The Only Black Guy in the Office

Stimmy envy is too real

Illustration of a man working at a computer daydreaming of being a rich man lying on a big check.
Illustration of a man working at a computer daydreaming of being a rich man lying on a big check.
Illustration: Michael Kennedy for LEVEL

One of the first rap songs I ever learned the words to was “Mo Money Mo Problems” by the Notorious B.I.G. Even as a young’un, I was fascinated by the hook Kelly Price sang: “I don’t know what they want from me / It’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.”

That song came out in 1997 when I was still a kid living under my parents’ roof with nary a bill to pay; the only problems I had involved arithmetic. But growing up with two parents who worked blue-collar jobs, I did know that…


The Only Black Guy in the Office

Once upon a time, I wasn’t the only Black guy in the office

A Black person with very short hair standing with their back to us with their hands on their hips. They’re facing an office populated with all Black coworkers. Large glass windows show a partly cloudy sky.
A Black person with very short hair standing with their back to us with their hands on their hips. They’re facing an office populated with all Black coworkers. Large glass windows show a partly cloudy sky.
Illustrated by Michael Kennedy for Level

Last week, I had lunch with Adam, a friend and former colleague visiting from Portland. Outdoor seating, of course. He, like me, is part of the token Black employee gang at another company, so whenever we link up, we get into a competition of oppression Olympics: who faces the most annoying microaggressions, how our respective companies are botching diversity efforts, how much onus is put on each of us to bring about change at said gigs. You know — fun, light discussion.

Banter aside, though, we always make sure to toast to thriving (not just surviving!) in a Mad Men


A custom illustration of a Black male office worker, wearing glasses and holding a stack of papers, standing in front of 3 cubicles. In the cubicles behind him are his white coworkers.
A custom illustration of a Black male office worker, wearing glasses and holding a stack of papers, standing in front of 3 cubicles. In the cubicles behind him are his white coworkers.
Michael Kennedy for Index

The Only Black Guy In the Office

Racism, sexism — the whole nine!

The Only Black Guy In the Office is a Seattle-based, midlevel marketing manager who writes about navigating the White waters of corporate America. He’s like a modern-day Dilbert — that is, if Dilbert were Black, woke, and outspoken about the foolery, joys, and microaggressions that Black professionals experience on the daily. The Only Black Guy sounds off about his career experiences in his eponymous weekly column at LEVEL. Here, he’ll regularly chime in on the latest mishaps in white-collar corporate news as only he can — straight, with no chaser.

This just in: Diversity training doesn’t work

Remember how in the midst of last summer’s racial reckoning…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

Yes, they’re basically indentured servitude, but that doesn’t mean we should shame students who pursue them

Illustration: Michael Kennedy for LEVEL

The summer before my senior year in college, I landed an internship in New York City at a company where I’d always wanted to work. I still remember that experience like it was yesterday: subway rides to the office, chopping it up with people whose LinkedIn accounts I’d stalked as a junior, soaking up all the game I could. I was living the dream — aside from the fact that my only compensation was fist bumps and the occasional extra scone from a Starbucks run.

These memories came to mind recently last week after a perennial Twitter topic trended once…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

Sure, you wish them well—but navigating the aftershocks is tricky at non-diverse companies

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

A couple of weeks ago, I poured out a lil’ liquor for the homie. I knew Ryan would leave us eventually; I just wasn’t ready to see his time come so soon. But I’m finding solace in the fact that he’s moving on to a better place — a land where vacation time is unlimited, gym reimbursements are plentiful, and 401(k) funds get matched. Ryan got a new job.

No matter the reason, it’s tough to see colleagues leave for greener pastures, especially the ones who are part of your daily routine. Even teammates you think of as acquaintances provide…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

My interviews these days have a few more curveballs

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

In my very first column here at LEVEL, I dropped some game on one question that any person from a marginalized community should ask while being interviewed for a new job: “How would you define diversity and what does that mean to you?” It’s a query that has, for the most part, helped me suss out companies that clearly don’t give a damn about making their workforces fair and safe spaces for Black employees like me. Yet as of late, I’ve been able to drop it from my repertoire completely.

For the first time in more than a year, I’ve…


The Only Black Guy in the Office

When keeping it real goes right

Illustration by Michael Kennedy for LEVEL

A few weeks ago, I got my first whiff of celebrity status. And it was horrifying.

I got a text from my boy James, a member of the POC posse at a former job. We’d stayed in touch over the years, and he’s elevated to a meme swap acquaintance — basically a half-rung below what I’d consider a friend. It’s always good to hear from him, though, and when his name popped up on my phone, I was already prepared for a good laugh. His latest correspondence, however, wasn’t a silly TikTok video or Bernie Sanders Photoshop job.

It was…


The Only Black Guy in the Office

You may not be in person, but you’ve still gotta come correct

Illustration by Michael Kennedy for LEVEL

For the first time in a long time, I’m happy with my current job. I have support from my higher-ups, a good deal of responsibility, and room for improvement, word to Drake. Still, at least once every year, I browse the job opportunities on LinkedIn to see what else is out there. I’ve done so ever since a friend who works in HR suggested making an effort to interview elsewhere annually — especially while I’m employed. For whatever reason, she said, many companies find poaching a prospect preferable to hiring someone who is unemployed. (It’s human nature, I guess, to…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

And forward this to the whole damn company while you’re at it

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Today is the first day of February, and I’m officially stressed out. Sure, I’m happy to have escaped the most bizarre January of my lifetime, with only the mild shellshock of a militia-fueled insurrection and the inauguration of this nation’s first Black vice president occurring just weeks apart. But I’ve got a love-loathe relationship with the second month of the year. Black History Month can be beautiful — but for Black employees in corporate America, it can also be awkward as hell.

In the aftermath of 2020 — a year in which the phrase “performative activism” was cemented in the…


THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

Kamala Harris’ appointment to Madam Vice President hits differently for Black college grads like me

Illustration: Michael Kennedy

For many of my co-workers, this inauguration hit different. Mostly for good reasons. After four years marked by incompetence, negligence, and frequent abuses of power at the presidential level, we were all elated to see last week’s changing of the guard. There was a noticeable optimism beaming through everyone’s Zoom windows throughout the day. (I even put myself on mute during a meeting to bump “FDT” for a bit.)

But that’s not the only reason this inauguration felt special. It wasn’t the Covid-era masks that everyone was wearing, or Bernie Sanders’ viral normcore fashion statement in front of the same…

The Only Black Guy In the Office

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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