Special Agent: His Feet in Two Worlds, an FBI Man Climbs to the Top

In today’s Post, there was a new article added to the  “Being a Black Man”  series.  It focused on Michael Mason, one of the nation’s highest-ranking black FBI agents.

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His accomplishments are many, and they are to be applauded.  I am glad that the Post is keeping somewhat of a balance in coverage over the types of black men they are profiling.  I did however, had several issues with the article.

In his audio interview, Executive Directer Mason, says that out of his 22 years of service, he has never felt uncomfortable being a black man in the FBI.  He attributes his advancement on his talent and qualifications alone. 

As a federal government employee myself, I have heard the horror stories from many African Americans about working at the FBI, and many African Americans have sued and won their cases, which proved that the FBI has serious problems promoting qualified black professionals and agents.

I understand his quest to not to be defined by his race, but until the attitudes of some (not all) of our white counterparts change, racism will exist.  It is up to us to prove them wrong by doing exactly what Mason has done; but even then we still can not forget that some of our brothers and sisters still get the short end of the stick.

Those of us who are black professionals, really need to be careful when we think that our college degrees and work ethic alone is why we have “arrived”  I would say that 85%-90% is attributed to our skills and talent, while the other 10%-15% is a toss up between the attitudes and prejudgments of some (not all) of our white counterparts who are in hiring positions of power. 

There are few incidents that Mason identified himself in the article that prove that even though has has achieved great success in the FBI, there are some attitudes and practices of some of his colleagues which may play a role in some minorites being discriminated against.

Once, when he’d been working in an office with mostly Irish American agents for about seven months, a new agent, also with an Irish surname, arrived. After about three months, he told Mason, “Man, I’ve been invited to everyone’s house for dinner.”

I know some may say this incident is innocent, but I can assure you it is deeper than what you think.  Was he not invited to dinner by his co-workers because he was a jerk? Because he was not Irish?  Or was it because he was black?  Mason of course tried not to read much into it. He claimed that people have the right to choose who they invite to their homes.  Which is true; so we can also assume that they chose not invite Mason because he did not “fit in”  These are the same people that he works wit hand may have to take a bullet for.

One day in the FBI locker room he overheard some white agents talking about their kids’ college applications. Then he heard one say that his son didn’t get accepted at Notre Dame because the school had to accept a number of minorities.

Mason almost jumped over the lockers.

“Let me get this right,” he remembers telling the agents. “The last Notre Dame yearbook I saw, you had to look to find any black students. But I’m sure those six black students kept about 4 million white students from coming in.'”

What if one of these white agents were in supervisor positions? What if they decided not to promote or give assignments to other qualified agents because of the incident with his son? 

The harsh reality is that this does happen.  It is harder to prove but it is real.  I remember the 1991 Law Suit that black agents filed against the FBI and they won.  And once again I see Mason identifying another incident that he encountered that proves that the attitudes of some (not all) of his white counterparts is racially bias:

The black agents lawsuit was an awkward moment for Mason. He believed he had not experienced discrimination, but he understood the concerns of other black agents. So Mason supported them with money and suggestions.

At one point, however, Special Agent Julian Stackhaus, one of the plaintiffs, butted heads with Mason after he said Mason accused him of trying to divide the black and white agents.

That angered Stackhaus, but Supervisory Special Agent Emanuel Johnson, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, assured his colleague that he had worked with Mason and he was “a good guy.” While some of the black supervisors had tried to distance themselves from the lawsuit, Johnson said Mason was different. He attended some meetings of the group. At one, Johnson recalled, Mason said that while he had not been discriminated against, he understood the need for their efforts to level the playing field for all agents.

I applaud Mason for all of his accomplishments.  I am pleased to see that he has risen among the ranks and it is well deserved.  At the same time, I hope Mason starts to realize that even though his journey to success in the FBI was met with little racial opposition, that racism and discrimination in the Federal Government as well as private industry is alive and well.  It happens on a daily basis; it’s just harder to prove.

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