he wasn’t done yet. In fact, my coworker who now regarded himself as an amateur comedian, said matter of factly,
“I don’t care if I offend the people I call that.”
“But you just called me that.”
He looked remorseful for a moment. But only for a moment. Thankfully, someone else chimed in, shifting the conversation. I sat there in the corner, stewing.
Later, another person at the table asked if we wanted to hear a dirty Jew joke. There’s no need for me to repeat it but know that it included a gas chamber. Just vile.
Amazing how they were talking about ISIS and terrorism but the killing of millions of innocent people was comical.
After that, I got up and walked out.
That same man who called me ghetto tried to start small talk throughout the course of the week but I ignored him.
I have a new rule at work, not only will I no longer attend any of these mixers, I avoid speaking to these racists like the plague.