Thursday, July 11, 2013

No Good Deed Goes...

A major national discount retailer has issued to its managers a document warning them not to stereotype Hispanics.  It includes

a. Food: everyone eats tacos and burritos;
b. Music: everyone dances to salsa;
c. Dress: everyone wears a sombrero;
d. Mexicans (higher education level, all will be legal)
e. Cubans (lower education level); and
f. They won't say 'O.K.' unless they really mean it, because they are an arrogant people.

Hard to believe, isn't it? That's because the document sent out by Target says virtually the opposite:

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.

And now, after distributing the guide to managers stressing that not all Hispanic groups are the same and that not all Hispanics within any one group (e.g., Mexican, Cubas) are identical, Target Corporation is being sued.    The three warehouse employees-  Robert Gonzalez, Bulmaro Fabian and Pedro Garcia-Ayala- who are suing the corporation in Yolo (CA) County Court are seeking, according to Courthouse News Service, "punitive damages for harassment, failure to prevent harassment, age and race discrimination and retaliation."   All three were fired by their managers after complaining to the human resources department about alleged ethnic animus they were subjected to in the workplace.

Target has a problem.  It would appear managers illegally have tolerated illegal ethnic harassment and possibly broken the law in dismissing employees.  If they have, the three employees ought to be heralded for blowing the whistle on the operation.

But Target has another problem. Faced with employees who either believe "they're all the same" (an old slur) or at least are behaving as if they do, the company committed a major faux pas.  It issued in writing a guide emphasizing that some notions (a,b,and c) are inaccurate generalizations...  and they committed truth.

Mexicans in the United States are on average of a lower educational level than are Cubans living here.  We can argue (apparently socially unacceptable) about why or what to do about it (difficult, if we won't acknowledge reality), but unpleasant truths are truths nonetheless. (Point "f" may or may not be valid but, in either case, it's hardly insulting to be accused of being agreeable rather than confrontational. Perhaps the practice is common among all groups for whom English is a second language. Or not.)

There are other (related) unpleasant truths.  Notwithstanding the occasional sweeping reference on the left to "people of color" (or, as once was the fashion, "colored people"), not all non-Hispanic whites are the same-  blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others all face unique problems in American society.   Similarly, despite the current practice of considering the "Hispanic vote" or "Latino vote"  in assessing the fortunes of the Democratic or the Republican Party, not all Hispanics or Latinos are the same.   Ironically, to imply otherwise is to engage in stereotyping similar to that which troubles the upper echelons of Target Corporation, which has now acted, seemingly too late.

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