Black folks just can’t win. Struggling against a systemic current of racism that’s difficult to deny since President Trump transformed America’s shameful underbelly into his primary political platform, an African-American today can work to get an education and even be hired for jobs more lucrative than any position open to Blacks in earlier generations.
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However, even those lucky enough to climb the ladder of financial success through the same legitimate means of determination and dedication as their Caucasian colleagues face everyday indignities of insidious prejudice that are as impossible to ignore as they are damnably disturbing.
Consider the case of Paul McCowns, who was simply trying to cash the first paycheck from his new job at a local electric company in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Brooklyn, as recounted by local news outlet WOIO-TV.
McCowns enters a branch of the Huntington Bank, presents his check which totals slightly more than a thousand dollars, and provides the two forms of identification and a fingerprint required of people without an account at the bank.
One would assume that meeting all the published requirements for cashing a check would be sufficient for the bank to start counting greenbacks and handing them over to the person trying to turn their paycheck into hard currency. Not for an unfamiliar black man, apparently.
The teller insisted on confirming the validity of the check with his employer and unsuccessfully tried to reach him several times before ultimately refusing to cash the check for McCowns.
The frustrated new employee left the bank, but unbeknownst to him, the bank teller had decided that the two forms of ID and fingerprint that would allow anyone else to cash a check — combined with the teller’s own opinion that a man such as McCowns couldn’t possibly have legitimately earned such a large paycheck — demonstrated that the African-American was attempting to pass a fraudulent check.
The teller called 911 as soon as McCowns left the window. Call records at the 911 emergency dispatch center show that the teller told police that:
“He’s trying to cash a check and the check is fraudulent. It does not match our records.”
A squad car arrived before McCowns could even leave the bank’s parking lot, and suddenly he found himself handcuffed and in the back of the police vehicle.
Luckily it only took a few minutes for police to be able to reach McCowns’ boss who quickly confirmed his employment status and the amount of his salary.
“My employer said, ‘Yes, he works for me, he just started and, yes, my payroll company does pay him that much,’” McCowns said.
After his release, he was able to cash the check with no problems whatsoever the next day at a different branch of the same bank.
McCowns rightly feels like he was a victim of racial profiling and has demanded an apology from the bank, hoping to see the tellers who handled the situation so badly face some consequences for their actions.
A representative for Huntington Bank gave the excuse that the particular branch McCowns visited had faced an unusually large number of instances of fraud in the few months and that the tellers were especially cautious as a result.
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. McCowns for this extremely unfortunate event,” a statement from the bank read. “We accept responsibility for contacting the police as well as our own interactions with Mr. McCowns. Anyone who walks into a Huntington branch should feel welcomed. Regrettably, that did not occur in this instance and we are very sorry.”
Apologies aside, the indignities that an everyday worker simply trying to cash his paycheck was forced to endure demonstrates that the nation has a long road ahead to eliminate ingrained racist responses from people who may not even be conscious of their inherent bias.
As long as Donald Trump is in the White House, that road will be even longer and run uphill at a steeper angle than it did before he brought white nationalist sentiments back out in the open.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.