A city council in North Carolina fired a white official who refused to use the honorific “doctor” for a Black woman even after she corrected him several times during a zoning commission meeting last week.
On Tuesday night, the Greensboro City Council decided to let go one of its Zoning Commission members, Tony Collins, for being “disrespectful” toward the Black resident, Dr Carrie Rosario.
The meeting, which was televised live a day before, saw some heated exchanges between Mr Collins and Dr Rosario after he refused to use her honorific when addressing her.
Sharon Hightower, a city councilwoman, said: “It was a very disrespectful exchange between an important commissioner and a public citizen. That should never happen.”
Dr Rosario, 38, is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and holds a doctorate in public health.
Councilwoman Hightower, who led the charge by calling the vote for Mr Collins removal, told McClatchy News: “As a Black female, I am not going to see another Black female treated in this manner.”
The incident took place toward the end of a four-hour-long Zoning Commission meeting. Dr Rosario had expressed concerns about a new development project near her home. At one point during the meeting, Mr Collins said that Dr Rosario’s response was veering off-topic and called her Mrs Rosario. She immediately corrected him and said: “It’s Dr Rosario. Thank you, sir.”
Mr Collins ignored her request and again refused to call her Dr Rosario. She again corrected him. At another point, he called her by her first name, Carrie. To that Dr Rosario relied: “It’s Dr Rosario. I wouldn’t call you Tony, so please, sir, call me as I would like to be called.”
At this point, Mr Collins said: “It doesn’t really matter.” And to this, Dr Rosario said: “It matters to me. And out of respect, I would like you to call me by the name that I’m asking you to call me by.”
Dr Rosario has said that his refusal to address her as she wanted to during the meeting felt like a “personal attack of disrespect.” She told Madamenoire that she tried to give him the benefit of doubt at first, “but as the exchange unfolded it was clear that he was intent on disrespecting me. I was hurt, upset, angry — because this was a public forum — and the public should feel safe to be themselves, to present their concerns, and feel respected in the process.”
After being fired from the Zoning Commission, Mr Collins reached out to Dr Rosario and apologised, she said. Speaking more broadly about micro-aggressions faced by Black women all across the country, Dr Rosario said: “I would love to say that people don’t operate off of appearances, but that has not been my experience. Black women, regardless of level of education, are consistently dismissed and overlooked or judged in our society.”
Meanwhile, Greensboro News & Record reported that Councilwoman Hightower told other council members that Mr Collins was using his “white privilege” by continuously refusing Dr Rosario’s request. She said she was angry when she watched the exchange and that: “It is not going to be tolerated.”
Dr Rosario told The Lily, that as a Black woman who says she looks young for her age, people tend to dismiss her opinion and expertise. “It [the title] adds legitimacy to what I’m saying.”
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