From the Edge of a Cliff to Under a Bus: Living Under the Dark Skinned Microscope

Have you ever felt like you were being watched?  It’s a creepy feeling.  And then you look up to find someone staring.  Your instincts picked up on the energy and you knew before looking that someone was watching you.  When I encounter implicit bias, it has the same effect.  I know when I’m being targeted with excess negative attention.  I wonder why someone is so concerned about me in my life, when I have zero interest in theirs.  The person comes off as creepy, and likely harbors underlying racist and sexist ideologies about dark skinned males.

Flicr - Bill Strain - Native Male Sitting

There are numerous articles on implicit bias so I’m not going into detail about how it works.  The baseline:  society, community, family low key trains us to look at individuals with biases.  Dark skinned males are always assumed to be criminals so we are watched much closer.  So much so, people keep watching until the slightest mistake occurs and then they attempt to blow it out of proportion.  Fortunately, in my circumstances, the overreaction has been so blatantly noticeable it quickly becomes dismissible and the person looks like a psychopath.

I’d like to write about the above mentioned pattern.  This pattern isn’t something typically covered by the “implicit bias” articles.  It has to do with manifest destiny.  Not the manifest destiny that came out of Europe centuries ago and massacred millions of Native Americans.  But it is akin.  If you believe it, it will come.

What I’ve found in my personal life and work life are repeated, almost predictable, patterns where individuals will attempt to throw me under the bus.  Meaning, they will find the smallest opportunity to try to get me in trouble with superiors.  People believe dark skinned males to be criminal, but when we are more concerned with reading books rather than committing crimes then they subconsciously seek out ways to make us criminals.

What happens?  I have to stay within the lines more so than people around me.  I can see people wasting entire days of time with school work or personal phone calls.  But my entire day is tracked.  I’ll stand from my cubicle and someone will quickly ask, “Are you leaving?”  I’ll say, “No, I’m just going to the bathroom.”  If incidents like this happened in isolation, then I’d dismiss them.  But I have consistently been asked arbitrary questions about what I’m doing. Then it’s contrasted when no one else around me receives the same line of questioning.  This has occurred throughout my entire working and academic career.  Even my bathroom visits receive comments.  I have to time my daily 15 minute breaks at work to be at the exact same time everyday, while other workers can spend hours gossiping.  Those are just some examples of the many I face everyday when I walk out of my door.

It has to do with manifest destiny.  Not the manifest destiny that came out of Europe centuries ago and massacred millions of Native Americans.  But it is akin.  If you believe it, it will come.

Ultimately, it has given me a stronger work ethic.  When everyone is trying to turn you into something you’re not, you become more of who you really are.  I’m a work horse.  Dependable.  And focused.  I show up for my kids.  I’m proud to be a nurturing father.  At the end of the day, my children and my family are the reasons I stay the course.  Implicit bias isn’t going fade away because we are aware.  Most institutions where I’ve worked and attended for my education have trained staff and students on implicit bias.  For a few months afterwards, I get less monitoring and harassment.  But after time passes, it always starts back up again.  Like taking care of my family isn’t enough, I also get the pleasure of walking the edges of a cliff.

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(The above photo was borrowed from Flickr by Bill Strain’s page)

12 Comments

  1. I can really understand what you say here is live in a village outside Aswan and this is precisely what I experience every day from these people. They watch for me to make mistakes. Like you I have had to become stronger within myself. Also I maintain unpredictability.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. My own approach to perceived unfair treatment is being very verbal, direct, questioning, wondering aloud, but I not sure I can really recommend it, especially not in an office environment. There’s no end to what people can get petty about. Still, I need to vent it.

    I appreciated you subscribing to my blog Story Reviews, because I read your posts and see we share a number of things (as opposed to the baffling subscriptions of beauty bloggers for instance). I had to close it down and are now slowly working up another blog, Integrity revised – same same stuff. I’d be happy to see you subscribe again.

    All the best!
    Link to Intergrity Revised
    mindfloatings.wordpress.com

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