I Was Racially Profiled While Entering My Coworking Space This Morning
Okay, so that happened. But what can we do about it?
So it happened.
Walking into the building of a well-known nationwide co-working space in Manhattan, I was stopped by security.
“Can I help you?”
“No, I’m just heading to the elevator.”
“Do you work here?”
“Yes, I can show you my key card if you need proof.”
“No, I just haven’t seen you here before.” (said in a condescending voice)
“Um dude, I’ve been working here for almost eight months.” I mumbled to myself. During this conversation several white and Asian coworkers passed through without any incident or questioning.
Yep, this is how I started my day. I was profiled.
This transaction took less than a minute, but it symbolized the small, every day struggles that Black men like myself have to go through. It’s not the overt racism that gets to me, it’s more of the simple subtle references that cut the deepest. The security guard (who was an older Black gentleman, remind you) was subtly asking me, “Do you belong here?”
The fact that I was singled out was not surprising. Being profiled, whether being pulled over by the cops, being followed in a store, or being arrested at Barney’s is unfortunately still the norm in our “post-racial” world.
But aren’t co-working spaces supposed to be above this?
Of course not.
The marketing of these spaces is that of a collaborative, idealist society filled with bespectacled millennials with MacBooks ready to disrupt the world. The reality of the situation is that the life of “Do What You Love” is a life of privilege. Not too many people have the economic well-being to quit their jobs and live on their savings in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In fact, until recently, I could count the number of African-Americans on my floor with one hand.
I for one quit my almost six-figure job in Washington, DC 3 years ago, spending over $50,000 of my savings to try my hand at running my own company in the Big Apple. Even after that fizzled I turned down several six-figure jobs from a few large marketing agencies to help build my friend’s emerging branding and development firm, continuing to live below my means. You see, in this world, there are many stories like mine. However among African-Americans, there are many systemic, financial and institutional barriers that make me a rarity in my own race.
Having that said, I want to be proactive rather than reactive. I don’t want a security guard fired for unfortunately trying to trust his misguided instincts. I want to put my initial outrage to good use. We live in what I truly believe is the next industrial age, but incidents like this morning show that minority populations are getting left behind.
According to the latest research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, over 64% of young African-American millennials want to start their own businesses, however less than 8% have succeed in doing so. In addition to the financial barriers, there is a barrier of perception. Many feel alienated from joining the “Do What You Love,” workforce, because of the incidents highlighted above. There is a cultural difference, and a sense of “not belonging,” that must be overcome for us to excel in this new society.
I want to use this morning as motivation to encourage more people of color to be more active, vocal and visible at tech conferences, meet ups, hackathons and associated events. I want to connect them to low-cost community work spaces such as Harlem Garage and the Brooklyn Central Library. And I want to connect them to low-cost resources such as Skillshare and Coursera. I want to build an army of entrepreneurs of all colors, so incidents like this won’t happen again.
In addition I would rather use this incident to work with my co-working company to create a better, more comprehensive entrance policy that doesn’t rely on profiling to determine if someone is an employee.
Tomorrow morning I’m going to walk into the same entrance of the same building with a smile on my face. That security guard motivated me more than he will ever know.