“We’re an all-black company and I need a clean-cut white boy,” my boss told me over drinks in a downtown bar when he hired me. “Customers in the suburbs don’t want to hire a black man.”
When a service call would come in, we would ask, “Does he sound white or black?” If it was the former, I would bid the job. If the latter, my boss would. Detroit is one of the most segregated metro areas in the nation, and for the first time I was getting what it felt like to be on the other side of that line. In contrast to the abstract verbal yoga students at the University of Michigan would perform when speaking about race, this was refreshing. And terrifying. I couldn’t hide behind fancy words any longer.