I just got back from visiting my family in Indiana. While I was out there, I was reminded that while “Naptown” is actually fairly diverse in terms of color, it’s shockingly devoid of religious diversity. There aren’t a lot of Jews in Indianapolis. When I lived in Indy (for 13 months and nine days… not that I was counting), it struck me that people would believe pretty much any Eric Cartman-level stereotype about Jewish people. They all wore pouches with gold coins around their necks? Why not! My classmates would believe almost anything I said about Jewish people — since I was from New York, which is apparently a Zionist capital city. (They’d also believe almost anything I said about living in New York, like “there are underground cites in the subway tunnels” and “radiation levels are higher” there.)
So, here’s a question: would it have been “offensive” if my high school had “Jewish sensitivity day,” and class was all about dispelling really stupid and offensive myths about Jewish people? “Here, class, is a Jewish-American. As we can clearly see, there are no hooves or horns.”
Now, I think the answer to my question is, “Yes! Clearly! It would have been horribly offensive.” But on the other hand, people can be really, really stupid about cultures they haven’t been exposed to.
This question is going to face a California court thanks to a discrimination lawsuit filed by three Hispanic employees at Target. The employees claim, and Target admits, to keeping a list of “minority tips” that’s crazy offensive. But I don’t know, depending on how dumb the white people were that worked at Target, maybe they needed this kind of remedial help?
According to the EEOC complaint, Target distributed a memo to its managers called “Organization Effectiveness, Employee and Labor Relations Multi-Cultural Tips.” The memo contained tips on how to handle Hispanic employees. Here’s the list from the Huffington Post:
a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;
b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;
c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;
d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);
e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and
f. They may say ‘OK, OK’ and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.
I actually find the “legal status” line the most offensive. Think about it, Target is basically saying that all Mexicans are illegal immigrants. As if there is somebody out there eating a taco, wearing a sombrero, dancing to salsa music, saying “okay, okay” when they actually don’t give a s*** about what the hell you are talking about, who is ANYTHING OTHER THAN an American.
But again, maybe the white people working in Target management actually need lists like this. Look how they act without it, from Courthouse News Service:
The plaintiffs claim that nearly all the management positions were held by Caucasians, who regularly used racial slurs while addressing Hispanic employees, such as “Only a ‘wetback’ can work this hard,” “You got to be Mexican to work like this,” and “What the hell, I’m already sweating like a Mexican,” the employees say in the complaint.
Now is the time when I say that THIS is why DIVERSITY in hiring is so important. Maybe if there weren’t “nearly all” white managers, somebody could have said, “Hey Bob, just FYI, ‘wetback’ is not the preferred nomenclature, dude.” Even better, that message could have been conveyed WITHOUT LEAVING A PAPER TRAIL.
It’s not just Target, even my beloved Mets are susceptible to this kind of massively insensitive form of “sensitivity.” There’s a great story on Deadspin about the Mets pissing off Native Americans in their attempt to be “sensitive” to the Atlanta Braves, who themselves are of course insensitive to Native Americans.
Target has responded to this list by apparently remembering that Mexicans buy things too. This statement is from a Target spokesperson:
It is never Target’s intent to offend our team members or guests and we apologize. The content of the document referenced is not representative of who Target is. We strive at all times to be a place where our team and guests feel welcome, valued and respected. This document, which was used during conversations at one distribution center, was never part of any formal or company-wide training. We take accountability for its contents and are truly sorry.
I wonder, did Target public relations not see this list before this lawsuit? Does Target employ the same lawyers as Paula Deen? If you are going to admit to this list existing and being distributed, and you’re a billion-dollar enterprise, just pay these guys their money.
And pay them in dollars, not pesos.
Target Reminded Bosses Not All Hispanic Employees Eat Tacos, Wear Sombreros: Lawsuit [Huffington Post]
Workers Outraged at Target’s ‘Cultural Tips’ [Courthouse News Service]