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August 04, 2004

The Black Manager's Office

(from the archives - june 1998)

The black manager's office has an 8x10 phote of five black children
dressed in denim and brightly colored shirts.

Who are they, say passers-by.

One of them is me, says I. The others are my brothers and my sister.

Oh. They say. Very few can determine which I am.

How old were you?

Guess, I say.

Almost none try. I was 14.

I am the one on the far right with the beanie and jean jacket. The
picture was taken at the Pacific Missle Test Center at Pt. Mugu. We
stand in front of a large blue sign which says "Systems Effectiveness".
I am gesturing to the sign with a knowing smirk on my face.

Hmm. They leave.

I am guilty of entrapment. I confess.

The black manager recalls other black manager's offices. The corporate
counsel for the division had red black and green pillows on the credenza
behind his large wood desk. His Omega Psi Phi shingle hangs besides his
J.D. his resentment of judge bork was one of his only comments on the
black internal e-mail list. he was a model of restraint. he said that
bork lacked restraint and such a radical should not be on the nation's
highest court.

the affirmative action manager's office had nothing memorable. but the
man himself was a bull. he was from army airborne. nobody liked him.
his reports were systematically ignored and his requirements were
evaded. he once made an unforgettable comment at a business lunch.
another personnel manager (about whom it was well know to those privy
to such information) who made more money and had not
attended college made some comment to which the aaction officer replied
'in airborne we used to kill people we didn't like' he pointed to the
variety of forks, pencils and straws at the table and said 'i could
kill you with any of these things in a matter of seconds, but i am
just an affirmative action officer and you can ignore my memos forever'.
we ate norweigian food in silence for a while, somebody told a joke,

the corporate technology consultant had papers everywhere. he wore strictly
polyester suits and drove a red ferrari 308. his afro was at least 4
inches tall and he almost never combed it. he was partner in a chain of
computerland stores, peppered his language with obscenities and took
the job 'for spending cash'. he had done two tours in vietnam, and was
once one of dec's top salesmen. he called himself a 'nouveau nigger' and
often liked to stump people in embarrassing ways. i recall him making
a joke with one of the top manufacturing engineers at the expense of
a white woman in the strategy department about the ability of non-engineers
to make business decisions about product development. it was basically
one of those smart ass questions like derive maxwell's equations from
the following premise. he did shit like that. he often talked about
personally financing a college scholarship for leaders of the crips. he
expressed anxiety about the fact that he might turn 40 without having made
his first million dollars. he was only 75% there and he had 3 years to go.

we often forget that the modern american corporation was modeled on
the command and control principles of military organization. these
two men in particular reminded me of that. i had much of that in mind
while watching schindler's list.

the black personnel officer's office was large and spacious. he was a
rotund and ingratiating man. he dropped names. the casual way in which
he spoke about his associations with influential blacks inside and out
of the corporation was impressive beyond words. connections could have
been his middle name. he was in line to be a vice president. two years
later he was under accusation of sexual harassment. all i knew were
rumors. he was soon back as a consultant part time. nobody visited his
office any longer. i was instructed not to provide software or hardware
service for him. i did so after work.

the black woman who worked as an analyst for artificial intelligence
products gave me all the software and documentation i asked for. she
directed the educational software markets program. there was no profit
in it and students who wrote ai programs were neither often contacted
nor their applications systematcially reviewed. the ai programming
environment was widely respected most everywhere but inside the business.
she left not long after. no budget. her office was a miracle of tidyness.
she showed me her object oriented spreadsheet and expert shell whenever
i asked. this was 1986.

the black woman who was making six figures and had a corner office was
reputed to have a temper. she understood technology unlike most of
the busisness folks around her. she was 100% business and everybody
treated her that way. there was respect. people wished they could deal
with somebody else but they dealt with her. i made sure she got everything
she wanted from my department. when she smiled she reminded me of
somebody comepletely different than who she was when she walked
swiftly through the halls arguing with some other manager. she was
a vice-president or practically there. she wore power well.

the black manager whose office was around the corner from mine told me
that i was not a team player and i would never succeed in management
if i wanted to insist on my arrogance about computer technology's role
in the everyday business of running a business. he told me i must make
a choice between programming and business management. he could never
remember his email password. he had studied finance at a prestigious
university, and i was shocked to find during one of the e-mail discussions
that he had spent more than 10 years in personnel. he resented the
attitude of the young upstarts hired in the 80s with their power ties,
mbas and expectations. but he never got particularly angry about it.
he had a quiet kind of resolved resignation about such matters. i think
of the darryl pinckney's grandfather in 'high cotton'. he was a negroin my
path. he was incorrect and he was right.

the black manager who had the accident was the captain of the lacrosse
team at ohio state. he was always very active in e-mail discussions.
despite the brain damage, he was still highly respected. you could hear
the fire behind his messages and the passion in his stumbling voice.
he was, so goes the story, the most promising black manager of the lot.
by the time i met him, he was mellow in his slower pace. we often drank
together in the bar downstairs. there was always peace in the man,
ultimately. i believe i liked him most of all just as he was, although
i often looked into his good eye and wondered what if...

Posted by mbowen at August 4, 2004 03:35 PM

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I like this a lot. But I get the managers confused. Which one is the que?

Posted by: Lester Spence at August 4, 2004 04:01 PM

I like this a lot. But I get the managers confused. Which one is the que? I realize that for the majority of white readers this probably reads really really weirdly. but that's the point right?

So which one?

Posted by: Lester Spence at August 4, 2004 04:02 PM

The Que's initials were D. R. (the 3rd) He was corporate counsel for Bob Adams of Xerox Systems Group, the man who would have been Steve Jobs' daddy if only Xerox hadn't fumbled the future. Somedays I get bitter. I'm certain that I would have been a multi-millionaire and one of the most well connected folks in the computer industry if Xerox had played its cards right. I was on a first name basis with every one of the top execs in XSG and most of the top network folks.

I also knew John Shoemaker (but not Bill Raduchel) who both went over to Sun and ran that company. What kills me is that I knew how good I had it there. The whole thing was crystal clear. What I didn't know was that it was all about hardware sales and wouldn't be about the business re-engineering & software for another 6 years or so.

ahh. Imagine what an insufferable asshole I would have grown up to be.

Posted by: Cobb at August 4, 2004 05:33 PM