SEFFNER, Fla. — It may be hard to see for some, but it’s the experience of many people living in the Bay Area: shopping while Black and facing discrimination because of implicit bias.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is digging deeper to find out how discrimination over time can affect one’s health and one USF student tells Anthony of a recent time he says he was racially profiled in the last place he’d ever expect it.
“I don’t know who to send this to in the Walt Disney Corporation, but I hope someone reads this and listens,” says Jaalin Harvey as he reads an open letter he wrote to Disney World that he posted to his Twitter. Jaalin is a USF student and a serious Disney fan. In fact, he’s had annual Disney passes since he was a sophomore in high school. He’s been to Disney World, Disneyland and Toyko Disneyland, but he says recently, he was racially profiled there.“Instantly, when I walked in, I already knew it was hostile.”
He says he was in one of the souvenir stores in Disney World getting a gift for a friend when he noticed some of the workers staring at him. “They were looking at me. How do I know they were looking at me? Because when I turned to look at him, he turned his eyes completely from me in a microsecond. I caught him. I felt anxious, nervous.”
He felt so anxious and nervous he says he felt a panic attack coming on. “Imagine being a tiger in front of all of these people and you just freak out. They’re going to freak out. Not just because you’re freaking out but because you’re a tiger and they see you as dangerous.”
After reading Jaalin’s open letter, a representative from Disney sent Jaalin a letter apologizing for his experience there and stating that Disney is a place where everyone is welcomed. ABC Action News has called Disney several times and has sent an email asking if they wanted to comment on this story. We also wanted to know if they provide training to their employees on how to handle implicit bias. We still haven’t heard back.
Jaalin is not alone with his hyper-awareness of how others may perceive him. According to a study by Harvard University about racial discrimination, 40% of Black people surveyed say they’ve been in environments where they feel like they’re intimidating other people just by their presence. “And to a lot of people not of color, you won’t get it and I know it might seem extreme.”
“People of color often expect to be followed around a store when they’re shopping. People of color often expect that they’re going to be pulled over by the police,” says Dr. Kyaien Conner, who teaches mental health, law and policy at USF. She says that feeling that many people of color have is called ‘racial trauma’ which is the effect of racism on an individual’s mental and physical health over time. “All of those things coupled together create this cumulative impact which is certainly leading to, I think, a mental health crisis in the African American community currently.”
According to the American Psychological Association, only 4% of psychologists are Black, meaning, it’s harder for people of color to find a therapist who understands their worldview and experiences. “If you are not seeing my color, then you’re not seeing me. You’re missing a huge part of my identity that I am very aware of every time I walk out the door,” says Dr. Conner.
As for Jaalin, he says he’s a true Disney fan and will continue to go to Disney World. He just wants other people, regardless of their race, to have the same joyful experiences he’s had going there over the years. “You can’t just say you’re going to do better,” says Jaalin in his open letter to Disney. “You have to do better because these parks are, and should be, for everyone, to enjoy, to feel safe and to feel like you belong.”
Dr. Conner says because mental health conditions are common among Black people due to racial trauma experienced throughout life, it’s important to be proactive in looking for help in the form of therapy. Here is a link to several local therapists.