The following are approximately the first 1000 words from Chapter 8 of Jonar Nader’s book,
How to Lose Friends and Infuriate Your Boss.
I’m not a racist, but…
Pride and prejudice in the workplace
Do you believe that you have been denied work opportunities because your boss does not like something about you? This chapter explains how racism and discrimination work, and what you can do to minimise their effect on you.
At its essence, racism describes a preference for one group over another and the belief that one’s own ‘race’ is superior to another ‘race’. Regardless, I doubt that we operate at that level. At school, at work, and within our community, people are not concerned with the pure issues of race. They contend with its constituent parts that include discrimination, inequality, sexism, chauvinism, favouritism, nepotism, bias, preference, fear, and intolerance.
If you are trying to fight racism, forget it. By locking horns with fundamental human emotions, you will lose. Racism is not the enemy. It is not something that you can identify as an external foe, because it exists within each of us — not because we are all racists, but because we all harbour the basic ingredients that could easily ignite to form inexplicable feelings about others.
Although I do not condone racism, I believe that the many complaints about it are misdirected because people are being persecuted or disadvantaged based on other human factors, not on their race.
I’m guilty, but not of racism
Although I do not know many racists, I do know many people who discriminate against others based not on ‘race’ but on ‘human’ factors. I must admit to being guilty of that myself — meaning that I find some people attractive and some people unattractive in their attitudes, their way of life, their physical appearance, their personality, and their intellectual and spiritual expression.
Could you have a physical and intimate relationship with anyone, regardless of hygiene, looks, habits, odour, general appearance, age, and beliefs? Marriages end because one partner could not cope with the other’s table manners. Friends part because they could not tolerate each other’s personal habits. Even those who meet the person of their dreams could be easily repulsed by peculiar personal preferences.
I must also admit to exercising that degree of discrimination at the business level — meaning that I prefer not to work with people whose business conduct and social graces are not to my liking. The dubious ethical standards of some professionals are disgusting, whereby I become uneasy about transacting with them. I can detect con-artists from afar, and I want nothing to do with such manipulators and liars. I prefer to avoid people whose negative or destructive views grate on my spirit. I would not want to work with people whose morals and principles are contrary to what I can cope with. That type of feeling is not one that I can always justify to my colleagues in ‘words’. Do you call that racism? I call it human nature.
Cataloguing the world
When meeting people for the first time, our brain goes into overdrive as we unintentionally categorise them. Some ignorant people do make erroneous judgements based on nationality or skin colour. Although this cannot be condoned, it is understandable. Society superficially operates on the basis of ‘image’. The concept of ‘branding’ works by positioning the qualities of a brand in the consumer’s mind. Consumers could, over time, be led to believe that certain brand names do represent certain qualities. If you were asked to identify the best brands in the world, you would probably mention some that you respect, but with which you have never had any association. Similarly, you are likely to have pre-conceived notions about cultures with which you have never come into contact.
Countries, too, have brand qualities. Regardless of fact, some people form opinions about products, depending upon the country of manufacture. Here is a simple test for which there are no right or wrong answers, merely ‘perceptions’ that you might have formed over the years. Answer these questions based on which of the two countries would offer the better product in your opinion: 1) Chocolate from Belgium or Bhutan; 2) Whisky from Scotland or Sweden; 3) Cheese from Norway or New Zealand; 4) Stereo systems from Japan or Jamaica; 5) Perfume from France or Fiji; 6) Fast cars from Germany or Greece; 7) Computers from Taiwan or the Tonga. There are also perceived origins for different types of food such as curry, pasta, pizza, and noodle dishes.
Consider the judgements we make about professions. At gatherings, people react differently towards those who say that their occupations are astronauts, surgeons, car salespeople, judges, shop assistants, undertakers, students, accountants, psychiatrists, film producers, or street-sweepers. The unemployed could receive an altogether different reception.
Long tradition gives ‘colours’ superstitious attributes. Some people would never drive a red car. Some insist that purple is the colour that offers good fortune. In some countries, yellow represents bad luck. These are compounded by the inexplicable, yet popular beliefs, that certain numbers represent good luck. People move to a house whose street number adds up to a ‘preferred’ integer or they buy a car whose registration number-plate includes the digit ‘3’ or excludes the number ‘666’. Other people would not work on the fourth or thirteenth floors of a building, and some buildings do not have such floors. There is no explaining how these things are rationalised. In addition, there are fundamentalists, fanatics, extremists, and those who subscribe to astrology, numerology, and a dozen other mystical cults. So as you can see, racism is hardly the major obstacle to human harmony.
If the brain can make judgements about brands, why can it not make judgements about people? If people can be misled about brands, why can’t they be misled about other aspects such as cultures, nationalities, countries, languages, gender, age groups, sexuality, and modes of dress — in fact, anything that is ‘foreign’ to them?
Tarred with the same brush
You might have heard a friend say, ‘I would never again deal with XYZ Company because it’s hopeless and it doesn’t care about its customers.’ It could well be that the company employs 300 000 people, yet your friend would be making a judgement based on what only three of its employees have done. That is a similar reaction to those who judge a whole race, country, or religion, based on what three people have done or said to them, or based on what they have seen on television. Foreign nationals have repeatedly objected to the images that the media portrays about their country and lifestyle. Some argue that travel advertisements showing natives in their national dress are misleading because such costumes are only worn at rare cultural events. What we see about a country through television does not necessarily portray the real day-to-day environment.