Conversations with Darryl and Tony

Darryl is one of my friends who lives in Chicago. I have been to Chicago, it seems like a nice place with a lot going on. According to the 2000 census, the demographics of Chicago are 32.4% Black, 31.7% White, 28.9% Hispanic/Latino, 5.4% Asian of a 2.8 million population.

We started off discussing Trump and his supporters in the forthcoming election, and Darryl (who is black) said that the support for Trump is revealing just how racist the white population of America is. I naively added my thoughts, which at the time had no statistical basis. I guessed (based solely on my experience of the views of my own white friends, family and acquaintances) that there are about 5% of the white population who are raving racists – willingly wishing harm, oppression and bad fortune on non-whites. I also guessed that of the remaining 95% many of them are not out and out racists, but people who know that racism happens but it does not register on their radar because it doesn’t affect them – it is somebody else’s problem. I used to be like this myself, blissfully unaware that as a white person I enjoy privileges that others do not, and I vaguely knew that there were injustices and issues, but it didn’t affect me, so I didn’t feel the need to stand up and say anything about it.

Also when your white social group contains many ‘mild’ racists – the kind of people who would never willingly harm a person based on skin colour, but blame the economic and criminal problems of the country on the non-white population, it’s easier to say nothing and go with the flow than it is to continually challenge them. I have challenged them in the recent past, and it is hard to change perceptions because they just accept what the media feeds them and do not actually look for the truth.

It’s really important to understand that the media have their own agenda and they will report in a biased manner to sway the population into believing whatever they want them to believe. The media is rarely questioned or brought to account, and if you are constantly being bombarded with gross exaggerations and lies, then you will believe the lies. If the government/media owners want mostly negative stories about black people reported and lots of positive stories about white people, then this is what happens and it is being fed to every household every day.

Darryl said that my guesses were way out and it was more likely that 95% of the white population are raving racists. He said that every day he says hello to white people who live in his apartment building and they ignore him and walk straight past. People sigh, roll their eyes, give him dirty looks. Nobody will hold a door open for him, women clutch their purse a bit tighter as he walks by. He hates going to restaurants because he has to wait to be served while white diners get served as a priority. I asked if there are ANY white people who are nice to him, and he said a few, but not many.

I mentioned this experience to another friend, Tony (also black), who used to live in Chicago and he agreed about the extent of blatant racism. Tony recounted a story where he had visited a branch of Olive Garden with his ex-wife. It took a while to get seated, but eventually they were served by a waiter who took an order for an appetizer. The salad was brought out and then the waiter disappeared and ignored them for the rest of the evening. Approximately an hour later another waiter asked if their main order had been taken, which it hadn’t, so the second waiter dealt with the order. At the end of the meal, Tony insisted that the tip should be given to the second waiter as the first waiter had neglected them. This caused a commotion and the manager was called, who then proceeded to treat Tony as if he had done something wrong, rather than treating him as a customer who had received appalling service. All three staff were white, Tony and his partner had a dreadful experience, yet they were being treated like an inconvenience rather than valued customers. This is not an isolated experience – it is generally how many black people are treated daily in Chicago.

It’s dawned on me before, but these conversations really hammered it home that I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against like that every day. I feel sad and sorry that anybody has to live like that. It has to change.

I am now feeling really uneducated about the extent of the problem and would like to learn what others perceptions are regarding just how racist white people are. Do other Chicago inhabitants agree with Darryl and Tony that the vast majority of white Chicago residents have a racist mindset? Is it the same America-wide? How about other countries and cities ? Please discuss.


Clinton and Vannessa’s Experiences

Clinton, who lives in the Midlands area of the UK talked to me about being stopped by the police five times in one day while driving. Four of the officers gave him a ‘producer’ (meaning that he had to attend a police station and show his licence, MoT and insurance documents). A ‘producer’ is a real inconvenience – UK police stations are notoriously swamped with paperwork and understaffed meaning that you generally have to wait for a few hours or more just to speak to the officer at the front desk. Clinton was driving a black BMW and had even been warned by his friends not to buy it because it would be a magnet for police attention. He says that whenever he sees a police car in the rear view mirror now he gets nervous and agitated and when stopped, he feels that he cannot speak up and challenge the situation because he will be seen as aggressive and is more likely to get into trouble than his white peers.

