“I’ll be there on time if…”

Magnus Research Consultants has, for many years, employed on a part time basis people who work with us exclusively on research days. We call our wonderful part time staff members Research Technicians because they handle numerous technical aspects of our research, including video camera operation, video editing, and oversight of our mock jurors. The majority of Magnus’ Research Technicians are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and they are from various countries including Haiti, Jamaica, The United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Peru, to name a few that immediately come to mind. We travel all over the United States of America with our Research Technicians, who are an integral part of our research team. In our travels, I have witnessed numerous acts of prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and racism toward Magnus’ Research Technicians. Lest the reader think I am making up anything, I will list a few examples:

– While in the gate area of an airport, waiting for our departing flight, one of our Black Research Technicians politely asked a woman if he could sit in the seat beside her, which would have required her to move her large designer purse. She answered him with a sharp, “NO! I am saving this seat for someone.” I quietly observed this encounter and, after waiting a few moments to see whether anyone would arrive to sit in this so called saved seat, I asked the woman if I could sit there. She beamed at me and said, “Of course!” then quickly moved her gaudy purse out of my way. I kindly thanked her, then motioned to my traveling companion and said, “Look, this seat was saved for me. Now I’d like you to have it.” Nothing else needed to be said; the point was made.

– Upon arriving at a destination with which I am familiar, I selected one of my favorite restaurants for the Research Technician and I to have dinner on the evening prior to a research day. Upon being escorted into the dining area by the host, all conversation stopped and all eyes were fixed on my Black Research Technician as if no one in the room except me had ever seen a Black person before. Never one to miss an educational opportunity, I cheerily greeted the stunned looking diners by saying “Hi! We are hungry and it looks like we came to the right place!” Again, enough said.

– On numerous occasions, indeed too many to count, one of Magnus’ Research Technicians was accosted by the local police in the small city where David and I lived because, well, he was “guilty” of a dangerous condition known as “Driving While Black.” I will leave it to David to explain the aftermath of this situation, but when we discussed it with our employee, he told us not to worry because…you guessed it…it happens to him ALL THE TIME.

– With the recent turmoil in our nation on everyone’s minds, I will now share the comment that prompted me to write this post. As we were preparing to travel for an upcoming research project, one of Magnus’ Research Associates, the supervisor of the Research Technicians, was talking to one of our Research Technicians about the details of the project. When they were ending their call, this young Black man said, “I’ll be there on time…if the cops don’t kill me first.” When they hung up, the distraught Research Associate immediately came to my office to tell me what happened. She and I had a sad discussion about the awful truth in what it means to be a Black person in our country.

I am writing this post soon after reading an email sent to me by the American Psychology-Law Society that contained strong principles by which I, as a member of this organization (among several other psychological associations) MUST conduct myself. These principles include a call to action to “create change within our society, our educational and legal institutions, and in our communities…and promote justice, put a spotlight on injustice, and condemn racism in all its forms.” I am committed to these principles and, as such, I will not stand down, I will not be silent, and I will not condone racism in any form, by anyone.

I never thought I’d get schooled in racism along the way when hiring employees.  But, it has happened!  While Melissa has observed more of these racist incidents directly than have I, ensuring that our team is not negatively impacted by these experiences has forced me into some uncomfortable roles, and required some creativity.  With regard to the experience Melissa noted involving Driving While Black, this occurred in the small town in which we lived at the time.  The city has its own, small, police department.  Our team came/went to our house when using the “company SUV” and sometimes that meant they were at the house early or late.  Various people drove the truck at different times.  The ONLY ONES who were ever stopped by the police were Black.  After one of our key team members was stopped the 3rd or 4th  time, I decided to arrange a meeting with the police department.  The officer with whom I interacted is a minority himself; he is Asian.  At first, he didn’t accept what I told him, but I gave him specifics, including that the stop was witnessed by a 2nd employee (a White man) in a different vehicle, then he started listening. This city has round stickers, about 4″ in diameter, that identify vehicles as “belonging” in the city. Our vehicle had one.  But the employees’ vehicles did not.  The officer agreed to provide me with a couple extra stickers for these employees’ use.  That resolved the issue, but it was clear that the need to do so surprised the police officer.  This effort was a bit creative, as was another thing we did that helped, in an unanticipated way.  We purchased some polo shirts with the company logo for our team to wear when setting up for the research day, usually the night before.  After wearing them only 1 or 2 times, our team members, most of whom are Black, and from various ethnic backgrounds, reported something unexpected.  When they stopped for meals or rest breaks on the road, they could tell that people at the rest areas or restaurants reacted to them more comfortably while they were in “uniform” than when they were in street clothes.  The “uniform” appeared to make them less threatening.  This was eye opening!  As employers, Melissa and I have always felt the well being of our staff is a paramount concern.  Never did I anticipate it being an issue related to “outside” forces!


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