By Oneita Jackson
Mali Perrier backhanded her millennial colleague after she made an off-handed sartorial remark.
It was meant to be a compliment, but 50-something-year-old Mali didn't take it that way.
They were walking out of the morning meeting, a meeting about microaggressions — the irony! — when Lori Cavanaugh, the Detroit Dispatch's new investigative reporter said, "Don't you look lovely in your Natiki Dos Dos-like pantsuit?"
Mali was the "Delightfully Rude" manners columnist. During her 11 years at the newspaper, she received international journalism awards and was always on some TV panel as an etiquette expert.
The Natiki Dos Dos pantsuit was a Skittles orange, wide-legged, lined gabardine piece of ostentation with cream-and-cobalt blue Nigerian print in the front, cream in the back. Mali wore cream Balenciaga flats and a cream-and-blue, polka-dot silk Yves St. Laurent blouse with a big bow.
She looked at her MAD watch, tapped it once, and continued to walk to her office across the newsroom, pretending she hadn't heard Lori.
When her MAD watch didn't vibrate, Mali tapped it again, twice, hard. Nothing. Again. She tapped the MAD watch feverishly. Again, nothing. The batteries were dead.
Mali panicked. She intuitively felt that her tolerance levels were low, although she couldn't know for sure because her MicroAggressionDetector® was off.
Six months after moving to Detroit from Washington, D.C., Mali had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Negro Disorder. Her symptoms included anxiety after interacting with uneducated white people, anxiety after interacting with educated white people, and interacting with white people, in general, at bookstores, private events, fundraisers, professional events, especially in the newsroom. It seemed to Mali that white people did not do well with Black people.
Her psychiatrist started her on 65 mg. of Rebukanizol and ordered the MAD watch to keep her in check because of her inability to handle situations where she was the only Black person in the room. The MAD watch monitored the heartbeat and sent signals to the wrist to alert the wearer of increasing anger levels:
M - MILD
green dot, one vibration; ignore
A - AGGRESSIVE
yellow dot, several vibrations; address
D - DANGEROUS
red dot, hot flash to the wrist; act
The Rebukanizol-MAD watch therapy had worked.
When a new sports reporter asked her why she was in a meeting all columnists usually attended, the green dot appeared on her MAD watch. Mali ignored her colleague.
When Mali saw another Detroit Dispatch columnist at a private club she belonged to and he asked her to get his coat, a yellow dot appeared. She greeted him by name and gave him HER coat check ticket.
It worked, mostly.
Mali was suspended for a month and had to sign a nondisclosure agreement after what she did when the red dot appeared on her MAD watch; she absolutely escalated the situation.
Mali thought about how well she'd handled other uncomfortable situations with her colleagues while she rambled through her desk drawer. Lori would appear, though, before Mali could change the batteries in her MAD watch.
"I like your little Natiki Dos Dos-like jumpsuit."
She had come alllll the way across the newsroom to compliment Mali.
"Yeah, I seen one just like it in the Vogue magazine last week. Well, it wasn't just like it, it WAS it, you know? Not a knock-off."
"Yeah, I wouldn't pay all that money for a Natiki Dos Dos."
"No. I would wait for it to get to the Rage & Rag on Cass — but I don't know how you got it so fast because they just came out."
Mali and Natiki Dosembe had gone to school together in Washington, D.C., first to the Bessemer School for Girls, then to Dunbar University. Mali was thrilled to learn Tiki's inaugural collection would be covered in a Vogue editorial and rejected her offer of a gift.
"I'll buy it, girl, as soon as it hits the stores," she had told Tiki.
The batteries were in the MAD detector, finally. Mali smiled and tolerated her little millennial coworker from Downriver.
The next day after the morning meeting on unconscious bias — the EYE-yer-nee! — Lori apologized.
"I didn't know you wore expensive clothes."
"No. I don't even know how you afford them."
In addition to her award-winning column, Mali had written three bestselling manners books about microaggressions and unconscious bias, Waiting to Impale, Close Encounters of the Unkind, and You're White, So What?
And there was oblivious Lori standing there in all of her oblivious privilege, bless her heart.
"Yeah, Micki the frumpy librarian told me you wear the finest clothes. I grew up poor and we didn't have expensive clothes. Why do you wear all those expensive clothes?"
Mali Perrier had more grace than most, but in this moment she lost all her grace, and before she knew it, she had popped the reporter in her mouth.
It was the smack heard across the newsroom.
Mali's coworkers jumped. The yellow-dot dude from the private club barreled at her, linebacker style. Mali swiveled to the left, sending the reporter crashing into the wall. She ran through the newsroom dodging reporters and editors.
One Balenciaga flat got caught in her cuff and she went down hard.
The sports reporter beat her with a pica pole. The frumpy librarian kicked her. The metro editor threw a stack of Sunday supplements at her (and missed). The graphics editor rendered aid to precious white Lori, whose lip was busted and bleeding.
Detroit Dispatch security detained Mali until Detroit Police officers arrived 48 minutes later.
Mali was arrested. Mali was charged. Mali spent the night in jail. Mali appeared in court. Mali pleaded. Mali got off on a technicality: The manufacturer of the MAD watch had issued a recall because of a red-dot malfunction. Mali quit the newspaper. Six months after she was taken off Rebukanizol, Mali released an international bestseller: Black Hostility: 911 Reasons We Get Offended.
No. 143: Like, "-like" is not a compliment. See: "Don't you look lovely in your Natiki Dos Dos-like pantsuit?"
Detroit bus rider Oneita Jackson is a write-in candidate for City Council and author of two satirical books.