Count Me Out

Speaking truth to power isn’t always good for your mental health.

After a long day at the office, my coworker, Loren, and I sat at my favorite midtown wine bar; The ambiance was captivating, and vibes curated to perfection juxtaposed the glaring led lighting of our mundane corporate office building.

Though not an experienced wine drinker, I fell for the 19 Crimes marketing campaign and have been obsessed with Martha Stewart’s Chardonnay.

I sat there fuming, hunched over, twirling my drink. I didn’t want to be upset, but my fiery Aries moon sign prevented me from getting over it.

I turned to Loren and said, “Bruh…these motherfuckas on some dumb shit; nothing I said was outrageous or untrue.”

She grabbed my arm and said, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”

I replied, “Fam, I didn’t raise my voice or use cuss words. I think they’re not used to someone who looks like me having actual confidence or the ability to stand on business.”

“If you say so, Melton.” I quickly cut her off, “I’m not doing that code-switching shit. I’ve done too much for that!” 

I could see the look on her face that she was uncomfortable. Loren was a first-generation Haitian American. This was her first official design job, and she wanted to avoid making waves.

Loren had multiple degrees, interned at Snap Inc., and had practically ten years of work experience. Due to her career pivot, she suffered from imposter syndrome, and my thug ass gave assertive energy that was too unpredictable.

Loren previously told me about her struggles as a graphic designer and certain micro-aggressions that still bothered her. I felt it was my duty to stand up for us.

I knew why she wanted me to relax about it. I read it in Bell Hooks’s book We Real CoolBell Hooks wrote that. “Black men, even educated one” who thinks critically are usually regarded suspiciously.

Most informed black men with well-paying jobs learn to assume a go-along-to-get-along attitude persona to appear non-threatening to White coworkers.

Loren was trying to protect me from an impossible struggle. 

I sat back in my seat and exhaled. I scanned the room, looking at everyone having a good time. There were so many couples hugged up on the frumpy couches.

It wouldn’t be Houston without groups of single ladies suffering from the success of no eligible male partners as they cackle over their wine and cheese. 

I could hear them playing Madlib’s Shades of Blue in the background, one of my favorites.

I was oddly happy to be in this moment; I worked so hard to get here; even the opportunity to be upset about my ideas being disregarded was still a privilege, but something about it didn’t sit well with me.

It was a weird feeling that weighed down in my gut.

I drove down Westhiemer to drop Loren off in River Oaks. We played Nick Hakim’s Cuffed on repeat in the background. Loren did a little jig as if she were a backup singer.

I sat slumped in my seat, trying to calm my nerves. Most less melanated people would think I was battling my ego, but that wasn’t the case.

It was the gaslighting, this weird need to make highly competent people function in incompetent spaces. One of the mistakes I made was thinking my experiences and authentic self would be acceptable to my white counterparts.

I developed a high intuition from years of playing in the streets, and my assumptions about the situation couldn’t have been more accurate.

As I entered Loren’s gated community, she turned to me and said, “Listen, I understand, but it’s just the way it is.”

I sighed, “I know, I know…but it’s just this…you realize we will never reach our full potential in this material world; no matter how many degrees we get or the money we make, we are still settling for a reality that can be so much more.”

We just sat there silent, staring off into space. I placed my hand on my chest and felt a joint in my pocket that I had forgotten about.

“Fuck it, ima smoke this and design,” I blurted out.

Loren replied. “Can you not?”

“Fam, not here when I get to the crib,” I responded. She rolled her eyes as she exited the car and said, “Everything will be okay, you know?”

I shrugged my shoulders as I backed out of her parking lot. I took my time getting home, soaking up Houston’s intoxicating energy. I pulled into my driveway and started to laugh.

I dealt with way more difficult situations than this, and I’m on a mission and can’t be moved. I remind myself of how far I have come and what life was like a year ago.

I mumbled, “This what you asked for.”