Like an Odd Dot on an Oppositely Colored Board.
By Kimboak Benham
A band of brothers and sisters of common heritage sitting together as a group, enjoying their lunch. Management has been alerted. Other employees had taken notice of their habitual grouping and pointed it out to management. Their habitual sitting arrangement has come to be seen as a sign of isolationism, a look that isn’t good for the company. They must be told that other people, specifically members of the white majority, are made uncomfortable by the sight of them sitting and eating together. Something must be done.
They are told by management.
Black employees at Adidas, the shoe manufacturer, were reportedly told that their sitting together during breaks raises concerns about their commitments to the team and is worrisome to coworkers.
As reported by the NY Times.
“ Adidas employees who spoke to The Times said that in the company cafeteria, black employees often sit together. Some said they had been told that this made some of their white colleagues nervous and could hurt their chances of getting promotions or being put on important marketing campaigns if it appeared that they were not trying to fit the Adidas mold.‘
Why not spread out among the others?
It was the above quote, by happenstance, that caught my eye. It jumped started me, caused me to spontaneously react and write this opinion. It struck me as a teachable moment. I couldn’t not share, in words, what crossed my mind. Here they are.
The majority opinion of the minority is quite often based on misinterpreted intent than it is on actual actions. It is a human failing.
The one thing about being a minority that you can count on when surrounded by a majority of people born of a different path is that you can and will be called out for doing things the majority does all the time too, without even thinking about it.
As in this reported case. To prove the point here is a hypothetical:
If black people were in the majority at Adidas, seeing black people sitting together during breaks would be the norm. It would go unnoticed. Doing so would be unavoidable and inconsequential. As it is now for the majority of white employees working at Adidas.
If the workforce and management were majority black and they took notice to the white minority, most sharing a common cultural history (they like country music artist), and said to them (imagined)— “We’ve noticed that during your down time on the job you do not break bread with the majority. We like to foster intermingling here, it is not to your advantage to segregate yourselves. Doing so stands out, it unsettles some of your coworkers, and you should not want to stand out. If you should want to advance here, it would be better for you that during your down time, breaks and lunches, you mingle with others and not just with those you find comfort in conversation with.”
In that given scenario, switching it around, it would be the white folk who are looked at as the odd lot. The white dot on the black board. The opposite of being the black dot on a white board, but the same.
If people who are in the majority looked at it this way, recognizing that they too — just not whomever the minority is — also sit in isolation, preferring to eat with those whom they are most comfortable with (they like artist who sing the Blues). It just isn’t pointed out because most of the others working there look like them.
The teachable lesson is this. We all do it. When there are more of one group than there are of another, we, as humans, take more notice of those who are not of the majority. Cutting eyes and staring. Though we all do it, those in the majority rarely find themselves in the minority so it is hard for them to relate.
The few represent an oddity. They seem out of place.
When things or people seem out of place, out of the ordinary, they are often perceived to be a threat. When we notice an oddity, what do we typically do? We becomes suspicious. We don’t trust it. We investigate. To ease our minds we move on them. Then, to prove our suspicions right, we find fault where there is none.
They, the black employees of Adidas — if things are as reported — were doing the same as we all do when we sit with others during breaks while at work. They simply sat with those they share things in common with (“you heard that new song by Lil’ Shawty?”). We don’t notice it when the same is done by those in the majority because it doesn’t stand out.
Like a black dot on a white board, or a white dot on a black board, that which represents sameness is least noticed. Problem is, we tend to wrong the person, or people, who don’t seem to blend in and blame them for not fitting in though our actions of selection are all the same.