Fitting the Description

While I haven’t been in any encounters with the police about fitting the description of a suspect for anything, I have been accused by people. It is really frustrating to have to keep being on the defense for something when you are totally innocent. While I have stories for days about this topic, I wanted to another person to share their story. It turns out that our GOMO intern, Josiah Lajuenesse, wanted to share his story about a time while he was in middle school in New Jersey. He stated,  

“We gain knowledge through experience. And while I can’t pinpoint when I realized my identity as a Black man would present more challenges to me than others, certain moments in my life proved to me that this is true. 

I remember one day vividly. I was with my friends after school, headed to a convenience store for some candy and Arizona iced tea. As soon as we walked into the store, the manager asked us to leave our bags outside with no explanation. We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but we all had Chromebooks that belonged to our school in our bags. We thought of a simple solution: one of us would stand outside with our bags while the rest of us grabbed the snacks. It wasn’t an easy compromise though. Before we could even start browsing, the manager of the convenience store threatened to kick our friend who was watching our stuff off the property. 

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Eventually our friend ended up joining us inside, but the trouble didn’t end there. While we browsed, it was undeniable that we were being followed around the store. It didn’t become a real problem again until we were stuck in the candy aisle, trying to decide what to get. The manager threatened to kick us out again, this time for standing in place for too long. We asked him what the issue was, and I’ll never forget his response: “You guys have been in this aisle for at least five minutes. We can tell you’re trying to steal.”  

Even after stressing our good intentions and taking our wallets out to show him our money, he still didn’t believe us. So we settled on Trollies and Sour Patch Kids, grabbed our drinks, and paid. Even after paying, he followed us all the way to the door.  

Later, I asked him what his reasoning was for treating us like that. He claimed that some kids fitting our description stole from the store recently, and he didn’t want to take any chances. He apologized for putting us through that, but the damage was done.  

Photo by Budgeron Bach

This experience is one of many, not only for me but also for other people in marginalized groups. It’s so important to treat people with kindness and respect. The manager of the convenience store wasn’t wrong for being alert, but he went too far when he profiled me and my friends because we “fit the description” of the kids who stole from his store. Because of this situation, I know now that this is something I will face more than others.”  

Josiah’s story highlights how harmful stereotypes can be. GOMO Educational Services helps bring awareness to equity issues that challenge learning institutions, like stereotyping. A stereotype is a widely held, fixed, and oversimplified idea of a person. Stereotyping entire demographics harms each person at the individual level because it is an overgeneralization that is a defining factor of each pupil’s character, their ability to learn, and the resources they might need. On the opposite end, stereotyping individuals is just as harmful because every pupil is different, each having their own specific strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  

As a professional group, we are dedicated to ensuring that every student has the resources they need to succeed in an educational setting. We see and understand how stereotyping kids based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on, can negatively affect that student’s learning experience. If equity issues, like stereotyping, are a growth barrier for your institution, GOMO can help you easily identify these issues on a case-by-case basis, eliminating them at the root and allowing for a space that adequately supports everyone based on their needs. Contact us today to get started.