If everyone just spoke American…

Our silence condones the language.

Recently, I had the privilege of presenting at a diversity conference sponsored by the local SHRM chapter in Toledo.

I wanted to make sure I was giving the participants some practical, day-to-day tools to encourage honest and real dialogue with and between employees at their respective workplaces. And, to remind them that “None of us is as good as ALL of us.”

At the end of the presentation, I showed one of the What Would You Do? episodes from ABC. The scenario was a young Hispanic girl with her mother at a restaurant (both were actors, “in” on the scenario). The young girl portrayed helping her mother read the menu (while the mother acted like she could not read English).

As the scenario unfolded, another actor sitting close by kept addressing the girl out loud, with such lines as “Why doesn’t your Mom learn to speak American?”, etc. He also had more than a few rants on immigration.

The hidden ABC cameras then captured the reaction of various unknowing patrons who witnessed the behavior. Reactions ranged from going to get the manager, sitting in silence and trying to ignore the situation, to some confronting the man directly on his language and his comments to the girl and her mother.

After the video ended, I made the following points:

  • Our silence condones the language. When we are outraged or upset regarding someone’s behavior toward another, speak up. It’s not always easy…and yes, sometimes we need to choose our battles, but our silence can send unintended messages.
  • “We got your back” One of the patrons said that directly to the little girl after he confronted the man. Who’s “back” do you have at work, when someone is belittled or bullied?
  • “Time to pull a few more chairs to the table.” This was a line that was used when the ABC crew revealed themselves, and had the Hispanic actresses sit down with those patrons who had stood up for them. Sometimes, whether intentional or not, we hesitate to allow others at our “tables” at work. Perhaps it’s an unwillingness to engage in honest dialogue when there are misunderstandings or bad assumptions made about someone’s background and appearance that is different from ours. Or, it could be we pretend to be “color blind,” when in fact we all have unconscious biases that reveal themselves daily.

Time to give up the notion that we are “color blind.” Instead, let’s take an honest assessment of any bias  (unconscious or not) that we all have. If we are not sure why someone who is different from us said or did something, run toward them (metaphorically of course). Dive deeper into relationships. We underestimate what our relationships can bear. Make the effort to get clarity and to disprove our bias and possible stereotyping.

And when we learn more about each other through that “deep dive,” that builds trust. And when there is high trust, we can talk about anything.

Back to the conference…as I was packing up once it had ended, a young Hispanic woman came to me, almost in tears. She shared how much she liked the video, and could not believe that those patrons, especially the white patrons, stood up for the girl and her mom.

When we take a stand and decide to be actors (active participants) versus standing on the side lines and hoping for the best, true and honest dialogue can grow and flourish. And when that happens, we can start to believe that indeed, “None of us is as good as ALL of us”.

photo credit: Multiethnic Group of Hands Raised via photopin (license)

About Dave Tippett

Dave is well-known in the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan business community for his enthusiasm, training creativity and commitment to helping people work better, together. He provides customized training content, delivered with an innovative and interactive approach. Aside from training, Dave is also a published playwright and author. He and his wife, Jill, live in Gibsonburg.

2 Comments

  • Bev Bice says:

    i loved this article. I was trying to put myself in this scenario and boy was it tough to know what to do. First instinct would be to stand up for her, but my gut would wonder what the man’s reaction would be too. I loved your last two sentences and i personally am going to do my best to live by them more!-Jenny Jarchow HR Assistant @ Coin OP Canteen Services

    • Dave Tippett says:

      Hi Jenny and thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, it can be a challenge to do and say the right thing, but when we can, it does make a difference. Here’s to all of us being the best ‘actors’ we can be!