Friday, May 29, 2009

Adventures In Direct Sales: It's Hard To Have Principles

Some of you may be aware of exactly how racist, sexist and otherwise unpleasant my boss is. I don't think I've talked a lot about that trouble here, primarily because I've been really ashamed of the fact that I just don't know how to react at this point in time.

But enough is enough. It was bad enough when it was just me dealing with his nonsense, but there are new people working with us now, and his bullshit is going to start affecting them one way or another.

First of all, I'll do a brief cast list. J is the boss, an upper-middle class white man in his early twenties who has, even by his own admission, always had it "pretty easy." C is his wife, who is also the office manager. I like C. She evidently used to be quite the little gothy princess, and was a very strong and independent woman. Now she's pretty firmly under J's thumb and doesn't even decorate her home the way she likes anymore, because J won't let her have "those skulls and crap" up in "his" house. It's sad.

The new hires are S, a white man in his early twenties from a conservative, upper-middle class family; M, a young, fat white woman (who the boss told me "still has a pretty face") from a very similar family background as S; T, a black man around his mid-twenties who moved here from Ontario and from all appearances has a relatively middle-class background as well, though I haven't had a chance to talk much to him about that; and N, a First Nations man in his early to mid twenties whose family is on the lower end of "middle class." Then there's me, a mixed race (white and First Nations), queer woman from a family that always lived well below the poverty line, who has suddenly found herself with a whole lot of passing privilege to examine. I look pretty white, I'm in a hetero relationship, and I've carved out a fairly middle class life for myself, which differs hugely from my childhood.

When this new group first got hired, the boss was telling me that in the original interview group, only about half of which would end up getting hired, there were two Sudanese people, who he refers to as "purple people." He says, "they're so black they're purple." I was stunned into silence by this line of conversation. What made it even more horrific was when he flat-out said, "purple people aren't people." He's talked a lot about black people in general having "zero work ethic," said that as soon as a job gets a little hard they quit.

J's opinions of First Nations people are none too flattering, either. He's got story after story of times that "some Indian" either screwed him over in business or caused some other kind of trouble, and he uses these to justify his blatant racism. He doesn't like to hire First Nations people because "customers get nervous when they see an Indian on their doorstep. It's not my fault, just how the world works." Because, you know, it would be too much for you to just hire whoever is qualified, regardless of race, and stand behind your employees if a customer starts shit with them?

One of J's favorite things to talk about has been the fact that I have made a lot of sales to First Nations people. Apparently, I "can sell to brown people like nobody's business. Now we just need to get you selling to some white people, so you actually get some financing applications approved." Because, you know, everyone who isn't white has shitty credit, and everyone who is white has GREAT credit. That actually came up once, when he got all bent out of shape because he saw a customer's last name on a contract, guessed that she was First Nations, and said, "Oh, great, now I'm all worried that she won't get approved." I got a bit irritated and told him to not talk like that, pointed out that I have First Nations blood and maybe he should watch what he says. His response? "Yeah, I know you're Native, and I also know what your credit looks like." Followed by a self-satisfied smirk.

When the new group was doing their practice demos for friends and family, J's big beef was that N and T were doing theirs for their families, who, "you know, being black and Native, probably don't really have any money. Thy're not gonna sell anything that way."

All in all, he's a misogynistic, racist fuckwad. This isn't even getting into the details of the dynamic of his and C's relationship, or how he talks about women in general.

It's already become clear that S is J's favorite, closely followed by M. She may be a woman, but at least she's soft spoken and traditionally feminine. J has already pointed out to me that M "dresses better for work (she wears skirts and tops that apparently show the right amount of skin) and doesn't have an attitude like you do." Because, you know, it's bullshit when women demand respect and fair treatment. And I should be wearing a skirt for a job that involves a lot of movement and bending. (I've stopped wearing shirts that show pretty much ANY cleavage, and now the big issue about my clothing is that "it's too butch." I can't win here.)

I've given this a lot of thought, and I know that I'm walking a fine line in a lot of ways. I have to be aware of my passing privilege, because I don't want to come off as some white person who figures they know what's best for the persons of colour, coming in to "save" them. But I can't allow J's racism to stay a secret. And if race were taken out of the equation, if the boss were talking shit about someone behind their backs for any other reason, it'd be right to tell the other person about it, so I figure this is the same thing. So today I told T everything, and next time I talk to N I'll tell him the same stuff. I can't decide what, if anything, to say to M. She seems aware of the undercurrent of misogyny and hasn't said anything about it, but who knows what's actually going on in her head? She could be feeling like she's the only one who gets it. I don't know what to do.


Heather said...

In a perfect world you'd tell the guy to go fuck himself and not let the door hit you on the way out as you hold your head high.

It's NOT a perfect world, so you CAN be vocal about the shit he says and how it effects you. You're not going to change this guy, or his feelings and bigotry. You can tell him that you just don't feel the same way he does and would appreciate it if he didn't use racial slurs when you were around. The problem with this is, once he knows it's a problem for you, he could do it even more because he's such a prick. There's also the, "Yes, I'm fully aware of how you feel about X race, can we move on?"

You know, you're in my prayers daily, B. When you work for a company that is so obviously different then your moral ethics, you struggle daily. This doesn't even include the crap that he dishes out to you.

B. said...

Thanks, Heather. You're awesome.