It was busy last week and I did not have the time to devote to making any meaningful posts; work and school have taken their lion’s share of my waking hours. As fate would have it I did have an interesting class session yesterday as I gave a group presentation in my Communication and Change ,a graduate level class. This class is offered through Central Michigan University and taught on an Army Base here in Hawaii. Because of the location a lot of soldiers take classes there on base.
My group came up with a change plan for a fictitious company, Penetrobe Inc., which was experiencing a severe decline in revenues. Our team traced the decline to a problem in Customer Service. As I was explaining the options to fix the problem I used the word expatriate and from the quizzical looks of some of my classmates I realized I was going to have to define the term. It wasn’t until the very end of my group presentation that someone mentioned my use of a stereotype in my description of expatriates and technical support.
Evidently, I made a comment to the effect of, “Have you ever called tech support for something and gotten a voice on the other end that sounded like you were talking to someone at a 7-11?” Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to illustrate that many companies outsource their technical support to India, which explains why if there is any deviation from their scripted technical support booklet they are unable to continue.
What ensued next would make an alcoholic’s intervention look like a second grade playground scuffle. Everyone joined in and had their turn bashing the mean old submariner who made a crude but innocent reference linking tech support personnel in India with native accents to a 7-11 employee with a thick accent.
I tried, in vain, to defend myself but the political correctness earwig was firmly in place. I quickly realized I was Ahab fighting an unstoppable white whale. Wait, can I say ‘white’ or will that offend the whales of color?
I have to give credit to my professor who watched with calculating proficiency and interjected at just the right times to prevent the Buscaglia-fest from erupting into a U. C. Berkeley after-school rally. He tried to get the focus back on track to our group presentation and made a comment about the effectiveness of our training program that will teach the engineers of our products people skills so that they can field trouble calls. He made the comment that engineers usually don’t posses people skills. When I asked him what led him to that conclusion he saw where I was going with it. Even the slightest perception of something can be a stereotype. Engineers are smart and know numbers and such but they don’t have the capacity to learn people skills? Everyone was silent and the professor backpedaled a little bit by saying that the two stereotypes don’t cancel each other out. I made the point that they do reinforce each other.
When class was over someone said that I need to be mindful comments like that when I get into a management position. When I told him I already was in a management position he said, "You’re not there yet." So, by hearing me make one comment in my presentation he drew his conclusion about my management skills in a job he knows nothing about. Hey kettle, you’re black! I told him I would keep his advice in mind as I retire from the Navy next year. He didn’t have much to say when I asked if this was an Army base or a Girl Scout retreat.
I did learn a valuable lesson- the epidemic of political correctness knows no race, color, or education level. My first 5 years or so in the submarine force forced me to get a thick skin. I do not get offended when I am called a redneck, honky, or hauole (the Hawaiian word for ‘honky’). There is an element of truth to every stereotype and it is the forced self censorship of the PC crowd that is making this country soft. Political correctness truly is the revenge of Marxism.