'Iowa nice' hasn't stopped profiling

Reyma McCoy McDeid
Reyma McCoy McDeid

Last week James Conley III detailed on his social media page how he had been racially profiled by employees of Old Navy at Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines. On Saturday, following days of social media exposure and outrage, store management fired the three employees. This guest column was written in the wake of the incident.

Here we are at the start of Black History Month and, like many black people in Iowa, I am not at all shocked about the incident that occurred at the Old Navy. Because it happens to me all the time.

Like the time I went to the Coach store to buy a purse for my then-mother-in-law and got trailed to the point of leaving the shop abruptly, lest I have an anxiety attack. That, too, occurred at the Jordan Creek Town Center.

I’ve gotten several messages, inquiring as to why local black leaders aren’t “stepping up” to condemn the incident. I don’t know.

Perhaps they are processing their own personal wounds, incurred throughout their lives as a result of simply being black in Iowa. Perhaps they feel like they have no one to talk to about that, because they are stifled by “Iowa nice” complicity.

Perhaps they’ve had to work ten times as hard as their colleagues to attain their positions and, dammit, don’t want to risk losing what they’ve striven so hard for in the interest of fanning the flames of some viral commotion that will likely die down before Super Bowl Sunday.

Perhaps they’re just bone tired and wish that, for once, their white colleagues would step up and speak out. Just once.

What happened to the black man at Old Navy was ugly. But it only scratches the surface of a wound that festers in this state underneath the band-aid of “Iowa nice.”

So, if you want a black leader to step up and condemn the awful business that transpired then, here you go — I’m a broke single mom who lives on the wrong side of town but, yes, I condemn the horrifying incident with every breath of my being.

More importantly, I acknowledge it is a symptom of a greater problem. One that can’t be resolved until white supremacy is no longer seen as some scary boogeyman that lurks in the shadows of a southern-fried dystopian hellhole that’s far from here.

No, it’s Nancy in HR who casually deletes resumes from people who have names like “Tamika” and “Tyrone.” It’s Rick at the gas station on MLK, who makes sure the safety’s off before he gets out of his truck — just in case.

It’s Katie, who “sea-lions” (Google it) her black friend when said friend expresses frustration about being profiled — and then places the friend on her “restricted” list because the friend is just “so angry” about something that’s “totally not a big deal” and alienates Katie’s other Facebook friends with her “negativity.”

It’s living in a town that’s touted to be one of the best in America for Millennials, but the worst for black people.

It’s being reminded, over and over again by political experts that, since you comprise only 3.4 percent of the state’s population, you are inconsequential until literally the Sunday before every major election day.

Dear Black People in Iowa, leaders or otherwise: I see you. Whether you feel you are in a position to vocalize your frustration at yet the latest transgression against our community, know that your feelings are valid.

You matter. And, we belong here.

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• Reyma McCoy McDeid is a Democratic candidate for Iowa House District 38 (Saylorville and southern Ankeny)

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