Clinton says that the biggest issue for him though is that he has never felt included in the UK society. He states that he will never be seen as British or English and always labelled as ‘black’, and then demonised for not integrating.

Vannessa added to the point about being on your ‘best behaviour’. She said that it depends on your work environment – the more corporate you are, the more it seems you have to  curtail certain behaviours and not be seen as a troublemaker or ‘angry chip on your shoulder’ black person. She added that an outwardly, pro-black individual would find it very difficult to integrate into that type of environment and perhaps end up with mental health issues due to not being their true self. There are interesting studies around the impact of racism and mental health, the statistics are astounding regarding black people in the mental health system in the UK.

Vannessa mentioned that a lot of institutions are ingrained with this  racist mentality and black people have to navigate around it as best they can.

Click here for a link to a published research article about racism and mental health in the UK.

Click here for a link to an article about racism and mental health in Australia.

There are many instances of police racism in the UK and worldwide, I have a friend who was one of the few black members of the West Midlands Police, and he was told by a colleague “You’re okay mate, but I don’t like blacks or asians”. There was no rationality to this statement, just somebody with a very responsible job being openly racist. I have another friend who is on medication which can cause insomnia, so he decided to go out for a run at 2am one night to clear his head. Not very far down the road he was stopped and searched by the police and told that he looked ‘suspicious’ because he was a black man out running late at night with a backpack on.

Amanda (from the previous post) also had an experience relating to cars where her boss asked her if her partner was a drug dealer because he drove a BMW M3. She was determined enough to take her case to court and she won.

The points about police racism are not paranoia, they are fact. The government statistics from 2010 state that a black person is 7 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched, and a non-white person is more likely to receive a custodial sentence than a white person. There are many more instances where non-whites receive a harsher deal. This report can be viewed here.

I felt saddened by the extent of Clinton’s harassment and the fact that he has never felt like he fits in to the UK society. There are many more like Clinton.

There is a lot to celebrate and embrace about the wide variety of cultures in the world and yet we often choose to take a narrow minded view and dismiss anything other than our own particular way of life.


Amanda’s Experience

Amanda, a young professional accountant from London spoke to me about her experiences in the workplace. She recounted one situation where she worked for an advertising company in London. Amanda worked at the head office near Edgware Road and noted that most of the staff were white, with approx. 3 token black staff in the building. All of the sales staff were white and actually told Amanda that the company tend to not hire anybody who is non-white. She started working on the first floor and was messed around terribly, having to move office almost every week until she ended up on the eighth floor.

If you have ever moved desk in an office environment before you will know what an upheaval this can be, moving all of your files and equipment around and hoping that your computer and phone will still work as expected at the new desk. Sometimes you can easily lose a day’s work when moving.

After the weekly inconvenience of moving around the building, they then wanted to move Amanda to another location in Brentford, quite a distance from the Edgware Road office. Her colleagues could not believe that she had to keep moving and it seemed that she was being singled out. When she discussed the situation with Human Resources, and showed that her contract stated Edgware Road, they agreed to pay her for the year so that she would leave the company. When she asked why there were hardly any non-white people in the company, Human Resources stated that they had ‘met their quota’.

This is not an isolated incident and Amanda has experienced similar situations before.

What struck me about this experience was not only the blatant racism by the company and the admission of ‘meeting a quota’ by the HR Dept, but the degree of subtle workplace bullying that Amanda experienced. It is well documented that bullying in the workplace is not only restricted to verbal and physical assaults but also includes actions of inconsistency and isolation as published by the Workplace Bullying Institute:
Isolation : Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposefully excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events;
Constant change and inconsistency: Constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of assignments; constant inconsistency of word and action (e.g. not following through on things said)

There is also a suggestion that she was ‘paid off’ to avoid any industrial confrontation that may have created bad press for the company.

Most companies say that their values include Respect, Fairness and Equality, and some of them include racial and cultural awareness training during induction, but how many actually discipline or dismiss employees who do not adhere to the company equality policy ?