Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Zoo Syndrome

QUESTION: What happens when a Black employee shuts their office door for a prolonged period of time?

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was right on point. I am currently experiencing this. This did come up in my initial review. I believe there are racist, but just don't want to say it. I have been called some other things when people started making their comments. Is this a case for the EEOC. To be quite honest, I have run into this 99.98% of my employment. I just kept wondering is it just me.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can totally relate. I have experienced similiar "nosy-ness" from white co-workers on the job. If it's not a closed door, then they are following you every time you leave your desk, as if to watch you???!! They would pretend to be busy doing something while glancing sideways at me. I am the type of employee who never needs to be "watched"; I'm calm, friendly, dependable, and not an employee who complains--I've even been called a model employee in past jobs (model employee was even written on one of my evaluations.)

6:11 AM  

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