The workplace

Do You Understand Me Now?

She sat behind me typing. She giggled, emitting the low sounds of superiority. Whoever this email is for she is giving them the business! After a couple minutes of listening to the satisfaction coming from my boss’ cubicle, I chose to continue with my work rather than speculate who and what the email was all about.

I connected my earphones to the Bluetooth on my phone, pulled up the latest episode of my favorite podcast, and went on with my day. Twenty to thirty minutes later I noticed I received a couple of emails. I thought nothing of it. I continued reviewing the required change transactions due before lunch and took a few moments to review my inbox before I headed out.

Email from Petty Patti

The verbal assault began with, “I think it’s time you work on your communication skills”. She continued with, “Several of your coworkers informed me that while you do a great job and they have no complaints about your performance, there are issues with clear communication when they ask questions and the responses you provide,”. She covered every word in this email with cotton-candy sarcasm and arrogance.

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Did I mention she sits in the cubicle behind me? Yea, that’s right 4 feet away. Wouldn’t this be more productive as a conversation rather than an email? What kind of non-combative answer can you give to a shitty email like this one? The flippant way she delivered her feedback indicated my response would not be well received, she already decided my point of view was irrelevant. This bullshit is standard procedure with Patti.

She is the person who has the answers to all life’s mysteries in her tiny alabaster hands and will share them with you for a price. The price, however, is the complete surrender of your previous experience in exchange for her knowledge. Her way is the only way.

To my credit, I did not respond to her email right away. Patti had tunnel vision, but this was the first time I was a victim. For now, I would like to keep my piece of shit job. This meant I couldn’t cuss her out like my spirit commanded but had to find a strategic way to address what I felt the real problem was.


Of course, it's just me

I work in a homogeneous environment. In a department of 125, I am one of four Black men. I mention this because it’s at the core of this issue. Much like the diversity, processes and defined modes of communication are narrow within my department and company. There is little to no deviation in “the way someone should do things”. This has nothing to do with quality standards. It specifically relates the “communication” issue to personal style.

You may be feeling like “here we go with another of those speeches rife with righteous indignation regarding racism or discrimination in the workplace”. My response to that is, you’re damn right. If you believe these “speeches/ conversations” are too abundant in today’s culture this is likely where you should exit. Bye.

This is not my first time being ensnared in the codified feedback loop. Hell, it’s not even the second time. It is, however, the first time at this company, and with an obvious delivery. Much to Patti’s dismay, I could not give her the attention or the response she hoped for. She milled up and down our aisle all day, smiling and passing to give me the opportunity to stop her about the garbage she emailed me. I smiled and continued to work as if I hadn’t seen it. Just before I logged off for the day I sent Patti a calendar invite. I wanted to discuss and resolve this face to face as it should from the beginning.

This time, I took the advice of the experts. I wanted an entire twenty-four hours to figure out how to cuss her the fuck out in professional terms while keeping my job. Overnight I considered why the accusation insulted me. How was it possible to have two advanced degrees in communication yet still retain “communication issues”?

I wondered who told her that there was an issue, or was this confidential someone her duplicitous way of expressing her issues with me without revealing herself? I thought of just about every excuse to avoid making it about race, but there was no other explanation.

Patti and I communicated more than anyone else and there were no other instances of miscommunication between myself and other coworkers. Many White people assume that all people of color assume any type of feedback is racial bias. I like to make sure to check my bias before going there. Alas, there was no other reason.

Mentor who?

The next morning, as scheduled, I met with Patti to understand my “communication issues”. I gave her the floor and the opportunity to tell me what this was all about. She contemplated it overnight as well and came armed with an arsenal of vague reasons and remnants of veiled examples. Things like “I often come off aggressive when I explain ideas and my formal tone in written communication exhibited an attitude of inflexibility”.

Petty Patti whipped out an example of two emails written by Perfect Peter. Peter was after all her golden boy and an exemplary employee. He was easy to work with and never kept up a fuss. She often overlooked Peters ineptitude and his relaxed approach to completing tasks timely. He smiled all the time, and that is an important trait. Who knew appearing friendly covered a multitude of missing skills? “Perhaps, if you are willing, Peter can mentor you to bridge the gap on some communications skills you are missing.

