Okay, first I need to start by providing some background and context to what you are about to read! I’m writing for two reasons; 1) To heal from this very traumatic experience by writing about it, and; 2) To find out if this has happened to anyone else and what you did about it.
I am a 47-year old, African-American male with my Ph.D. in Leadership Studies. I have been working since the age of 16 and for most of my life working more than just one full-time job. Around a month ago, my wife and I went house shopping throughout the neighborhood that we have lived in for the past 17 years! We wanted to find a new home closer to the schools that our children attend. As we looked at the listing near one school nothing special stood out about the house but we decided to take a look and see what it looked like inside.
The street was crowded with other visitors wanting to see the house as well. As we made our way to the home, suddenly a woman in her 50’s that resembled the listing agent for the home opened the door and I responded immediately with a hello and that we were here to look at the house. Without pause the agent looked straight at me and said;
“Do you have a job?”
We did not even enter the house and this was the first question she asked me. Wow, I thought to myself as I looked at my wife to confirm that I heard what I thought I just heard. My mind immediately went to my appearance and how I was dressed. Did I look like I did not have a job? It was a Saturday morning and I had on a golf shirt and some khaki shorts. Without giving it much thought I looked into the woman’s eyes and said; “Of course I have a job.” The thought of telling her off and using my educational rank to put her in her place crossed my mind but at the same time, the shock of the initial question had me on auto-pilot as well as wanting to see the place. As we made our way into the house the agent asked if we could stay just inside the doorway of the house because she wanted to escort us around. Escort us around? I immediately felt as if I was in an expensive store being followed by the overprotective employee thinking I am going to steal something. That comment was enough to break the camel’s back and I turned to my wife and said; “Let’s go!”
The entire ride home I could not stop thinking about my encounter. In my mind, I kept thinking of different scenarios and responses but basically said and did nothing. As my wife and I arrived at home I shared the experience with our children and they were just as confused and perplexed as I was about the incident. Wanting to use the experience as a teachable moment I shared with them the importance of carrying themselves well and the power of education. Later, I thought what message was I trying to send them – I carried myself well and earned my terminal degree and still got asked the question. But at the end of the day, I still believe in carrying yourself well and that education is power – something no one can take away from you!
Looking back on it, I should have asked for the agent’s name and reported her for doing what she did, but what she said to me at this stage in my life had a profound impact that will be with me forever. Has something like this ever happened to you? If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?