Updated: Sep 22
Author: Dr. RL Booker
About two months ago, an Arkansas County Sheriff resigned due to the fact that an audio surfaced of him using the N-word over and over again. He was berating the mother of his child for having a casual conversation with a Black man in a store. In 2020, there is a lot of conversation about racial profiling dealing with police officers and Black men. Profiling of Black men has a deeply rooted history in American society. According to the Jim Crow Museum (2020), "at the beginning of the twentieth century, much of the violent, anti-black propaganda that found its way into scientific journals, local newspapers, and best-selling novels focused on the stereotype of the black rapist. The claim that black brutes were, in epidemic numbers, raping white women became the public rationalization for the lynching of blacks."
There is also another kind of profiling that often goes unnoticed. This is a politer type of profiling that happens in office settings. During the earlier part of my career, I worked in a department in which I helped first-generation and low-income high school students prepare for college. This was a very rewarding job as I had the opportunity to shape and mold the minds of the next generation of leaders. I had many great experiences working with the numerous students and staff in that department. Nonetheless, there was one experience that I will never forget. One of my co-workers (who happens to be a White woman) and I had registered to attend a work-related conference in the central Arkansas area. Our job required us to drive down to the conference together, which we did. It was a great conference and a great car ride in which I really got to know her much more than I previously had. We discussed many different topics such as our childhoods, upbringings, and Christian backgrounds. Overall, it was a great trip.
Ten to eleven months later, this same co-worker, who I went to the conference with, had just given birth to a healthy child. My co-workers and I were very excited for her and her husband (who happens to be a White man and a police officer). In our department, we had a tradition of new parents bringing their newborn baby in for a celebration. This was time for the entire staff to see the baby, congratulate the parents, and show love. That day arrived and we all congregated at the front desk. Many staffers had many pleasantries to say such as, “what a beautiful child”, “what a happy baby”, “we are so happy for you two”, etc. I remember being happy and excited for my co-worker and her husband. About mid-way through the pageantries of congratulations and well wishes, her husband (who I had never met before) made an unwarranted comment out of nowhere towards me in front of all of my co-workers. He stated,
“I told Jane Doe that this baby kinda looks like you. I remember you took that trip down to that conference together…hahaha.”
I was not only caught off guard but completely embarrassed that he would make such an unwarranted comment, especially since he did not know me. Nonetheless, I just uncomfortably laughed it off. Many of my co-workers looked surprised while maintaining their silence. Moments later, we all just moved on as the situation was uncomfortable and awkward. As a young boy, my mother often talked with me about how I might be viewed by people who were different from me, my mentor (Mrs. Erma Jefferson) talked with me about situations I might face from people who view me as a threat, but none of that fully prepared me for this situation. After the gathering was over, I had several different staff members come to me in their frustration and displeasure with what had taken place. I often think about the pain and shame I experienced from this uninformed and biased comment. While this comment was targeted towards me, it didn't only demean me, it also demeaned his wife.
I later stopped to think about how embarrassed my co-worker must have been. This could not have been the first time that her husband said something like this to her. It showed how he was basically sending multiple messages to her such as, "I control you", "I'm going to put you in your place", and "you shouldn't be traveling with men, especially Black men". This showed me how men like him treat their women. I am not sure if he has the same mindset as the Arkansas County Sheriff, nonetheless, the parallels are very similar. As I reflected on whether or not to report the incident, many things came to my mind. One that was most prevalent was that I was not in a position of power and that I was a Black man working in a mostly White department at a predominantly White institution. I also considered the fact that her husband was a police officer and had power that extended far beyond what I felt I could challenge. The part that continues to trouble me is that my former co-worker's husband still holds a position of authority as a police officer. If he still has that same bias about Black men or anyone else that he does not know, what could be the outcome of an interaction with him?
So, yes, profiling can even happen in settings that are considered to be polite office settings. This situation that I experienced is one of the many reasons why I write about the injustices that Black and Brown people constantly face. As I think about how strong and outspoken I consider myself to be today, I can’t help but look back at the young professional I once was and how my circumstance and environment did not allow me to be fully supported in order to speak out about issues like this. I long for a society and work environments where differences are expected and all people are fully supported, respected, and have a sense of belonging.
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. (2020). The Brute Caricature. https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/brute/
Van, H. (2018). This is why everyday racial profiling is so dangerous. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/11/us/everyday-racial-profiling-consequences-trnd/index.html