Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work
If I believe my Twitter feed, I would say that the whole world is against people of my demographic. Diversity has become so serious, scary, and divisive that we have forgotten how remarkably funny it can be if we do not think the world is out to offend us.
I want to share with you a few of my experiences because it is time we start seeing some of the humour of diversity misinterpretation and assumptions.
Several years ago, I received a call from a Caribbean man who was asking me if I would be interested in emceeing a Black Awards night. I gladly accepted, impressed this was quite an open-minded group to invite me to facilitate the evening. I wrote down the details, and just before I was about to hang up the phone, I had this strange hunch that came over me. Did I think maybe he did not want me – a white person? I asked him directly: ” Michael, are you aware that I am not black?” There was silence for a moment. Then with an uncomfortable laugh, he responded “No.” I said, “I thought, so.” Does that make a difference now that you know that I am white? After a momentary pause, he remarked: well, uh, yeah”. He was dumbfounded! How was he going to tell me that he thought I was black and that is why he called me? Digging his heels, he told me that he thought I had a “black name” and that is why he called me. I told him that I did not know what he was talking about: a black name? Did I look black in my picture? Trying to wheel himself out from the mess, he tried again and said: “Well, I guess your name is Hispanic sounding!” I told him: “Listen, I will make this easy for you. You do not want me to emcee your event because I am white and by the way, I am not Hispanic –but close enough—Portuguese. I wish you good luck trying to find someone!”
A former co-worker of mine who came out of the closet at work dealt with the homophobic men in the office in a unique way. When he went into the men’s washroom, he would belt out the lyrics to “Dancing Queen”!
Acting as a cultural mentor for a Chinese new immigrant, I remarked about Canadian informality and pleaded with him to not call me Mrs. Silveira. I explained to him all of the instances when it is appropriate to use titles. Running into him one day, I asked about his weekend. He said it was not so good and that he had to take his daughter to the hospital. He noted how impressed he was with the care in a Canadian hospital. With a mesmerized look on his face, he indicated he had put into action what I had taught him about informal salutations while he was in the hospital. As he was leaving, he took a look at the doctor’s name tag which read: “Sandy Brown.” In a great gesture of appreciation, exiting he said: “Thank you, Sandy.” To his dismay and surprise, she replied: “Dr. Brown”! I apologized to my dear friend for a significant omission – doctors and titles! Ouch!
All of these new genders are confusing me. I am not sure that I like the images that come to my mind when I hear the word “gender fluid”. When I hear that expression, it makes me think that you have to go to the pharmacy to buy something to take care of it – may be in the special paper products section in the store. May I suggest “gender elasticity” or “gender flexibility” instead?
I have many stories about encounters in Asian food markets. Frequently, the employees that I come across don’t speak English, and therefore there is much room for misinterpretation. Excited about embarking on a Vietnamese culinary adventure, I headed to the store looking for the best sauce to complement the spring rolls I was planning to make. I saw a Chinese man who was stocking the shelves and asked him if he could recommend a good sauce for my spring rolls. I said I wanted him to show me the sauce he used. Clearly, he did not understand what I had said. Before you knew it, we were standing in front of the Heinz ketchup. I surmised that he likely thought this was the only kind of sauce white people use!
Whether it was one too many coffees or not enough sleep the night before, I had a twitch in my right eye during a workshop I was facilitating. It was distracting and it seemed like I could not control it. Moreover, for whatever reason, each time I looked in the direction of one of the female participants, my twitch became a wink. Low and behold, after the training session, I went up to speak to some participants that were in her area. She immediately distanced herself and appeared uncomfortable. The moral of the story: just because someone has a twitch does not mean he or she is flirting with you!
While running a Latin American seniors’ drop-in many years ago, the participants would cheerfully greet me with: ” Como estas, Evelina?” (How are you, Evelina) Reciprocally, I would reply “ Yo estoy buena, gracias.” I did this for months, thinking that I was saying: “I am good, thank you.” A few of the older women would consistently give me strange grimaces. One day we had two new participants from Colombia attend who decided to test me again and ask me how I was. I gave them the same response, only this time they started laughing! I realized that the “good” wholesome feeling I was trying to express, had, in fact, some other less innocent connotation!
After finishing my presentation about living with ADHD, I had a blind man come up to me and say: “Wow! I really feel sorry for you, it must be difficult bouncing off the walls all the time!” I laughed and corrected him that I don’t bounce off walls too often but appreciated his empathy–even though I felt he was the one with the challenges!
It is time to bring the joy and laughter that diversity can offer! Feel free to share your funny incidents below.