Dear white people, your black colleagues aren’t required to date
Just because your co-workers are the same race does not mean they’re compatible
“Y’know, I always thought you and ____________________ would’ve been such a cute couple,” my white colleague said to me, with a dreamy look in his eyes.
I feigned surprise. “What? Why would you say that?”
“Oh, I just … it seemed like it might be a good connection.”
“Because why?” I pressed.
“Um, I dunno, my break is over. Gotta go.”
I shook my head. Here we go again.
Office spaces are opening slowly again after the COVID-19 scare, and people are headed back to their desks. Now whether they’ll share the same cubicles or move further apart in shared offices is totally up to the company. But I have a simple request for the walking, talking OkCupid co-worker in the office: Please stop trying to hook up your black co-workers. Yes, it worked for Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. We know.
But just because two people in the office wear less suntan lotion than you does not mean they’re bound to get married next week and have 3.5 kids. And black folks can tell you’re doing it. We see that Cheshire grin on your face when the new brown-skinned (wo)man is hired. You’ve already got your, “Soooooo, are you single?” query locked and loaded. You’ve already spied the ring finger to see whether this person is off limits or not. And even if you’ve never even asked the only other black person at work if (s)he’s taken or not, you’ve decided that this is bound to happen.
After all, co-workers are spending 40 hours (or more) together. You are just assuming that since we’re at work, we must want to date each other, amiright? (Side note: Is it not problematic that you’ve dismissed the idea that maybe this person may have a crush on someone non-black at this job? Some folks are indifferent when it comes to interracial dating.)
For some people, the no-office-relations rule is lame. Yes, we know it happens, but there are those who (rightfully) just don’t want to be in the same love and livelihood environment at the same time. But the OkCupid co-worker is still convinced that they’ll fall in love at the sight of each other’s melanin.
You don’t have to give us that eyebrow raise every time we pass each other in the hallway. You don’t have to loudly say our names to make sure the other person knows how to pronounce it. And stop bringing up the other black person’s name nonstop and completely off topic, as though we already know each other. It’s possible we don’t. (Full disclosure: We do. We usually give each other that “hey, other black person in the office” look the millisecond we meet. But that’s not your business.)
But what should black colleagues do when they actually are interested in each other and want to date? In my professional opinion, deny and deny some more. I did. And here’s why.
If you’ve ever read LEVEL’s “The Only Black Guy in the Office,” then you already know how stressful it can be to be the oddball employee. You can either try to completely assimilate and hope people don’t see you’re an “other.” Or, you can go full FTW mode and be your unapologetic self; if they don’t like you, that’s their problem, not yours.
But the very last thing I wanted to do was be the token employee and deal with relationship/job drama, too. If you’re the one black (wo)man dating the one black (wo)man in the office and you two break up or have a lover’s spat, people can feel the vibe. The last thing you need is for someone to add onto the imaginary hostility that has already been created for you; now you have an attitude and you’re hopelessly in love and dealing with heartbreak. While I quietly dated two co-workers and never said a word about it long after I left those jobs, everyone cannot pull this off. There’s a reason that some Human Resource guidelines emphasize not dating co-workers; it can be messy. So if you care to do it, you better get your story straight.
Quite frankly, my rebellion was pettier than that. I just didn’t want anyone to know that, “Dammit, I do indeed want to date the new black guy at work.” (Yes, this includes the black guy mentioned in the intro. I’d been dating him for a couple months at this point.) However, that would just feed right into the rigid stereotype that we must like each other for race alone. Ironically, this meddlesome co-worker is both right and wrong, but I don’t like the idea of pairing me up with someone solely on skin color instead of personality, compatibility and all the other major reasons that make a relationship work. I dated the “new white guy” and the “new black guy” once upon a time, and 99.9 percent of my prior co-workers still never caught on. Those OkCupid tendencies will never catch me slipping. Break time is over. Go do something constructive and stay out of our love lives.
Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Weekly Newsletter via MailChimp? Sign up today!