The Truth About Our Differences

Two diversity experts� feedback about challenges of race and gender in the workplace

lines is sufficient to characterize something as racist. For example, in one workplace, black workers asked their CWM supervisor, “[Why did] the white workers get all the good vacation times?” The CWM said that vacation times were given on a “first come, first served basis.” Blacks then asked, “[Why did] the white workers know to come in first?” It turned out that the posting of vacation times was done on the first shift, which had mostly white workers.

What’s culturally relevant here is that, while the CWM considered the outcome “unfortunate,” he did not accept the charge of racism because it was not his intent to skew the outcome to favor one group or the other. For the black workers his intent was immaterial. Either way, he lost whatever credibility he had with the black workers. The CWM, in turn, saw the black worker’s characterization of what happened as “racist” not only as unwarranted, but as an unjust attack on his moral character.

Intent is a matter of trust, which you say is also perceived differently by the groups.

Kochman: Well it has to do with whether you perceive trust as something that’s earned or something that’s a given. This has to do with one’s cultural or social group. Typically for white men trust is not an issue until it becomes an issue. They start out with the premise that unless you’ve done something to make me think I don’t or can’t trust you, I trust you. I give you the benefit of the doubt. They also feel they shouldn’t have to earn somebody’s trust. If they haven’t done anything to make you think they’re not trustworthy, then they should be considered trustworthy.

The other groups are often coming from I don’t trust you until you’ve done something to make me think I can trust you.

The social reason behind that is, at least in the U.S., white men trust the social institutions or believe that any business arrangement once entered into will be supported by institutions, the courts, or whatever. Other cultures don’t have the same confidence that the institutions are impartial or fair or will work for their benefit.  You don’t automatically trust somebody if you’ve come from a culture or social situation that puts you at risk time and again.

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