At last, it was my turn to communicate with Patti. Patti did not consider having a variety of personalities and communication styles makes a team strong. I wondered if she believed my skills are weak because I use strategic language to communicate my objectives.

I asked her if she ever proofed any of the emails she received from Peter since I had yet to receive any communication from him that did not contain at least three typographical errors. I asked Patti if she will accept that perhaps I was not the one with the problem and that if possible to meet with those teammates who had issues with my “style” so we could work towards a better understanding.

Patti determined that this was another example of being confrontational and I should consider some mentoring. Patti and I reached a permanent impasse. She failed to realized I love myself and feel compelled to stand against poor treatment. I have no desire to be like or mentored by her protégé Peter.

Different does not equal inferior

Traits perceived as confrontational in Black men are authoritative or confident in White men. Direct communication is not a positive attribute in conjunction with my color. My intellect is not an asset unless accompanied by excessive smiling or subserviently communicated. The reality is it’s just too fucking bad.

Poor Patti, I am not sure what she will do with me. I have no intention of reducing myself to make her more comfortable. There will be no fake smiles or bending and scraping. Oh no, Patti may need to measure up. She should now manage and think strategically to make sure that my performance does not impact her. Potentially, she may even need to go onto the intranet to find the appropriate HR terminology so she can write me up! What will she do?

It doesn’t matter. Petty Patti, who has a management title because she remained employed with the company for the last eighteen years, will never diminish my self-love. All I’m thinking of now is what’s for lunch.

Always be willing to fight for yourself, and defy what they expect.


Reality TV Finally Got Real

Heavily scripted shows are more sensationalized life situations than they are representations of what most folks would consider normal. We know the situations are orchestrated but the reactions are real. Thus, we get manufactured reality. The foundation of each episode rests on actual events happening to real people, but sometimes the outlandish behavior causes us to forget they are not fictional characters. Not only that, but they often seem forget they are real people as well. I sat dumbfounded as Simone revealed her truth in front of the cast and everyone watching, I couldn’t help but think about the unspoken narrative.

The second installment of "Married to Medicine" reunion special aired. Did you see it? The episode was shocking, to say the least. Normally, these kind of shows are my guilty pleasure and I watch them as a way to escape or remind myself that other folks have worse shit going on than me. However, this episode was a little more real than "reality T.V." normally is. I have no words that can replicate the intensity of Simone's emotions.

Did you see what I saw

The authenticity in her eyes and the anguish in her voice leveled me. Her refusal to accept less than she deserved as a wife broke any character-driven fantasy to the contrary of her current reality. All the cast members were in tears as she explained why an unbreakable relationship was, in fact, susceptible to same maladies that millions of others experience. We witnessed the demise of a marriage in its final stages. I believed this couple had most of the necessary elements to go the distance until I watched the episode where Simone repeatedly accused Cecil of being emotionally closed off.

Before we go any further, check out part two of the reunion.

I sat watching as Simone revealed her truth in front of the cast and everyone watching, I couldn't help but think about the unspoken narrative.

Broken boys are marrying broken girls and trying everything imaginable to hold families together.

They say it's because...

In hindsight, isn’t that always the story. What we see on the outside of relationships is different from existing in it. I wonder how many of people at home recognized what she shared went well beyond what she articulated. I saw a real-world example of damaged personal development and how it is dividing modern marriages.

Husbands and wives have argued since the beginning of time, but there is something very different going on in contemporary marriages. People get married and bring all the broken places left unhealed from childhood into the lives of unsuspecting participants.

I think that we all know about absentee parents. I have heard it so often I am now tempted to roll my eyes when the expression is unleashed into a conversation. Yet, there is still validity to the correlation between a positive example and the lack thereof.

What we do know is...

