Thinking about the compromises black folks often make to adjust to spaces particularly in employment. I saw the video of the news anchor whose coworker compared him to a gorilla in the news story. Concerned more with not making waves by correcting her or calling her out on air.. he awkwardly agreed. Agreed with her comparing him to a gorilla– So as to not disrupt anything. So as to not infringe upon the sanctity of her ivory tower- the one where that “joke” was ok. On “KOCO” news station no less. (I Side-eyed the fuck out of that and then simply charged to my overwhelming abundance of useless knowledge that may someday land me on Jeopardy).
It disgusted me to see him make that compromise– One that i know probably even he shuddered about when he replayed in his head. And honestly I hurt for him in that moment. And also in the moment when he had to sit next to her while she cried crocodile tears and touched his arm. And when I though about how he probably wanted to snatch his arm away. How i would have snatched my arm away. How we would have been perceived as wrong for not wanting to be touched by people that call us monkeys whether ignorantly or intentionally. He had to be her salvation. A black man who had been called a gorilla by a white woman on television in 2019 had to sit there and be her rock. He had to be the one to make her clean again. “You’re like my best Friend & I love you too.” He said after she expressed how much of a friend he was to her. It was very difficult and unsettling to witness. There was also a time when he could have lost his life for her touching him – even like this. (Tomorrow, August 28th, Marks the 64th Anniversary of the death of Emmett Till).
I once had a supervisor argue me down that the period was supposed to go outside the quotation marks. I have a DEGREE in English… we have studied this shit for years. YOU ALL read my writing here. If I fuck up punctuation or grammar- it’s on purpose- not because i don’t know how to write it. (Even that little I in the last sentence was intentional). Well he argued me down about that period. And I argued with his ass about where it went too. I KNEW it went INSIDE the quotation marks but I also knew that a mediocre White Beta male was my boss. I was a black man in his 20s working in a job that not many black men in their 20s had, or that many black men had period. They were used to seeing us on the other side of the table in there.
For a year I put the periods inside the quotation marks while on that job only to have my intellect questioned. My ability to write challenged. Red marks on my documents as though I didn’t know what I was doing. It got to a point where I even questioned whether I was right about the period going inside the quotation mark anymore. I KNEW what I KNEW but he was writing my evaluations and on them he was saying that my writing “needs work.” Now to myself I was thinking “Fuck him… I’m an incredible writer!” But I also started putting periods on the outside of my quotes so that I wouldn’t have to argue with him. I started doing something so that I wouldn’t disturb the blissful sanctity of his existence where the periods went outside the quotation marks. I allowed myself to be wronged for the sake of employment. And I HATED that shit every day.
I was miserable in that job. I had never felt so alone or isolated. I had never felt so much like the only person on earth that knew where periods went. I felt like even if I showed him the truth, even if he sought the truth for his damn self before he challenged my knowledge- he still would have said I was the one in the wrong.
Even after I quit that job I would occasionally catch myself having to put the period inside the quotation mark after putting it outside in works I was writing for myself. And each time I would get angry because I allowed a dumbass to make me compromise in a space where I KNEW better than this. And as I would delete the period and put it inside the quote I would grit my teeth and reflect on the way that the moments with that supervisor at one point got so intense that they almost had to pull us apart in that office… because I got tired of my intellect being challenged by someone who was not equipped to intellectually engage me, let alone, supervise me.
I feel for the brother. I feel for him. I feel for black people that have to experience this and maintain their composure and their dignity in moments where others did not treat them with dignity. I don’t like what he just endured. He will have to either sit next to this woman and smile from now on… or face the ire of himself agreeing to something he knew was wrong. Perhaps one of their circumstances will change. Perhaps he will move on to new opportunities. If he does… I just hope he does empowered to know that he does not have to be willing to break his bones for their boxes anymore… and that they have a responsibility to him… a responsibility to make the space as safe for him as it is for crying women in Ivory towers where it’s ok to compare us to monkeys and where periods exist outside quotations.