The Zoo Syndrome
ANSWER: Some White staff will begin to openly wonder what the Black employee is doing behind that closed door. And, unfortunately, many White staff will also begin to offer up unsolicited comments about what they think is happening. So, you’ll hear everything from “I’ll bet she’s on a personal phone call” to “She’s probably shopping on the Internet” to “She’s just goofing off.”
I call it the “The Zoo Syndrome.” White employees, who have The Zoo Syndrome, like to be able to walk by a Black person’s office or cubicle and have the ability to inspect what’s going on inside. It’s just like going to the zoo to see what the animals are doing inside the different exhibits. And, just like at the zoo, some White people get pissed when the “exhibits” are closed.
For some strange reason, a Black person working behind closed doors seems to inspire a fair amount of negativity from White staff. It’s not uncommon for a Black employee, who dares to shut their office door, to be told that they are perceived to be “inaccessible,” “closed off,” or “non-managerial.”
But, when a White person shuts their office door for an extended period of time, have you ever noticed that the conspiracy theories suddenly disappear and positive insinuations are all that can be heard? As a result, a White person working behind a closed door is “probably working on a deadline” or is “probably on a conference call” or they are perceived to be “busy and focused.”
I’ve been amazed, over the years, at how often the open or closed position of a Black worker’s door could inspire so much petty commentary from White staff. But, it’s really not surprising. Blacks in the workplace are often victimized by negative inferences being drawn from normally accepted company-wide behaviors and practices. As a result, three White staff in one room are “having a meeting” and three Black staff in one room are “having a party.”
In the workplace, the on-the-job racist will leave no stone unturned in their effort to paint a Black worker as having some sort of professional deficiencies. As a result, many Blacks are forced to deal with some of the most petty, mean-spirited, and career-stifling nonsense imaginable. So, petty issues, such as doors being occasionally closed, can often become fodder for discussion on a Black person’s year-end performance evaluation, but the same situation will never be mentioned to a White employee.
We live in a society full of race-based double-standards. The workplace is no exception.