A year ago I took a class on Cultural Diversity. The class was separated into groups and given cards with different scenarios. One of the cards read a coworker stated to another coworker: “I don’t see your color, I see you”. I was amazed the entire class thought that this was an incredibly racist thing to say.
I asked the class and instructors and asked how is that racist? Yes, someone’s color is a part of who they are, but their real self is the kind of human being that they are. Their inner self. Everyone has experiences in life that shape who they are as a person. How we use those experiences and go about our day and life is who we are.
My background history: I grew up in Burlington Vt in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Whereas, I am too young to remember race riots and barely old enough to remember the end of Viet Nam. My grandparents raised my father, who married at 20. They took in and fostered a multiracial infant whom they later adopted. We had 2 black families in the neighborhood. The youngest son of one was my best friend in kindergarten and grade school. He was an amazing artist. I remember walking one day with a great aunt and calling out to John while he was playing basketball. My aunt grabbed my arm and said, “That boy is black, you’re not going to marry him are you?” Most 10-year-olds would probably have looked at their aunt and said I’m 10, I’m not marrying anyone; or the standard eww, boys have cooties. Looking at her, I remember replying “He’s black? What’s that? She never answered thought I was being rude.
The other family owned the old, dilapidated corner store they bought from the old man who probably opened it during the depression. They then bought 1 more store and 2 laundromats. I watched the parents instill a sense of work ethic in the children, responsibility, and a value on getting ahead and succeeding. It made me jealous sometimes that my buddy had to work after school (we are talking middle school) at the laundromat and I had babysitting and “boring” stuff. Many nights we would sit in the laundromat doing homework and I would help him close up. He and his siblings grew up and continued to be successful.
So I digress. This blog is unedited by the way. The answers people were giving to my question how is it racist? Weren’t answers, “someone might be offended, someone might think you don’t like them if you say you don’t see their color”. I asked the class “Have you ever asked or Have you ever been accused of being racist”? No one could answer. Here is my explanation.
Sixteen years ago I managed a large group home for the developmentally disabled. My staff team was extremely diverse. Kenyans, Nigerians, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Nepal, and Americans. Everyone had their own unique story. I always made time to talk to each person and learn about their background. In this agency the managers didn’t hire their own staff, they were placed by HR. Nor did we directly fire or discipline our supervisor did. One morning I came into work to hear from my assistant that she had gone in the night before and caught a staff member asleep and sent him home. She said she had already called the supervisor. When I asked if anyone had talked to him. She replied no. I had suspicions and tried calling him numerous times during the day, both at home and at his other place of work. This continued for 3 days. He did not return calls or appear for scheduled shifts. The agency had a 3 no call, no show policy and he was terminated.
Two months later I was informed of an unemployment hearing. As his immediate supervisor, I had to attend, along with my supervisor and assistant. He was contesting his firing based on racism. I was the last to be questioned by him during the hearing. The other 2 fluffed their way thru their answers and were smirking. He looked at me and said “she said I was sleeping, I only sat down for a few minutes. She looked at me for 30 seconds with my eyes shut and said I was asleep. I ask you, do you think 30 seconds is enough to prove someone is asleep? You people see the color of my skin and think I am lazy”.
Addressing him by name, I looked at him and replied: “I do not see the color of your skin. I see a man who left the country he loved for political asylum because a large oil company took over your homeland. You came here with your young wife to make a new life. You work 2 jobs, go to school and have a new baby at home. You show up on time, the individuals love you, and you work overtime when you can. You have overcome things most people can’t imagine.
So to answer your question, no 30 seconds is not enough time to say someone is sleeping. The other staff backed your story. To respond to your statement you are most likely right. I believe this was based on the color of your skin. Unfortunately, you did not give me a chance to hear your side of the story. You did not call me back. And the agency had no choice under the policy but to terminate you.
The room was quiet for a moment. Then he turned to the examiner and said, “I was wrong not to call back and I was wrong to accuse her. I still feel this was racially motivated but not by her. She speaks with integrity, honesty, and sincerity in her heart”. He eventually won his case and karma played out in the end.
His words echo in my head almost daily: integrity, honesty, and sincerity in her heart. I asked another friend from the same country a few years ago how he was doing. She told me he was doing great, finished school, and moved to Massachusetts with a good job. She then said he told me what happened that day. He had told her that it was the first time he’d ever felt someone, anyone, had ever seen him for who he was and it motivated him to look at people. She then told me that his words were the highest form of compliment.
If we could all just take the time to learn about each other, see who they really are, with integrity, honesty, and sincerity in our hearts, as a human race we could break down barriers.