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'Black Buck': Mateo Askaripour's Debut Novel Highlights Racism In Corporate America

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Mateo Askaripour

In Mateo Askaripour’s debut novel, Black Buck, protagonist Darren Vendor lives with his mother in New York City, is the manager at a Starbuck’s and spends time with a girlfriend he adores. He’d been the valedictorian of a prestigious high school but never made any other goals for his life because he’s content with his life. A chance encounter with the CEO of a tech startup turns Mateo’s world upside down — but not in a good way. Mateo is the only person of color in the whole company and endures microaggressions — and worse — in this cult-like workplace.

Highlights of the Interview with Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck.jpg

A short summary of the novel
Black Buck is about a young man named Darren, who is living in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. He has his mother, his girlfriend, his best friend, his neighborhood, and his neighborhood has him. So, Darren's also working at a Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan. And one day, this suave, smooth, good-looking man named Rhett Daniels comes in and Rhett is the CEO of a startup called someone Sumwun. And he says, you know, "Give me my regular." But for some reason, Darren says no, and he sells him on another drink. So Rhett, impressed, invites Darren up to the 36th floor where a startup is located and he extends an offer to Darren to join his elite sales team. Darren reluctantly agrees. And he soon realizes he is not the only Black salesman there. He's the only black person in the entire company. So he goes through hell and back in order to make it to the top. And once he's there and he has power, status and money, he says, "You know what? I don't like being the token Black guy." So he hatches a plan to help other people of color infiltrate America's tech startup sales teams, redefining what it means to be a minority in the workplace.

About the title
There are a handful of meanings to it, but let's begin with the historical one. The historical connotation of a "Black Buck" was the enslaved man who the enslavers believed was brawny, unruly, untamable would steal their women and steal their livestock and burn down the plantation. I didn't choose this title exactly to provoke, but more so as a form of reclamation and to show the parallel between the historical idea of the Black Buck and what Darren is doing, because Darren is not literally going into these organizations and physically burning them down, but he is burning down what they symbolized and paving the road for many others to show that the American dream is for us all. And they were all worthy of chasing success and in some cases, achieving it.

On the protagonist Darren becoming "Buck"
A question that a lot of people ask me is "Did Darren have to change?" Did he have to become "Buck" to be successful? And they're also at the same time asking a broader question of do Black and Brown people in these white majority environments need to become someone else in order to succeed? And my answer is that for Darren to have not only survived, but thrived in an organization like Sumwun, he had to become "Buck" because he could have remained Darren. And what would have happened is that he likely would have either quit or been fired, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have gone to another organization that celebrated who he was and been successful there. But there is symbolism in him becoming "Buck" and really adopting this persona or what I like to say, just really becoming a different person. It's not so much an alter ego. He just was thoroughly changed. It's showing that he had to leave his name and himself at the door of Sumwun and that "Buck" was who he had to be in order to succeed at least there.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.