A Month on Race: The Boyfriend

the boyfriend


The Boyfriend was either hard working or perfect at maintaining a face that searched for chores. He had a performative chic coolness he brought to the workplace blended with the black and greys and trendy trainers he wore. He cared about those things. But it wasn't obvious, unlike my all too noticeable off centre self. I worked slow and sang the Bush, badly, and was reprimanded for both. Every reprimand was – I had to surmise – perfectly metered out. I deserved it. He deserved his almost immediate managerial role.

Then I would wonder how much work it might actually take if I was truly keen. Wondered; had I have gone up for the role alongside the boyfriend, would they consider equally all the hard work I did? Or go for what they know. I wonder into abstractions such as; is it me or is there an air of sycophancy for white middle-class men in the workplace. I wonder why they seem to shoot up so quickly in people's estimations. Would I have to have worked harder for longer or have been much more smart and tactical about it all?

But sometimes I get these congratulatory dreams where I pat myself on the back for my poor work ethic. My work ethic like a 'screw you' to the conveyor beltish - sci-fi upright - target hitting exemplary employee - all for what?

A memory of mine I kept from schooldays draws its curtains at around that point. A teacher of mine is telling me I would have to work harder than the white boy next to me also enduring detention – and me honestly thinking, 'what's the fucking point of working harder for the same outcome? It's bad physics'. I wonder if that train of thought has become the pick that burst every recent employment opportunity; responding to social norms with a 'what's the point' vibe. Then I snap out of it. It is 20 something teen after all. You get out what you put in. Yes, bias lives, but not in my situation. I have just never been good enough.


But how to be good enough? And is 'good' an equation? Or random? I binge on TED Talks for answers and feel more revved up than inspired. I also couldn't help but think; to be a cultural philosopher or to grace the dais in the public sphere these days all a person has to do is make some general but positive assumptions and more importantly promote productivity. I re-watch an Alain de Botton documentary about status and it calms me but I still desire deeply for a better status.


It was my mispronouncing of 'Zeiss' that made the Boyfriend call me a philistine at cigarette break. After, I went, in a passive mood, back to receiving and hanging up jackets. Beyond me was the tall concrete walls, the repetitive noise and the shit show. In my head played 'Hounds of Love' for some reason. That was the evening I met the boyfriend's girlfriend. She was a photographer with a silver crop top, a thin strapped, cute sized backpack and bags of rock star elements about her.

She took me, unlike most work colleagues, at face value. Later on that night, we and her friends went to their place. We took and drank stuff that played with my bladder. On my third trip to the lower-case-m-shaped toilet, the girlfriend barged in apologising yet still drifting towards me, checking for things around me. Immediately I thought; she's checking up on me? Why would I need to steal from the boyfriend's girlfriend? Can't a black man have an excited bladder?! 'Reactionary', I responded. In a bid to settle myself.

In my head again raged Hounds of Love; always from the 'shot gun' beginning. The moment I came back into the room she said veiled me from the awkwardness with the same speed she used to enter the bathroom. Plied me with compliments, said she'd love to take photo's of me and when a rock star says such a thing you forget the world you live in and begin to sanitise theirs. The toilet thing became; I would've done the same if it were my flat and I were a woman. It became; my third time at the bog was excessive and needed to be checked on. No shame on her part. No nothing on her part. In a way, it was brave of her.

Before the boyfriend took a job at another venue, work banta of sorts levelled at a point where he was able to affirm my 'fall guy' status at any given turn. And have new employees in on the joke. That was okay though. I thought. Wouldn't call myself a complete fall guy but I wasn't witty enough for quick rebuttals. Clap backs always came hours later when alone, just before I went to sleep. They were always cathartic in a way. Whenever I didn't act it out alone before I slept, I'd layered thoughts of whether all those hardcore, brutish clap backs I was capable of were kept for home time because I didn't want to intimidate the workforce. Or whether I was intimidated by the workforce. O whether I held back because I didn't want to be that guy. That 'black guy', maybe?

And then I'd wondered if I enjoyed being the guy I was presently being and If the only way to survive was to sometimes be that (black) guy. Not only black guys are like that, you're right. Standing corrected I then wondered; could I ever be balanced correctly? Was it too late? I wondered how people would take me if I adopted a new strategy. Might it be too forced? Make them laugh even louder. Is my status already sealed? Shit.

After tumbling down those thoughts, the dreams that follow come stretched out panicked. I am, for example, chasing something that is flying off into the distant horizon and behind me is a wall closing in. The wall is closer and faster. I would wake up from that avoiding the dream and it's subtext. I become pragmatic again. 'Change isn't instant', I would force myself to think. 'Respect isn't dished out equally. I'll have to earn it, and it'll take it's time'. Simple.

Then a few years later I bumped into girlfriend at a gig; single now and with a loose top that exposed her décolletage. A long and cloudy chat was had before I blew away the smoke to first apologise for sending her so many messages in the past about that photo shoot we were supposed to work on together. And then I asked, with both courage and a bit more fawning, why she'd never returned any of the messages.

'My Boyfriend didn't like me talking to black boys'.




Written by

Chima Nsoedo