It is one thing to talk about racist and prejudice incidents, ones that occur in an isolated event, and another to experience a month long phenomenon. I use the word phenomenon because I feel like a fly on the wall in the midst of a racist whirlwind.
Preface: I am one of a few African Americans working at a company that is predominately white. I mean out of hundreds of white employees, there are maybe 8 black people.
I will change the type of location mentioned in this story, in an attempt to not have a participant stumble upon this post.
Setting: I work in the center of downtown. Employees park in a parking garage that is about a quarter of a mile from our building. We walk along an alley way to enter the back of our building. A “shopping center” was recently built, opposite of the alley way. Before and after school, city children hang out at this “shopping center” as our city buses have been recently redirected.
The Story: So of course once the new building was up and running, there was an increase of children in the area. Unfortunately, the kids have gained a bad wrap for fighting. Within the first week of opening, the news had covered a stabbing and a fight. The police presence in the area was increased and eventually things settled down.
As the police presence decreased, the children began to hang out in the alley while waiting to go to school. Some are standing around local stores talking and joking, while others are smoking cigarettes and/or weed. Now based on my experience in high school, this is what kids do.
Eventually emails began popping up at work :
“Due to the recent opening of the new…behind the building, there has been an increased amount of foot traffic towards the back of the building…We encourage employees to walk out in groups and always maintain a cautious attitude and be aware of your surroundings. We have been in contact with the…Police Department to ensure an increased police presence around our building during arrival and departure hours in the morning and evening. Please contact HR to report any issues or concerns.”
This was a little confusing to me. Sure there are children hanging out, but I work at a very liberal company. This is a place were people openly drink while on the clock. There are tons of parties and happy hours. I found it shocking people would be upset over smoke. I discussed this with a fellow black co-worker and they felt the same.
The emails kept coming:
“…several instances have been brought to our attention that employees felt unsafe either coming to or leaving the…building.”
“…there have been some incidents and concerns with our employees walking to and from the parking garages. “
“the city is still dealing with issues surrounding the building throughout the day. We just received word that there was another occurrence of a fight….”
You get the idea. Suddenly people were coming into work reporting fights, large groups of children being disruptive, threats to their safety, etc. It got to the point where every time an email came out, the black employees would just laugh. This truly made no sense. We all walk the same way within the same time frame. The black employees have never witnessed a fight, I personally walk by the kids and they don’t say anything to me. They move out of my way. No issues what so ever. Lets also remember we are in the digital age. If fights were occurring, they would be posted on Facebook within minutes.
So I began to think maybe the children are looking at these “fearful white people” and deciding to play with them. Similar to how an unfamiliar cat pays you no mind if you ignore it or attempt to pet it, but as soon as it senses fear, it suddenly is around you. The kids could in deed be playing a game of cat and mouse. However, that view changed when I overheard a team member complaining one morning:
Summing it up “These inner city kids have no manners. They are rude and don’t give a fuck about anyone. All of them are disrespectful. I don’t know why they would have city kids over here since they are all bad.”
It was then I remembered, majority of these employees grew up in the suburbs. They currently live in the expensive “decent” part of the city (Art District) and are now working downtown. Majority of the people in the Art District are whites from the suburbs. Clearly they have some preconceived ideas of the city and its inhabitants. A typical group of black children waiting for a bus, turns into a “gang of rowdy children threatening my life”.
So they are prejudice. This is something that is annoying, but it is in ignorance and I can be a little more understanding. They are scared and constantly complaining. Once again annoying, but tolerable. (Though the statement about city children greatly bothered me, since I myself was raised in the city)
However there is a time where prejudice becomes racist. In this case, racism is defined as a group of power oppressing a weaker minority group, based purely on race, color, religion, origin, etc. Annoying complaining based on prejudice quickly became racist behavior.
Eventually a story began to swirl that while walking to work, an employee was hit in the back of the head by one of the kids. This was never confirmed and being as we work with a ton of
drunk playful employees, there were also reports that this was a prank done by a fellow employee.
Our CEO decides he wants the kids gone. He now visits the shopping center in an attempt to catch an incident occurring. He has been going every morning and evening because he has set up a meeting with our mayor and city officials to have the children removed. Of course, if he can get video evidence this will be an easier task. Let me also add that he has yet to catch anything happening, even though incidents are still being reported.
There are now reports that the children are wearing gang hoodies. When I dug further to find out what these hoodies say, because once again I magically manage to miss all of these happenings, it turns out they say “Glo Gang”. Oh no! These “gang members” enjoy listening to rap music. Not only that, but according to my co-workers, the fights are being staged so they can jump and rob the employees.
This is why we have horrible race relations. It is one thing for you to complain about the kids but when you start making up lies, and I will call them lies because I have yet to see any of these things, you are doing too much. These kids are doing nothing more then hanging out and waiting for a bus to school or home from school. They are living in a city that has set up this system for them. They have no choice but to be in the area. Yet I am sure they have police officers constantly haggling them now. The media is painting them out to be bad children. People are rallying to have them displaced. That has to be doing something to their mentality. Many of them are probably already coming from bad home situations.
So instead of being oppressive, it makes more sense to be uplifting. Why not work with local schools to implement more before and after school programs? Why not donate some money to create a youth center downtown? How about inviting some of the children into our building and creating a mentoring program? Or hey, lets simply leave the kids alone.
While my CEO is still waiting for his meeting, and an incident to occur, the employees are being moved to a different garage. Are the scared employees happy? No. In fact they are all complaining about how they shouldn’t have to move. It is their right to park where they want. They shouldn’t be the ones forced to change their routine…etc etc etc.
I have endured 3 months of this. Whenever someone has attempting to speak with me on the subject, I always explain I just see children who are waiting for a bus. They aren’t rowdy, out of control, or threatening. Of course my words are just dismissed…because at the end of the day, I am no different than them.
Peace, Love, and Happiness