Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Class-culture shock

At the jobhouse, I got a front-row seat to what I call Class-culture shock. Looking at class as a cultural influence, I noticed some surprise and often awkward reactions of my people when they were placed in "different" cultural settings. In the case of my job it meant placing them in a professional setting - 1) a white collar work environment where people were valued for their knowledge and expertise in a subject as opposed to completing assigned tasks over a period of time; 2) most of the people were white, which I later learned made them TERRIBLY uncomfortable; 3) interacting with people with college degrees - even educated Black people made them antsy after a while.

When individuals are placed in a social or public settings so very different than that of their primary culture (and they haven’t been prepared for it) it is not uncommon for them to 1) feel uncomfortable, 2) remain quiet or give little to no response to others, and 3) respond inappropriately or “act out”.

With my employees I was able to assemble a whole list of behaviors that they would engage in after about 30 minutes into a professional meeting or similar setting.

I called it the “Things That Seem Like No Big Deal To You, But They Really Are” List.

1. Repeatedly needing to be reminded that a meeting has started or re-convened.
This includes returning to a meeting after scheduled breaks or disappearing altogether for huge chunks of time. I lost a lot of meeting time searching for them and corralling them back.

2. Being reminded multiple times to interact with other participants. Sequestering self from others and not interacting with unfamiliar colleagues. They would push back chairs or hide in corners - just uncharacteristically shy. They weren't the paying-attention-quiet, but the I-don't really-want-to-be-here-quiet.

3. Doing other things during a program or meeting – all the time. For example, texting, talking on cell phone, leaving to talk on cell phone, loud fumbling and moving around, grunting and other complaining noises.

4. Not being observed being studious, including sleeping/dosing off. Being observed doing trivial things more often. This one happened all of the time - especially at Board Meetings.

5. Verbal and non-verbal signs of complaint and dissatisfaction, including signs of hostility and using foul language are especially taboo.

6. Slow or no response to direct instruction.

It was no secret that the Program was treated like a big Ghetto Joke by many of the outside partner Agencies. I explained to my employees that demonstrating any of these behaviors makes one appear not serious. If you’re not behaving seriously, then others won’t take you seriously. And that's exactly what happened. They employees weren't taken seriously and neither was the program. That's one of the reasons why I left the job.

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