Kevin O'Connor / by Michael Falco

Who is Kevin O’Connor?

Kevin O'Connor is a retired resident of Richmond, Virginia. Originally born in New York City, O'Connor served in the military and spent most of his life living in the Northeast before moving to Richmond because of job relocation. O'Connor is the father of three grown children and has lived in the Richmond area for twenty-two years.

Excerpt from interview with Kevin O’Connor by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: How often do you think about your race?

O’Connor: [15:41:24] How often do I think about my race? Probably a lot, in the last couple of years, because of my children’s questioning things and discussing things. I have three children, a twenty-nine-year-old who has been very consciously talking about it and then a thirty-seven- and a forty-year-old who both discuss it as well, because of his perspective, the twenty-nine-year-old’s perspective. So probably before that, I didn’t give it a lot of consideration. I have friends. I have a next door neighbor who is African American. I have lots of Marine Corps friends who are African American. But I didn’t think about a racial situation. And having worked and been hired by African Americans, it was part of what was going on. But when you look at the specific ratio of white to black people, it’s something I didn’t think about but was obviously more dominant white numbers.

Q: Also, when you slap your feet on the ground like that—

O’Connor: Hearing that?

Q: —it jiggles the camera a little bit.

O’Connor: Oh, okay.

Q: The floor is so old here that—

O’Connor: [Laughs]

Q: —the building is like a trampoline. But what about outside of the conversations with your children? Can you describe a situation where you became aware of your race?

O’Connor: [15:42:55] Well, I guess we can go back quite a few years. When I was a manager in a pharmaceutical company, when I became aware of a situation, I had hired a black woman as a sales representative, in Philadelphia. And she had a—I won’t call it an ethnic—but a way of intoning her conversations—I think they call it uptalk—where the inflection at the end of a sentence is upward, always making it sound like a question. And I tried to correct that. I tried to say, “You’re trying to sell a pharmaceutical product or the benefit of a drug but you keep saying, ‘It is really good for [inflection rises] this.’” And the uptalk was a negative perspective. Well, she took that to be an ethnic challenge. She felt that I was challenging her African American thing—style. And she complained, to HR [Human Resources]. We worked it out. We discussed it, HR, legal, and everybody. We realized it was just my trying to help her with her sales technique.

But, to me, it was very upsetting to be accused of looking at somebody from a racial perspective, was all I was looking at it was from a presentations perspective, from the way that they were trying to do their job. So I was very aware of and very concerned and also a little bit asleep about that, until it was clarified. And my boss, at the time, was an African American. So the conversation we sat down and had with HR clarified that.

Q: And how did it make you feel, to be accused of, essentially, being racist?

O’Connor: [15:44:45] I lost some sleep. I was restless about it. I knew I hadn’t done it for that reason. But, of course, it makes you wonder if people are going to perceive you differently. I don’t remember if—I might have had another black rep working for me. I don’t know if he was still with me or if he had left, at that point. But it had never been an issue before. I had lots of African American friends in the Marine Corps and in other organizations that I belonged to. So it had never dawned on me that somebody could perceive me that way.

Interview Transcript