Talking Black, Talking White…
And A Lunch Table Revelation
By Max Rankin
To be totally candid, I must confess that I’m a Generic White Person―or, as we like to call ourselves, a GWP. And when I’m at my workplace and encounter my fellow GWPs, I greet them with one of our standard, albeit unimaginative, salutations, e.g., “Good morning,” or “How ya doin’?”
However, when I encounter an African-American Male Employee (AAME), I automatically transition into “pseudo-urban dude” and use such greetings as, “What’s happenin’ man?” or “Whassup, bro?” I have no idea why I do this. Perhaps it comes from a deep-seated racial response wherein my brain says, “African-American guy approaching, must talk black.”
Now I can’t say that some of my friends are black because they aren’t, but there’s an AAME named Barry who’s become a pretty good work-buddy of mine. And Barry is so amused by my pseudo-urban dude routine that he will respond to my greetings in the persona of a pretentious GWP.
So when I say, “What’s happenin’ man?”
He’ll reply with, “Why, everything’s happening, old chap. It’s the natural course of events.”
And we’ll banter like this for a few minutes.
Then one day a managerial type overheard one of our conversations and called me into his office. “You can’t talk ‘black’ to our African-American employees,” he said. “It’s racist.”
I disagreed, and told him that it was a private conversation and none of his freakin’ business. Of course, he went straight to HR, and they said that if Barry had no complaints, there was no problem. (Who knew HR could be so reasonable, especially since race was involved?)
When I mentioned this incident to Barry, he laughed and said, “That’s really funny because when I was sitting at the black lunch table the other day, a co-worker said he’d also overheard one of our conversations and told me that I talk too white.”
“Interesting,” I said, “but I’m curious about the black lunch table. Haven’t y’all worked awfully hard to change things so you could sit at the white tables?”
“We sure did,” he said, “and after all that, it turns out we really don’t want to. Pretty ironic, huh?”