A Security Guard Told Her That She Didn't 'Look Like A Legislator.' She Is One.

Rep. Emilia Sykes says she has been stopped and questioned several times.

On several occasions, Ohio State Rep. Emilia Sykes says she has been stopped and questioned by security at an Ohio statehouse building despite having a badge for entry and following protocol. 

Sykes said the most "shocking" instance came when, after attempting to search her bag, one security guard explained his actions by saying that she did "not look like a legislator," before correcting himself and saying she looked too young. Sykes, who is African American, and not even the youngest legislator in the statehouse, is now speaking out about the encounters and sharing advice on how other women of color might handle similar situations.

"I have heard several times from colleagues that similar things happen to them when they leave their badges, and I have to correct them and say that I did not leave my badge, I had my badge," Sykes told A Plus in an interview. "It's been a little frustrating that many of my colleagues who are not black women seem to relate to me when they leave their badge at home, but that's not what's happening to me."

Sykes explained that in the past, she has told this story in the context of a discussion about infant mortality and black women in America. Studies have shown that infant and mother mortality rates are higher for Black women in America, and an increasingly accepted theory among scientists is that the stress of everyday life for Black Americans contributes to the mortality rates.

"I think it is indicative of a larger problem that we have, which is that there is an implicit bias that people carry out in different ways, especially when it comes to when we look at who our leaders are," Sykes said. "Just like the security officer told me, 'I don't look like a legislator,' what he's also saying is I don't look like a leader. Is it because I'm Black? Because I'm young? Because I'm a woman?"

"Hopefully, this starts to change the way people think about our leaders, who our leaders are, and encourage people who aren't the norm or fit into a certain box to be leaders," she added.

As the result of her experiences, Sykes has learned a few things about how to handle being challenged by authorities for doing everyday things like walking into work. One big piece of advice she has is to know what your rights are and to understand the rules around you. That way, she says, you can be sure your rights aren't being infringed upon.

"I could have easily allowed my bag to be searched or just moved on with my day, but I would have acquiesced to a search that was not warranted," Sykes said. "Know what the rules are around you, that way you know if something is wrong."

Cover image via Shutterstock / prosiaczeq.

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