Jobs, money, success, or celebrity are not enough to heal the holes created by absentee parents. Stories of fathers that didn't give their daughters the validation they need or their sons the requisite instruction of how to be a husband/ father are familiar narratives. Mothers who never showed their sons how women like to be treated, or their daughters how to receive/ give love in return have populated American society with children operating adult bodies. We are overrun with adultescents trying to fix traumas experienced during childhood.

How do we expect men and women to exist as complete individuals capable of sustaining life-long relationships? How do you complete a task without an adequate idea of what completion or success at that task looks like? With help, of course!

We need our young adults to heal and to solve the riddle prior to settling into long-term relationships and creating families. This means you should figure out your shit before you destroy someone else's life. It is not okay to knowingly allow someone else to become emotionally dependent on you when you are not able to depend on yourself. You knew you had daddy/ mommy issues years ago, right?

You can't heal what you won't talk about

It is absolutely necessary to create an environment where authentic communication in a relationship is normalized.

This will mean that traditional notions of stoicism need to be revised and in some ways eliminated. Vulnerability does not equal emasculation.

So often successful men and women believe their success is a substitute for wholeness. They believe they can buy their way out of the process, but it actually creates an opportunity for their internal damage to be revealed in a much larger way. When we have financial peace of mind, we have more time to see things that would ordinarily escape our attention. It allows us to focus on things that make us happy or fulfilled beyond economics.

Thankfully, we are beginning to turn the corner. As evidenced by some younger adults, more men/ women are available to their children in ways that matter. More mothers/ fathers are finding the balance between parenthood and take increasingly active roles in raising children in ways that they never have before. Considering all this, we still find ourselves in a situation where there is plenty to be done, but the situation is hopeful

Always, without fail, pay attention to what you allow your ears to hear and your eyes to see.


Do You Know Where You Stand, Because I Do?

Welcome to the "Do you know where you stand" series. A snappy little way to grab a nugget of info while we get to know each other better. I created this series as a reaction to the lack of direct communication almost everywhere. It's chance to promote honesty, infused with a little humor and maybe even a little sarcasm. We could all use a good laugh but that doesn't mean we can't learn a little something along the way.

This is the one and only time I will do an introduction to the series, and I wanted to leave a couple of instructions before we dive it.

The rules

  1. I am not necessarily talking about anyone specifically. If you recognize yourself in something I say, whose problem is that? We can all do a little better.
  2. Feel free to call bulls*hit on anything I have written. We don't have to agree to get along.
  3. Let's have some fun!

Diving right into Bruno Mars

I want to clear the air about the Bruno Mars foolery. The convo about Bruno and his "musical stylings" has been a hot topic for the last week! I mean, everyone has had something to say. If you are one of those folks who is gainfully employed or simply don't give a shit about it, here is a situation summary in one picture.

Can we take a collective deep breath? Cultural appropriation is a big deal. I don't want to dismiss the merit of an issue that continues to plague a culture that continues to overcome unnecessary adversities time and again.

However, half the people complaining about appropriation looked it up before they tweeted/ updated their status on Casebook so they could do the bare minimum, spell it right. The other half was so busy defending the talent of their colonizer cohort that they forgot a key ingredient, talent.

Is Bruno really all that talented? He has some good bop's and a couple of smooth vibes, but nothing that couldn't be duplicated with a good budget and an even better producer. I am almost positive he isn't writing most of his music so...

The key to the debate is the acceptance, promotion, and celebration of black culture as long as it is packaged in a non-black body. Nothing about that is new, but we can fix/change this by discontinuing support of things that don't serve us or further economic and social equality.

Example: Black Panther is a key instance of the economic power people have by supporting or not supporting a product.

If folks are gonna argue over change and equality the minimum they could do is educate themselves on the dynamics of the situation. Focus on what matters!

Stay smart


Experiencing TV Through Colored Lenses

This past weekend I watched Seven Seconds. It’s a mini-series from Netflix starring Regina King, Russell Hornsby, and Clare-Hope Ashitey. It’s a damn good piece of drama and if you have not seen it you should. It is heavy, deep and wrought with all kinds of emotions. Every episode drips with intensity, so you should probably make sure there is plenty of wine around as you watch. Believe me, it will take the edge off.


