“Just tell me why Jack!
You know I don’t expect no favors, but you can’t tell me each one of them dudes was better than me…I saw them at the Job Fair Jack…they looked like they just rolled outta bed!”
Jack continued his stand, “Like I said bro, I’m really sorry, the boss wanted someone specific..”
“Y’all hired someone your boss knew?? All 3 of the positions??”
The conversation had gone on far longer than comfortable…but honestly, it’d been years in the making.
“I mean, people he was used to. I think.”
“What does that mean Jack?? Either he knew them, or he didn’t. Last year you told me when you moved up, it would be your call.”
“I know what I said!
“But it doesn’t work that way. It ain’t like that.”
“It aint like what?? Is it the black thing? I know it aint the black thing, I saw another brother working there. So that aint it…is it? Is it??”
The conversation paused. Jack was taking an unusually long time to respond.
“Jack! Jack…did one of those other dudes fuck it up? Did another nigga fuck it up for me?? Bro..if you got somebody that’s no good…WHY you keepn him??? I hate that shit man when other brothers fuck it up for me…why I gotta be accountable for what anotha…”
Jack cut him off! “NO, Jamal…NO. It ain’t that! There’s nothin’ wrong with Chris. I mean he ain’t the best employee, but he definitely aint the worst either.”
“Then what man?” Softer now. “What is it?”
Jack was looking off in the distance now, unable to look his best friend in the eye. Shaking his head in resistance “don’t make me say it”, he said, under his lips.
You could barely hear him.
Jamal suddenly realized all that was just said. He knew exactly…he just couldn’t believe it. This is the kind of shit his pop went through before he disappeared. Stories from his mother. But it was fuckin bologna…he wasn’t like his dad…his dad was lazy, he thought. A runaway. When mom was young, she’d say that his dad was bitter at society…but Jamal thought his father was a quitter. There’s no way his dad tried as hard as he did… did everything just right, the way Jamal had.
Or had he? Why did Jamal block him out all those years. Why didn’t his pop’s life matter?
“Jack..is Chris the Only black male there?”
No response. Jack’s lips so tightly shut, still looking away.. censored by his position, even in private conversation.
A sigh…”You already know the answer to..”
“They already have one of you.. that’s what my boss said”, Jack responds rapidly.
“One black man.”
Silence. Nothing but silence..a look of offense in Jamal’s face, maybe?
“I mean African American. Sorry man, I didn’t mean to say the wrong…”
“JACK, DUDE, there’s no right way to say they don’t want another Nigger. And when have I ever cared that my BEST friend used political correctness with me?? I just want the second word mutherfucker… correctness! An equal chance.” Jamal paused briefly. “I never cared what you called me when I thought we were equal..I was wrong.”
Knowing the truth of something but never believing it. The trickery of hope…
maybe the hope he had in his friend…or the part of him that believed the lie…the lie that his “people”…his ancestors…all those other “niggas”, never tried the way he did. Jamal bought into the narrative against his own people. He felt deceived… angry at himself. How could he have believed that he was only “one of the few” black men who really ever tried? How did he not see the despair…why so many give up? Why his dad was gone..
Jack couldn’t even look at his friend. “Please say something” Jack thought in his head. Fucking anything. Take it out on me even. Yeah I’ll defend myself, he figured. But anything to break the silence.
That’s it. That’s all Jamal said. It was in the quietest voice…the voice of lost confidence. This was fucking hard. Jack had a flashback suddenly. He and Jamal back in Jr. High School. Start of the school day, they’d decided that for one day, they weren’t going to sit in a classroom. They were going to be explorers, not pupils! They ditched class and went walking through those bushes out behind the school…where those plants were, the ones Ms. Rita, their Biology teacher, had shown all the kids. Jack accidentally cut his finger on a thorn. When Jamal saw it, he decided to cut his finger too, so they could mash their thumbs and be blood brothers. And so it was. They were blood now, and on that premise…Jack had become the Only White friend who was ever allowed to, fondly, call Jamal… the “N-word”. “My Nigga”, he’d say to Jamal. And Jamal would come back, “I got your back Jack.” But in this moment, now, that comradery would never return. Never. No woman he’d ever lost would hurt as much as this did.
“Jamal, it wasn’t my decision bro. It’s just the company dude…my boss, you know… It ain’t me.”
“YES Jack! It’s You now!! It’s you! You choosn to be department manager…even under that condition! I thought we were homies. We were supposed to have each other’s backs
What are you doin??”
“Jamal dude. It’s this fuckin company. Look …just hang. Hang in there.. I’m still movin’ up. I will…”
“NO! No Jack. It don’t work that way bro!! You always gonna have a boss man. You always gonna have a boss! And if it aint your boss, it’s gonna be your white-ass customers! RIGHT?? They aint gonna wanna see more than one nigger! Will they??”
