I am headed to Toronto tomorrow because I am one of the top 12 sales people in the country for our company. Although I do feel a sense of pride in this, I don't want this to be a defining moment in my life. This is an opportunity to talk to the people in the company who make the real decisions. In fact, I had a small taste of that today. I have been concerned with the lack of understanding some of my co-workers have towards other people, and how that can become discrimination very quickly. It's hard to speak out against ingrained negative behaviour, and on the occasion when I have, I usually get an earfull about how I'm "taking it too seriously" or how "they don't mean it" or "it's just a joke.
I used to participate in these kinds of conversation, I used to start them. I still do it, although less frequently because I can find no good reason to justify being a shitty person and judging other people for their personal choices. It's none of my business! I'm willing to hear about their decisions if they're willing to share, but why would I want to judge them for it? It used to make me feel pretty great to think that I was better then someone else - that I was smarter or more talented or more attractive or had more money - but then I realized how negatively this kind of behaviour affected me. I have been actively working on figuring out where my prejudices come from, and have recently found the courage and strength to even challenge some shitty views some people have of other people.
So, in preparation for this Toronto trip, the powers that be at our head office sent out a list of questions and topics we'll cover at the "summit". Most of them a valid questions, some of them seem silly, but one of them was flat out racist.
The question is, "Do you find it different selling to ethnic groups? How do you handle them".
When I read this, several flags went up. First, let's say that everyone is part of an ethnic group, but to phrase the question this way makes it seem like you're asking "Do you find it different selling to non-white people?". I emailed the person who wrote this list, and shared my concern with them. I also said that although I'm sure it wasn't their intention to be insensitive and inappropriate, that the wording of the question suggests that there is a lack of understanding on how racism is still a real problem. I did not use the word racism though, because that will immediately make a lot of people freeze and become defensive. He replied by saying that, yes, we wasn't meaning to offend, but that he simply meant that to ask how we would deal (which is a terribly negative word in this context) with someone who is of a different ethnicity then our own. I replied by saying that although I understood what he meant, the wording is uncouth, at which point I suggested ways to improve the question. Asking, "Do you find it different selling to customers of a different ethnicity then your own? How do you negotiate those situations?"is a way different question. I also included some general thoughts about what a lot of people in the communities I am involved with say about their experiences at the stores across the country. There are a lot of complaints about sexism, racism, elitism, fatism, homophobia, and I said that as a company, we can be progressive and train our employees to be aware of these issues to provide better customer service. I think thats a reasonable idea, and I said that I would love to have a conversation about how we can do this.
The person on the other end took that as me saying that this company is full of racists and everyone needs to be put into training sessions to be better people. Although I think that many of my co-workers (and so many more people) need to learn (being the operative word) how to be better humans, I certainly don't intend on jamming my ideas down their throats. And although training on these issues would help to possibly improve the individual lives of the employees, I think more importantly it would serve to strengthen the "zero tolerance" discrimination policy by allowing the staff to have constructive conversation about why a certain interaction may have been inappropriate. This all led to an email to my district manager, who happened to be in the store, which led to a very surprising meeting at work. Turns out he wasn't really aware that these things were going on (which I find really surprising because he was the manager of the store for several years) and that he will consider my request to have further conversations about how to make our work space a more tolerant and positive work place through education.
Does any of this sound unreasonable? I have to admit that I am fairly new to understanding all of these issues and all of their intricacies and nuances and the language associated with them, but I find that the more I learn, the more I want to learn. It helps me connect with people better. It helps me to understand myself better.
Tomorrow I leave for Toronto, but I don't get to meet this person I've been emailing with until Tuesday. I sent him an email today apologizing for using the wrong words, as my intention was not to assume he was anything, but to point out that his choice of words is poor and that the question can be asked in a much better way. Language is important! It's how we communicate! The words you use are crucial to how others understand what you're saying, and when you're asking a sensitive question like that, you have to be clear with what your intention is.
Rant rant rant. This is a good rant. What do you think? Leave me some comments and tell me what you think!
Here's a video that has helped my in dealing with these kinds of situations. Goodnight.