The show is newish, so I don't want to include any spoilers that may prevent anyone from watching it. After I finished the last episode, I sat watching the credits scroll by, something I normally never do, but this time was different. I thought, what’s different about this show that captured me so completely?

What shocked me

Honestly, everything shocked me. The situation, the acting, the characters, and most of all it was the feeling. What the hell was this all about? So many residual feelings returned to my mind. I sorted through the torrent of thoughts that surged in at once and realized that I was severely bothered by the feeling that much of what just happened on-screen could have just as easily have happened to me in life. That is if I lived in Jersey City and was still young enough to ride a bike for fun and not exercise. I realized that as a black male, I inherited an unwarranted cultural invisibility.

I’ll just zoom past the part where I talk about how much I love Regina King, and how I have since she was rocking a mushroom on “227”.

I see it this way

I have not accepted or succumbed to this notion as a personal value. Nonetheless, that does not negate or disavow the viability of the concept. It exists; however, in my life I choose to be an exception.

I use cultural invisibility as an expression to articulate a feeling that I suspect most men from my heritage have felt and rarely shared.


Racial invisibility requires the African-American male to be a faceless, inauthentic being devoid of personal character yet retaining assigned characteristics from historical and current cultural tropes. Keep in mind none of this has anything to do with the person themselves, but more to do with the state of cultural affairs, music, TV, films and any other medium that requires creators to draft versions of black men that remain recognizable to society at large.

I don’t intend to be heavy, but I want to explain my perception of racial invisibility specifically and how "Seven Seconds" amplified this concept in a way that had me shook.

This is what we are not

Black men are not just characters from hip-hop videos, sports endorsement commercials, or personifications of characters from “realistic” crime dramas. It’s really that simple, but I want to be very clear. My point is to bring attention to the way I, and those like me, are often denied recognition as people. How we are more often singled-out as a representative of an entire race, or as a caricature PEOPLE may not remotely identify with personally.

For example, I love hip-hop music. I mean, who doesn't right? There is this one guy in the office who I believe has a younger son. I mention his son's age because younger generations have less rigid notions of what people should be and what they should like in general. I can always tell when his son has come to visit for the weekend. Without fail, he will stop by my desk in the morning to try out his “new cool” on me. You know, things like the latest hip-hop song, or an expression he is now using without understanding the meaning or the implication.

You would think that after the last three years he would have learned, but alas he is persistent. Even when I know exactly what he is talking about, I feign ignorance just to deny him the privilege of landing an assumption correctly. Silly rabbit, I will never participate in your misguided shenanigans. He is operating under a set of generalized assumptions that all black men understand and take part in hip-hop culture. I do, but this is not anything he has ever asked or validated.

Moving forward

In Seven Seconds, one of the primary characters fell victim to the same trap to which many suffer. He was denied basic rights and respect because of generic perceptions of black men that equate to worthlessness and invisibility. These ideologies are too liberally applied to men of color. I do not believe that black men are the only group of men who operate contrary to generalizations or detrimental perceptions.

I do, however, believe that the pervasiveness of this issue is more malignant and harmful to black men in terms of economics and freedom than just a general sense of well-being.

“The persistently marginal social status of African-American men in society is a major concern to the black community. It is a matter of widespread belief that racism is a primary contributor to this predicament and to the marginality of the African American community in general”.

What does that really mean?

It means that racism is just not new. None of this is new-organized forms of society require that there be at least one marginalized group, right? It also means the African-American community is well aware of the conditions under which they operate. Recently, the theme of “healing” this problem has trended. I am all for it.

What I am not for is the assumption that the healing requires permission. Reality never required permission. The reality is African-American men are as varied and complex in character as men from any other ethnic heritage. The persistent mistake in conversations of healing is the assumption that recognition or agreement is required, neither are.

I don’t know anyone that needs confirmation of the rain falling outside for it to be true or that standing in it will result in being wet.

