Working with Stereotypes

Image courtesy of HAAP Media Ltd.

Image courtesy of HAAP Media Ltd.

Even though I’m a white boy who grew up in a mostly white, suburban neighborhood, I was raised by forward-thinking parents who didn’t tolerate racism, hate, or encourage stereotypes.

My experience with the negative aspect of such things came in the form of overhearing remarks from generations prior to my parents’ and jokes told on the playground. And of course, “that guy” at some kind of public event wearing a t-shirt that said, “Welcome to America, now learn the *bleepin* language.”

Basically this stuff was there it just wasn’t in my face or part of the norm, and thankfully, I grew up in a time where I was at least one generation removed from the normality and casualness of racism and stereotypes. A time when an elderly family member dropping a completely inappropriate term when referring to a different race was so foreign to hear that it was borderline cute given their advanced age and knowledge that they weren’t changing their ways of thinking at 90 years old, but was also met with a “tsk tsk” from an adult and a side conversation with us out of earshot about such words not being appropriate. I essentially had a “buffer generation” between myself and this type of thinking.

But, it was there. And while I didn’t harbor hate or believe any of the remarks I heard or gave credit to what the jokes suggested, a few things did find their way into my brain and rattled around some. I mean, why shouldn’t you learn the language now that you’re here? Why should I be the one to have to hit 1 on my phone to hear the instructions as they are supposed to be spoken in this country? And as I got older, trying not to take issue with work-related bias in the form of employment based on affirmative action or contracts awarded in preference to minority-owned businesses.

There was no real hate behind such thoughts, but they were thoughts I had and given the nature of the conversation we are having about hate/racism/stereotypes this week on Dads Round Table, I thought it would be appropriate to share my real feelings.

Now, a funny thing happened on the way to the theater about 8 years ago when I found myself employed by a company whose labor force consists heavily of those of Latin American descent. Naturally, when I first started working here I had similar thoughts about why many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the language and whether or not they were taking jobs away from those more qualified simply because they were complacent with less pay.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The easy part was the misconception about their pay. As I learned the business and got a more in-depth look behind the curtain, I realized these guys were getting paid handsomely and were not shy about demanding so. I realized that they took the time to learn the marketplace and weren’t simply content with a paycheck but rather a paycheck indicative of their skill-level in our industry. As we affectionately like to say, “There are no flies on these guys,” meaning that they are on top of their business and don’t miss a trick. They take an immense amount of pride in their work ethic and expect the proper respect in return. And you know what? They deserve it.

After that was the language thing, and while I still believe there should be a greater attempt at learning the English language as it would improve our efficiency as a company through communication, my original guess was they didn’t learn it out of either laziness, stubbornness, or because they are being enabled (press 1 for English). Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I’ve learned is that these guys have an intense amount of pride in their countries, cultures, and families. The work ethic that I spoke of earlier is in support of both their families here and back home. Nobody is forgotten or left behind. It’s always special for me to see them outside of work when we have company BBQs or holiday parties and to see them with their families. Spending time and learning about a different culture during work is one thing, spending time with them and their families outside of work lends itself to a completely different perspective. Whether it’s their language, the type of food they eat and cook, or the way they dress, it’s all indicative of the pride they have for their countries and cultures and dedication to their families who feel the same.

I have an intense amount of pride in my family, our culture, and the traditions we were raised on and I see the exact same thing from them. Not to say I’m surprised or didn’t expect this, but nor am I too proud to admit that maybe my thoughts were dominated by questions about language barriers and employment fairness instead of recognizing the shared values we have.

Welcome to America, now learn the *bleepin* language?

Take a closer look and you might just realize they are already speaking the same “language,” but simply using different words.

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The Beginning
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