There are few things I take for granted nowadays. After a short bout of unemployment that literally had me living on a prayer, I learned quickly that the old adage “it could be you tomorrow” isn’t just something people say to scare you. So being offered a job with one of my industry’s leading companies not only gave me hope that these bill collectors would finally stop calling me one day, but it also showed me that talent triumphs over color.
Or does it?
When I arrived at my new office for the first day of work, the obvious couldn’t be more obvious: I was “the solo dolo negro.” I mean, I was the only one here! Although I knew I had the skill set to easily do this job (and do it well), I couldn’t help but wonder if checking that little “Black/African American” box on my application is what gave me an advantage over Sammy or Dave. It’s an unfortunate mindset for someone in my position: I had just graduated from the nation’s best historically black college, I had received awards and recognition within and outside of my “community,” and I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment where race was not an obstacle, but an opportunity; one to teach others that my skin color does not define who I should be or how I should act.
Now let me clarify: I was not the only minority in the building, but I was the minority of the minorities. I tried to see who would acknowledge that I was the lone chocolate chip in the tub of vanilla ice cream, but no one seemed to bring it up. Had I fallen into a utopian society, where people truly saw content over color? Was I making too big of a deal about not having another similar-pigmented colleague? At first, that seemed to be the case, but I realized quickly that the challenges of being the “solo dolo negro” would far exceed my wildest expectations.
Similar to early (and current) mainstream media coverage of our first black president, it seemed as if my melanin-deficient colleagues simply weren’t accustomed to dealing with a black person on a day-to-day basis, much less a young black man. Our topics of conversation were limited, our styles were different, our personalities were like night and day (no pun intended); in spite of this, I will admit that some of my colleagues made valiant efforts to “loop me in,” and they did not go unappreciated. Some of my other colleagues were unabashedly, unapologetically themselves – no choice but to respect that. But even with the effort put forth and the subtle fascination of “the new black guy,” there was still an obvious disconnect between my new place of employment and me.
As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, an epiphany hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: despite the Civil Rights Movement, affirmative action, Denzel and Halle’s Academy Award wins and a black president, I am not equal. No, my colleagues don’t make me enter through the back of the building or give me 3/5 of an email address, but as a young black male, I have to work exponentially harder than my white counterparts just to prove the same amount of competence. My biggest successes are met with indifference, while my smallest failures have the potential to end my career. My performance decides whether they hire more young black men or never hire another one again.
So what do I do now?
Well, in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “knowledge is power;” and like G.I. Joe says, “knowing is half the battle;” and in the spirit of the United Negro College Fund, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This revelation lit the fire under my ass to stop being the prey and to start being the predator. This is all a mental game, a test to see if I can weather the storm; however, this is not only my superiors and colleagues with varying degrees of incompetence testing me – no, this is a self-test. This is “the real world” that your parents warned you about, where we’re all equal but some are more equal than others.
And so it begins, the journey of the solo dolo negro.
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