These ideas are simple

The invisibility of the African American male as an individual is just as simple and apparent. In fact, most things are THIS simple. Complexities over inequities and divisive rhetoric only become convoluted when one group lacks the wherewithal to accept their own bad behavior or seeks to deny the validity of the other group’s experience. This idea was expressed several times in the series, and I have expressed it several times in my own life. It was this that stirred my connection.

Russel Hornsby, who played the father in this series said:

“I think this is the first time on film that I’ve had an opportunity to feel three-dimensionally,” he said about his character, Isaiah. “This character is not stock. He’s not an archetype. He’s a father grieving, living, trying his best to love in spite of things.”

Every word of his character assessment is correct. It is just a damn shame that instances of these characters, especially characters representing black fathers, are so sparse. This specific character had some misinformed ideas about gender roles and parenting, but that is what solidifies the performance as whole and authentic.



See You Beyond Your Job

I stood there thinking I can't believe things turned out this way. I am that guy, you know the one who takes great pride in getting it right the first time, and always exceeding expectations. At least I always thought I was that guy.

The week even hell rejected

Ever had one of those weeks where it seems like nothing went right? Well, that was this me this week. It's annual review time at work and let's just say that my performance appraisal didn't go anything like I thought it would. I imagined going into my manager's office to receive a shiny new bonus and accolades to boast about in the break room. Instead, I left thinking WTF just happened?

I could go into details. Like maybe my car tire went flat, the washing machine stopped working, or the kids got bad grades at school, but why bother. The fact is, no one really cares about my sob story or the tiny violin I'm playing my sad song on. By this point, the old me would be knee-deep in snack cake papers and empty hot Cheetos bags so since my fingertips are not red and my breath does not smell like warm Star Crunch I consider that a win.

Learning during the storm

This week did have a bonus. This is the part you care about. I discovered I am more than my job. Not only that but that my self-worth is and should be wholly independent of my career. You care because that means it's true for you too.

Isn't that groundbreaking! Ok, fine it's not but it was news to me and I suspect it is news to some of you as well. I never realized how much my self-worth is tied to what I do for a living. It sucked to realize that many of the positive things I think and feel about who I am are directly connected to something that I have no control over, other people's opinions. Why the hell did I think my VP title made me who I am? I wasn't always one and I think I liked me before.

Have you felt this way before?  Do you wear a subtle smirk when you tell people your job title, or how long you have been in your profession? C'mon I know you do. I saw you talking a bit louder than normal on your mobile phone when you came into Starbucks, so we would all know just how important you were while you ordered your low-fat latte with skim-shenanigans. It's ok. Look good feel good, I get it.

The why helps the how

Do we blur the delineation between professional performance and personal value because we spend more time at work than we do with our friends and families? Is there any wonder that somewhere along the way we misplaced our ability to separate our personal pride from out professional pride? It's true, one side does drive the other, but one is representative of your being and the other only represents who you are in a particular capacity. "You may lose your job someday, but you’ll still be you"

At work, you are a resource to a company, in life, you are an autonomous entity. How you drive your corporeal being is where you should center your self-esteem and pride.

For men, this is especially true. We feel our value is intrinsically connected to what we offer in the workplace which translates to how effective we are at handling our fiscal responsibilities. When we do poorly at work its traumatic. It affects the way we feel about who we are.

Take back your power

Don’t mistake what you do for a living for what you offer as a human being. We sometimes get busy making an impression we forget to be what want others to think we are.  Status is inconstant, just like wealth. When you are old and rocking a pissy diaper, people will remember how you treated them, and not what you filled your résumé with.

[bctt tweet="“The biggest reward in life isn’t financial benefits. Those things are great but they don’t fill up your life, only living a life of substance will. Maya Angelou taught me an incredible lesson. Your legacy is every life you touch.” O. Winfrey" username="Rexdmundo"]

Today, I want you to know that you are more than your job too. Don't wait until you are sucking wind in a performance review to figure out that you are still an awesome person regardless of what the management team thinks about you.

