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Pet Sins October 2008

Asian-born managers in U.S. corporation regard discrimination against gays and blacks as 'unimportant'

I work in an international division in a company's U.S. HQ. Many aliens are hired abroad and brought over to the US to work for this unit. There were people from all over Asia and the Middle East.

As a lesbian woman, I had people targeting my office for vandalism. I complained to the group manager, a Chinese Indonesian, and instead of offering to find out who the perps were, she only offered to get my office a lock. And she felt really pleased with herself for doing that.

A Israeli Jewish man (whose parents were Jews from Arab countries) complained to me that many Arabs refuse to return his greeting, ignoring him in the hallways. Later, Israel was crossed off a Middle East map an Englishman had left in the hallway. The Jews complained to a high level manager, who called a meeting.

At the meeting, the high level manager gave a speech about treating everybody with full humanity and respect, and not expressing personal beliefs in the workplace etc, with references to nationality, gender and sexual orientation. I guess he talked in a really safe, nonoffensive way that will not piss off any side. He did not come down against the bigots, he refused to refer to any specific incidents, and did not sound pro/against gays. In fact, the way it was said, like not to express anything to co-workers, regardless of religious/personal beliefs, feels like Don't-ask-don't tell. It seems that the admonition could have been targeted against flamboyant queens as much as against obvious homophobes.

I would have liked it to be a little more pointed, but I guess that is the furthest they are willing to go. I was tempted to stand up and say, "Will whoever took stuff from my office please bring it back? No questions asked." but I had a feeling that was not what the manager planned.

The manager told people to leave their differences at home. In our group, people are not permitted to display any national flags or symbols outside their offices. I've seen other people in other groups display flags, but I guess the manager feels that the unique composition of my group -- Arabs, Jews, Thais, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese -- calls for special policies. (not necessarily the affirming/non-intervening stance that HR showed me b4 I was hired) I guess if I display the picture of a lesbian family on my office door, it will not be welcome too. Don't ask don't tell hardly empowers the victims of bigotry.

After the manager called the meeting, and said all the stuff he said, I asked the Israeli man whether there was any change in the way people treated him. He said, No. Just as I thought. Nobody could really put a finger on what the manager was talking about. I mean, I applaud him for even mentioning it, but I feel it is not enough, or perhaps it is just an impossible/very hard task. Diplomacy muted his message.

This is so stupid -- the aforementioned Jewish man looks like an Arab and actually understands some Arabic because it is the language of his parents. But he does not let on to the Arabs that he understands them. If they could just see they have so much common culture and history and stop treating him with contempt. Some Koreans in the group are extremely hostile to Chinese, which is stupid, because the same Koreans admit having Chinese ancestry. (The racist ones included)

There were some people from Korea/China/Hong Kong who have said many racist/homophobic things. There were many other mean things they did to other people. I documented about 40 of these incidents over a 3 year period. I would complain to my manager and his manager from time to time but they would listen, very nice, say "we hear you" and basically do nothing except talk in a vague way to the whole group about "respect". Not that I don't appreciate that. But I see the perpetrators still working with that group or getting good transfers to better jobs in other departments. Basically it is lip service from management and they're not serious about making these people accountable for their behaviors.

It just felt wrong -- like these people get away with things like that. No justice. So I complained to Human Resources. The Human Resources rep for my group said she couldn't guarantee that my identity would not be known to the people I complain about. I didn't want to go with that because some of those people like to involve everybody of their race in their personal vendetta against another person. Instead of dealing with one problem, I will be dealing with multiple ones. She gets frustrated with me because she thinks I cannot decide what action I want against this people. I, in turn, cannot choose my course of action because she says she cannot tell me what would happen if I tell on those people -- whether the outcome would be favourable or not. So why should I talk if she cannot guarantee my safety? She can't seem to understand that.

My manager, who is from China, does not understand why I am upset about 40 bigoted incidents. According to him, his manager, who is Indonesian Chinese, has told him that she does not feel that this is "important". Among Chinese, minor violations of personal dignity seem very common and people kind of see it as an acceptable part of life. African Americans, on the other hand, would come out fighting if something like this happens to them.

The management really doesn't care about what employees feel as long as they can still work us like slaves.