How to conquer workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination is often subtle but very real, says financial educator and author Alvin Hall.

Alvin Hall: Many people think that as you rise through the ranks and become successful and you start earning money—as an African American—that all of this prejudiced interaction goes away, that it doesn’t exist.

But you can walk into a building and a guard in a building, because of the way you look, the way you’re dressed decides he or she is going to put you in your place. They’re going to show you who has the power here.

So when that happens you have a whole different dynamic that you have to deal with. And I can tell you from experience that when this happens to you, other white people around you don’t see it. They just don’t see it. But you can tell by the tone of voice, the way they delay dealing with you, all of these subtle things tell you what’s going on, and then you have to find a way, if this is a place you come to repeatedly, to adjust. But the major thing I tell everyone is that you have to get this out of your soul before you go home because you can’t take this type of anger into your house, because it sits there, it festers, and that anger becomes more undermining long term. Because eventually you’re going to walk into a building and somebody’s going to do that to you, and you’re not going to be able to handle it, you’re going to lose your temper.

Today I feel that if you live in a big urban area you can basically have whatever identity you want, because people will at least not (in general) attack you, yell at you, call you names. That does happen, but you can go through a whole day, maybe a whole week without that happening.

When I was growing up I was lucky if I could get through a day not being reminded in a pejorative way that I was black, that I am black. It was tough.

You develop a series of walls when that happens, and you learn to sort of adjust those walls. Some of them are more flexible than others, and some are pretty solid.

And you adjust those walls depending upon how you think people are perceiving you. I can tell you that I can walk down the street now sometimes, in New York, especially in London, and I don’t even think about the fact I’m black. It just doesn’t enter my mind. I’m just walking down the street.

And then at other times I’ll go into a building having had a walk and the guard at that building will put his body right in front of me, and it’s an aggressive move because he has decided—just seeing me walk into the building!— that something is inappropriate or something he needs to challenge about that.

I think that a lot of people don’t experience that in their day to day lives still. I think it’s something that’s unique to people of color. I think a lot of it is unique to male people of color and particularly black men.

And the majority society thinks you’re being paranoid. I’m going to tell you a story.

I was working for a big corporation, regularly coming to the building every week. There was a guard at the building. I had to sign in and provide him with my details every week. Now I am not a retiring flower; I engage, I talk. Every time I came to that building he would not look at me. And then when I walked away he would say, “Put the badge on your jacket!”

It wasn’t a request, it was a command. And I would put the badge right in the middle. And then sometimes if I was wearing a really nice suit I’d put it on my hand and hold my hand up like that and walk forward.

One day we had a little confrontation about this. I said listen, this is good, this getting me into the building. You see me every day.

He pretended he didn’t.

When I came back the next time it had gone all the way up to the people in the building, the company I was working for. And they requested that I change my ways and I said, “How long have you known me?”

And they didn’t answer that question.

I said, “Have you had problems with me coming in this building before?”

They said “No, but maybe something’s changed about you?”

That was coded language. It wasn’t the guard that was a problem. It was me. With that I didn’t say another word. I then changed the way I dressed when I came in and I made no eye contact with him whatsoever.

And eventually I decided to tell the human resources people about the situation. Nothing happened.

So the type of freedom that people think exists doesn’t exist for everybody today.
So whether you’re gay, transgender, or whatever, you’re going to run into some problems at some point. So I think that people think that these problems don’t occur. They think that it’s something that you’re being paranoid about but no, it happens subtly, every day, and you’re reminded that you are different.

So yes, some people can be more open, and I’ve encountered that. But some of the rest of us we get these little reminders and then you have to walk away from it, and hopefully as my parents said, don’t bring it back into your own house.

Workplace discrimination is often subtle but very real, says financial educator and author Alvin Hall. The majority of society may not always see it but minority groups experience it on a daily bias.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.