They say each one teaches one, so this is my contribution.


The Diversity Squad Fails at Black History Inclusion

The morning news

Someone, please save the workplace diversity squad. With my sincerest effort, I aim to be positive because they give it their all. The well-meaning “culture club” wants to represent the greater good. If you don’t hear it from anyone else, I want to personally thank you. This morning when I arrived at work I was greeted by an innocuous email touting “our commitment to diversity in celebration of black history month”. The celebration was in full effect, complete with images of people I have never seen before, who look remarkably like the ones that came with the picture frame I received as a gift this past Christmas.

Diversity squad, it’s not your fault, but your efforts to impact corporate culture will always fail. Despite your willingness to donate your time putting up culturally sensitive decorations, googling all the (in this case) black history snippets you can get your hands on; your good intentions with never be met with fervor or interest you envisioned.

Where things go wrong

The sentiment the squad conveys is never the message the participants receive because the connection was never available. They will never reap the rewards of their effort because what they never had genuine support from the organization leaders. The leaders ask the “culture club” to place a ninety-nine-cent square of gauze on a wound that requires stitches. No amount of cultural sensitivity/ awareness can create a salve for the wounds of employees who stew in a homogeneous culture that asks them to wash away their inheritance the other 11 months of the year. Diversity, essentially black history month, amounts to a box to be checked in their eyes.

This in no way discredits that earnestness of the participants or the organizers, but it does create a pertinent question. Where is the diversity the rest of the year? When diversity, also known as cultural inclusion becomes an item on a to-do list rather than an authentic effort to support, promote, and understand a culture other than default culture the result is a terminal failure. Employees that do not identify with the perceived cultural norms are expected to conform. Companies create policies on top of policies intended to govern and mandate this behavior.

What inclusion requires

Recently, if you prove your customs are tied to your religious beliefs some accommodations can be made but if they are traditions from an under-recognized culture you are out of luck. For example, I know several people who were asked to change their hair, despite the requisite maintenance and care is in place. I have been present in meetings where side-long glances and silent judgment used to mold and restrain employees into uniform behavior. Micro-aggressions and pressure are very different from maintaining decorum. It is unnecessary to demand uniformity among employees to create a positive and creative work environment. However, uniformity is the name of the game when you plan to maintain your avenues for progression and success.

I notice the slack-jawed shady commentary delivered as thinly veiled back-handed compliments. Things like “you are so passionate, or you see things so differently”. Black men are rarely afforded the opportunity to exist outside who they are. We are often, one of few in the office, and thus a representation of black people. This includes stereotypical remarks, expectations, and questions. You may ask yourself, what does this have to do with culture, black history month, or even diversity. The answer is clear when you are on the receiving end of an observation that has nothing to do with your performance as an employee and everything to do with who you are socially and culturally. The ideas surrounding who we are as individuals are merged with who we are, thus rendering the distinction inexorable.

We get it

Passionate, in this context, is a decidedly vague expression used to convey contempt and describe the recipient as aggressive or having a self-righteous attitude. Telling me that I see things differently is the type of no value statement issued when you intend to dismiss the ideas of others, especially when the purpose of working in a team environment is to see things differently. Weren’t we hired for our ability to solve issues creatively? The entire situation boils down to judgment. When your way of being, or your appearance or your inherent culture exists as an outlier, the message is “you are unfit”.

There is a solution, or at least the beginnings of one. Start at the top. We very rarely see the senior leaders participate in diversity festivities. When they are required to take the same sensitivity and awareness training as the employees below them in rank the evidence is not apparent. Change in any organization begins at the top. Difficulties with diversity are pervasive because real change requires remapping individual thought processes. Unfortunately, internal change is not something that can be controlled easily or validated. People very often do and say one thing and believe quite another, which makes it difficult to know if there has been any authentic improvement. For now, increased participation and awareness across the organization is a good start.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share this article. This topic deserves attention, specifically in relation to the season. There is yet much work to do, but it's going to take commitment.