Earning the title of “doctor” doesn’t come easy. You have to earn several degrees before you can be called a doctor in any field. Respecting the title is key to respecting the person’s authority.
Unfortunately, Tony Collins didn’t seem to get the memo. During a recent Zoning Commission meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, Collins refused to acknowledge Dr. Carrie Rosario’s credentials even after being corrected several times. Many are calling the exchange a microaggression, something many black women experience on a regular basis.
A Slap in the Face
Things got tense during a televised Greensborough City Council meeting on Zoom.
Tony Collins, who is white, has only served on the City Council for a short while with his term set to expire in 2023. He’s a partner at Collins & Galyon General Contractors.
Dr. Rosario, who is black, holds a doctorate in public health and works as an associate professor at UNC-Greensboro.
Towards the end of the four-hour meeting, Dr. Rosario questioned Collins on how a new development just a few hundred feet from her house would affect the health community. Collins responded by saying the conversation had veered off topic, while referring to her as “Mrs. Rosario.”
“It’s Dr. Rosario, thank you, sir,” she said in response.
“If Mrs. Rosario has something,” Collins continued.
“Well, you know, I’m sorry,” he responded. “Your name says on here ‘Carrie Rosario.’ Hey Carrie.”
“It’s Dr. Rosario,” she said again. “I wouldn’t call you Tony, so please, sir, call me as I would like to be called.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Collins replied.
“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.”
“Your screen says Carrie Rosario.”
“I’m verbalizing my name is Dr. Carrie Rosario,” she said. “And it really speaks very negatively of you as a commissioner to be disrespectful.”
Fellow City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower was outraged over Collins’ behavior, telling other members that he was using his “white privilege”.
“It is not going to be tolerated,” Hightower told a local news outlet. “As a Black female, I am not going to see another Black female treated in this manner.” She then called for a vote over whether to have Collins removed as the commissioner.
“It was a very disrespectful exchange between an important commissioner and a public citizen,” said Hightower. “That should never happen.”
Rosario said she was “shocked” by her colleague’s behavior. “I do not believe his actions reflect the type of behavior the public needs or expects from its elected or appointed leaders.”
She added that she corrected another member of the committee earlier in the meeting when someone addressed her as “Mrs. Rosario” Instead of “Dr. Rosario.” That member reacted by saying, “I really don’t want to offend you in that regard, so, Dr. Rosario, I do apologize for that.”
Rosario said that should’ve told Collins everything he needed to know about her title.
“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,” she 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.”
She said several of her colleagues reached out to her remotely to apologize after the meeting. Collins also left a voicemail apologizing for his actions.
Dismissed and Overlooked
Even though the City Council voted unanimously to remove Collins. Rosario said the attack felt personal and is evocative of what many black women experience on a daily basis.
“I would love to say that people don’t operate off of appearances, but that has not been my experience,” Rosario said. “Black women, regardless of level of education, are consistently dismissed and overlooked or judged in our society.”
She added that having people recognize her title is a way of pushing back against systemic racism.
“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.