Is Smiling at a Black Person in an Interview a Racist Microagression?

From the land of we’ve gone off the deep end of political correctness, check this out!

Do you suffer from “White Guy” smile? “When you pass a person of color on the street, do you give them the “white guy smile”? Congratulations, you’re racist! If you look at a person of color, you’re racist. If you don’t look at them, you’re racist. If you sort of look at them, then look away, you’re still racist. If you keep looking at them, well, damn you, you racist!”

So, I would love to tell you that this has never even crossed my mind, but I would be lying. Do I purposely smile at one person over another based on the color of their skin? No, that’s silly.

If I truly analyze myself I think I probably do the smile thing more for folks who I don’t think can speak English, and that’s probably even more racist! I think the smile would be more of an “I’m not sure how to start this conversation because I don’t know if you and are even going to be able to communicate” and if I smile at least you know I’m trying to have a friendly exchange.

Either way, I’m making a judgment based on how a person looks, and most likely the circumstance, this is probably going to be a problem.

All that being said, I’ve been in some way uncomfortable interviews with white hiring managers who stumbled over themselves with minority candidates and their white guy smiles! The candidates felt awkward. I felt awkward. It’s awful! They go so far overboard trying to act like they’re not racist that it’s more uncomfortable than if they were probably just racist!

How do you fix this?

Wow, that’s a loaded question! If you try to point out to the person they’re being racist, they’ll flip! If you let it go, they’ll continue to act like an idiot. Taped interview training sometimes help people see they are acting differently, just make sure you’re giving them many examples, not just one video of them interviewing a minority candidate!

I’ve seen this done with success when interviewing different genders as well. The classic example is supervisor male interviewing a female and treating them differently than when they interview another male. This training is highly effective if being used as a developmental exercise and not as a gotcha! Being taped in an interview is stressful, but it has a huge impact when you can sit and watch the differences. Not only will help catch and change biases, it also just flat out makes you a better interviewer!

2 thoughts on “Is Smiling at a Black Person in an Interview a Racist Microagression?

  1. Love it, Tim! No more smiling for anyone…

    I’m about to embark on reshaping our interview process and retraining hiring managers on how to interview well. Love the idea of recording interviews for feedback. But I’m assuming you have the camera only pointed at the manager, right?

  2. You’re freaking kidding me, right? Come on. People can’t smile now without there being some agenda to it? How about I like to smile at most people, just because I think it might be what they needed and it makes me feel good to do it. Just the same as the scowl I give if someone is acting like a jackass in public.
    So what if white people make an extra effort to smile at people of color. Maybe it’s a simple acknowledgement that there is a lot going on in the world today and a silent wish to do my part on mending fences. Is that so bad?? If the receiver of the smile wants to make issue of it…then it really is their problem, their closed mindedness, their unwillingness to change.

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