A white city official in North Carolina has been fired after ignoring a Black woman’s request to be addressed by her doctoral title.
The city council ousted Tony Collins, a member of the Greensboro Zoning Commission, this week after he engaged in a heated exchange with Carrie Rosario, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, The Charlotte Observer reported.
“It was a very disrespectful exchange between an important commissioner and a public citizen,” City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said after her colleagues voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove Collins. “That should never happen.”
The tense exchange between Collins and Rosario happened during a virtual meeting on Monday toward the end of a four-hour Zoning Commission meeting. While Rosario was raising concerns about a development project a few hundred feet from her house, Collins said the discussion had veered off course. He also addressed the resident as Mrs. Rosario while responding to her concern.
“It’s Dr. Rosario, thank you, sir,” the professor said in response.
But Collins ignored the comment and proceeded to make his argument.
“If Mrs. Rosario has something,” he continued.
Refusing to be ignored, the educator reiterated her proper title.
“Dr. Rosario,” she said.
The city official remained stubborn.
“Well, you know, I’m sorry,” he responded. “Your name says on here ‘Carrie Rosario.’ Hey Carrie.”
The back-and-forth continued as the city official insisted on calling the resident by the name on her computer screen.
“I’m verbalizing my name is Dr. Carrie Rosario. And it really speaks very negatively of you as a commissioner to be disrespectful,” she said. “Out of respect, I would like you to call me by the name that I’m asking you to call me by.”
As the city council reviewed a clip of the exchange on Tuesday, Hightower said Collins was using his “white privilege” by continuously refusing Rosario’s request, The Greensboro News & Record reported.
In an interview with McClatchy News on Wednesday, Hightower said Collins’ behavior will not be tolerated.
“As a Black female, I am not going to see another Black female treated in this manner,” she said.
Speaking from her own experience, Hightower said the latest incident is an example of how Black women are continually disrespected.
“I would love to say that people don’t operate off of appearances, but that has not been my experience,” she said. “Black women, regardless of level of education, are consistently dismissed and overlooked or judged in our society.”
Rosario shared a similar sentiment after the troubling experience.
“I cannot judge what is in Mr. Collins’ heart, nor would I presume to, but I will say that racism as a system devalues and dismisses Black women — and Mr. Collins’ actions were evidence of the microaggressions that we face on a regular basis just trying to go about our daily lives,” Rosario said.
The professor corrected another commissioner earlier during the meeting when he referred to her with an improper title. The commissioner in that incident apologized for his error.
Several members of the Zoning Commission also apologized to Rosario after the exchange with Collins.
“I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt at first and corrected him, but as the exchange unfolded it was clear that he was intent on disrespecting me,” Rosario said. “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.”