You know; when someone says, "That's nothing to sniff at." Related phrases are calling someone "snooty", or saying that someone "looked down their nose at you." Imagine the well-heeled aristocrat, eyes half-closed, dismissing a person of (so-called) lower-station.
I know that words and phrases and names are generally not pulled from thin air, and that their origins are often based on actions. But to me those phrases seemed largely to be an affect from the distant past, something from a Dickens novel, perhaps. Up until about ten years ago. After being on the receiving end of several sniffs today, I just need to get it out. More below the orange kos cloud…
I'm talking about someone making a sniffing noise, with their nose as you cross paths in a hallway. Generally, it's one pronounced sniff just as we pass each other.
Here are a few other things I've noticed since I've determined that this is indeed a thing:
The sniffers are almost always white. Not black, not Asian, not hispanic.
Male sniffers seem to fall into the mid-twenties to mid-fifty age range.
Female sniffers seem to be in early-thirties through old.
I'm a medium-skinned black man, closer to 50 than I am to 45, and am a professional working downtown in a large Midwestern city. Although when I first started noticing the sniff, I was working in a suburb of this city. On occasion I've brought this up with my friends and family, but have gotten only vague corroboration.
I was born and raised in a small city in this state, where my parents (both from Chicago) were among the first minorities to settle. They were active in welcoming other minorities, were founding members of the local NAACP, and were active in the schools and in the youth and adult sports scene. So my siblings and I were aware of racial issues at a young age, and had good role models and opportunities for socialization. We all had good friends, did well in school and sports, and where generally well-adjusted. Our family was considered low-income at the time, but were in a prosperous town with a good school system, were always clean and well-fed, and had a house. Basically, the norm in '60s-'70s middle-America.
All that background is just to provide a little evidence that I am not an "outsider". I grew up here. I dress, talk, act like a homegrown midwesterner, because I am one.
Don't get me wrong - I've been on the receiving end of my share of racism throughout my life, and generally know it when I see it. Maybe I didn't want to believe it was so wide-spread in this supposedly Northern bastion of tolerance.
Which leads me to believe that the sniff is racially motivated. Duh, many of you say. And so say I, now. But I did look for other motivations, or reasons. None of them passed the, I'm sorry, smell test. The pattern, the perpetrators, the timing, the look was all too uniform.
In time I acquired the ability to predict with good accuracy which people would sniff at me. On my weaker days, when I'd gotten fed up with store clerks ignoring me (or following me), or co-workers looking away as we passed (better or worse than a sniff - I don't know!), I would sniff the sniffer at almost exactly the same time that they sniffed. That probably just reinforced in their mind that I deserved the sniff. It was slightly amusing at the time, but didn't really make me feel any better.
I generally try to shrug it off, but it's these sorts of insidious racist actions that really have a way of bringing me down. It's just a small thing - one more straw on my back, so to speak - that I fear hardens me just a little more to my fellow.
Maybe to the sniffers I just look like an angry black man.