“Will they Jack??”
Jamal had NEVER spoken to Jack like that. It was an entirely different tone. “Fuck Jamal, why you taking this out on me??? I didn’t make it like this. I’m just playing the game dude!!” Jack was yelling now too.
“Dude! You ARE THE GAME!!”
“What?? What the fuck does that even mean?? “I am the game”, Jack Mocked. “This is stupid… There’s dozens of good jobs in this city…why the fuck you puttin’ all your eggs in This basket? You know the pressure that puts on me!!”
“Jack! You don’t get it man. You don’t get it.”
“Get what?? Get what dude?? What??”
“Can’t you see them other companies got the same attitude.. all these strategies to weed black men out. What makes you think I didn’t already try them?? You think I’m not trying hard enough??
It’s like there was one fraction of a second of understanding…but it was suddenly smothered by a stupid idea that felt like compromise. Jack was desperate to help his friend. He’d hate himself for this idea later… it never would have worked anyway.
“Okay..okay look…Chris is just an average employee anyway. Let me see if we can let him ..”
“HOLY SHIT Man, are you for real…Did I just hear that?? You gonna fire an innocent nigga just to make room for me??? No thank you, I’d rather live in my muthafuckn car.” Jamal paused, and then…with fierceness in his eyes, he looked straight at Jack, “Besides, that’s better than working for a bunch of racist ass, conservatives.”
“SEE Jamal, SEE! That’s EXACTLY why they don’t…” Jack stopped himself.
What the hell was happening?
“Fuck you Jack!! Fuck you!!”
Anger…more superlatives….challenges that Jamal should start his own company…blah blah blah. As if that giant white corporation was going to smile at the competition and do nothing. As if all those white customers were going to mosey on over to Jamal’s new startup.
“We built our own businesses, maybe you can build your own?”
“We?? WE? Nigga, you didn’t build ANYTHING. You know how y’all ancestors did it, but you still keep passing the keys down to just White people! Ain’t no sharings jobs.. fuckin equal opportunity..that’s a lie!”
Jack took it personally.. felt like he was being blamed for what others had done wrong. In his opinion, he wasn’t the one acting out of control. With all the escalation he felt like Jamal might even swing at him. But Jamal never swung, and Never would have; he didn’t fist fight…they weren’t kids anymore. Their brains did the fighting these days…but Jack’s mind had been polluted over the years… all he knew how to see now, was an angry, black man.
With firmness in his words, “I Hate You”, he said.
And then he walked away.
Jamal had committed the crime of growing up. The crime of realizing one’s disparity. That was the last time they spoke. Jack never saw Jamal when he went home that day…never saw Jamal lying face down in his bed all week. Never saw him crying in his mother’s arms. It was more than being betrayed by society, he was abandoned by his own best friend. This feeling of giving up..running away.. becoming his father. Trapped in a world where civil rights were granted on paper, but not in practice.
And what about Jack? He wasn’t always like this…nor was he a lifetime racist in hiding. Back in high school, he celebrated civil rights. What he and Jamal had was real. At one time at least, it wasn’t fake. Jack changed because the system was made to put them against each other. He thought that if he himself wanted to survive and stay ahead, he had to play the game…but the longer he played the game, the more he believed in it…and the more reasons he found to justify his choices. So, Jack wasn’t cute anymore. But Jack had a good career…and soon he’d have a cute little son.
Then it would be his son’s turn to go find a friend on the playground. Try to pave a new generation.
Has the rate of our progress been all along, an illusion? I cease to be surprised by our system’s all-powerful ability to destroy our children’s innocence. In this story, Jamal is the biggest victim, but Jack is also a victim.
Employment statistics can be misleading. The racial gap remains extremely wide. Researching the employment rate of Black and other Minority Males is a confusing endeavor. It can be mixed with data on minority females, who face more wage and management challenges than males do, yet less, initial, employment challenge. It differs by sector…public or private, federal or local, full or part time, this or that city, and mainly the percentage of representation they have within the local demographics (i.e. it’s simple for a Chinese man to be hired mainly, just when he works on the Chinese side of town.. but that’s erroneously counted in our statistics as a success for equality). And then there is widespread labor trafficking in America.. major companies intentionally, or unintentionally, exploit people in desperate situations who’ve been pushed out of the labor market elsewhere, which in turn results in bypassing wage laws and safe work conditions. I won’t share national employment rates produced from year-end taxes…it’s missing too much information. Walk out into the streets of your city… the places you do business with. Ask questions sincerely…get off of Google where powerful companies pay for the space to tell you what you want to hear. PRY for the truth…realize that many managers are instructed to tell you, “they” just aren’t applying. What do you actually see? What do you not see?
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*song by rap artist, Tupac Shakur