Watercooler: When the chair of the anti-racism committee is a racist

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Watercooler is the section of the blog in which we share with you real-life horror stories from the frontlines of race in the workplace. :) This week, we have a story from V:

I work for a government agency which is charged with promoting community harmony and working to increase our city’s level of interracial trust. While i am an employee of the agency, we also have an extension arm of volunteers from the community who serve on a committee and actually do much of the leg-work. The Chair of the committee is an older white man from Baltimore who is prone to saying things like “Illegal Alien” at community immigration discussions, “China-man” or “Oriental” when discussing Yao Ming’s athletic ability, and waxed nostalgic during a luncheon about how the “A-rabs” used to sell goods on the streets of Baltimore when he was a lad.

Anyway, one day at work i discussed with him finding possible funding sources to help sponsor a study abroad trip to learn Spanish in an immersion program. While grilling me, an African American female, on why it is necessary for me to learn Spanish since we already have one Spanish speaker on staff, he also pointed out that my country of choice (Dominican Republic) sounded like i was tyring to get a work funded beach vacation.

As I stood there like an idiot trying to convince him that I was serious and not looking for a free vacation, the discussion turned to the benefits of immersion studies in terms of the cultural experience. To which he stated “Well if you want to know what it’s like to be an immigrant, I can call homeland security and tell them you’re a terrorist and have you deported. Of course they would have to send you to Africa, because you clearly don’t look Hispanic.”

I don’t remember much after that. The red veil of rage lowered and I went to my office to fume.

The thing that kills me about this guy is everyone knows he’s racist but yet and still he is the Charmian of a committee created by our local government to fight racism and discrimination.

Now, when i deal with him, i am quick to cut him short and point out his racism. Oddly enough, his impromptu visits to my office have dwindled significantly. Coincidence…?

Please email team@raceintheworkplace.com if you’d like to send in a story, put “watercooler” in the subject line, and let us know what name we should use for you. Pseudonyms and first names are totally fine. You can read more Watercooler stories here.

How to turn your ethnicity into a competitive edge

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Adina Ba

Kenneth Arroyo Roldan is the CEO of Wesley, Brown & Bartle (WB&B), one of the nation’s leading executive search firms dedicated to the recruitment, retention and professional development of women and people of color. He is also author of the book Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity Into a Competitive Edge.

Roldan’s advice is unique because he gives specific responsibility to the individual, instead of putting a vague blame on employers. It obviously takes work from both employer and employee to ensure a positive work experience. Roldan’s career planning advice is not only useful for people of color, but should be acknowledged as solid information for anyone looking to advance his or her career, regardless of race.

Take responsibility for where you are in your career and don’t be a bystander in your potential growth. Roldan’s no. 1 tip is: Find a trustworthy mentor to help guide you through the corporate world.

Which departments should people of color look out for that may hinder their chances to climb the corporate ladder?

Based on my experience on the front-lines, the following roles should be avoided like the plague:

  • Chief Diversity Officer/ Diversity Manager
  • Ethnic Marketing
  • Public Finance
  • Community Relations
  • Supplier Diversity

However, be mindful if you are positioned in this role – make sure you hit and move. Do your tour of duty and while doing so plan an exit strategy.

How can people of color rise through the ranks while maintaining their identities and not assimilating completely into a white male dominated culture?

People of color can absolutely rise up the ranks and simultaneously retain their identity. Minority Rules highlights several high performers like Mary Winston, Al Zollar or Carlos Valle – all of which made it to the top, have proudly self-identified internally within their organizations and have been integral in positioning program and projects that benefited people of color.

What steps should a minority employee take when they feel they are not being treated as fairly as their co-workers?

First pearl of wisdom: don’t do the knee-jerk reaction and initiate a lawsuit. Those professionals who have internal challenges should speak to their mentor/sponsor and gain their counsel; thereafter you should speak to your supervisor, then to HR. In the event you receive no satisfaction, start planning your exit strategy.

You write that minority job seekers should do their homework to find out which corporations are sincerely open to diversity. Do you have advice on how to research which corporations really stand up to the test? Should job seekers go directly to company websites, are there other resources?

Research, research, research. The benefits available due to the internet is immense. There are various websites like Vault.com which often give prospective employees intelligence about a company. The company websites are a primer but will never shed true-light about a company. I am a proponent of relying on your alumni network to gain company intelligence.

Once a company promotes that their hiring practices are fair and open to minority applicants, how can all levels of the organization stay committed to the policy?

Let’s face it — most if not all of the Fortune 500 promote that their hiring practices are fair and open to minority applicants – they have to, it’s the law!!!! However, despite organizations articulating they are committed to the policy – particularly the CEO and his/her senior executives – by the time it trickles down the organization, the message [can] always fall on deaf ears.

For more information

Click the play button below to hear Carmen’s interview with Kenneth Arroyo Roldan on episode 53 (December 25, 2006) of New Demographic’s weekly podcast, Addicted to Race:

You can find more Race in the Workplace interviews in our archives.