The Moments Where Heros See their Reflection
Life Scars are Lessons
Brace yourself; this is an ugly one.
We are not the heroes we tell ourselves we are. Not all the time, not even most of the time. This is a story about racism, discrimination, and a bit of marketing.
My first experience with discrimination was in school, around the age of 8. I was simply the odd one in a school, a foreigner in a very exclusive school. Was it tough? No, at all. Was it abusive? Not even close. I remember a case or two where I was treated as different. I was lucky because the school had some excellent teachers who dealt with that fairly, and I had a dad who knew how to put things in perspective.
Another experience, my very first paying job, where my name was an issue, as it said something about my background. My background was undesirable, and my boss gave me a more “local” nickname.
A few years later, a whole new incident took place. My new job was at risk (post 9/11) because someone decided I was on the wrong continent.
- At school: I was a kid whose dad taught him to pick his battles and not die on every hill. At the time, being too young, it was my dad’s battle.
- At my first job: I did very little to fight that battle. I laughed it out of my system over time.
- My across the Atlantic job: I fought the battle, not to end the abuse altogether, but to stop it from happening to me.
Let us get darker.
I fought some excellent battles throughout the year, especially those where the cost was high. I lost many and misevaluated some. I don’t fret about the ones I lost, and I regret the ones I misevaluated.
But let me share some of the ones I misevaluated because those had a higher cost on someone other than me.
I was part of a committee (given my job position) to review evidence over an alleged theft committed by an employee. A senior manager claimed the employee’s nationality as plausible evidence. The employee turned out to be guilty, caught on camera and all, and of course, eventually got fired. He wasn’t fired because of his nationality, but for that senior manager, he ought to be. The Theft was just a legal excuse. I didn’t do as much as I should to escalate that incident. I did make some brutal remarks, but it was early in my career, and I was in the midst of power plays in the company, and I worried about retaliation. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have, and I didn’t need to. I don’t know who else got abused because of that man.
In another incident, I launched a project where some external agents were commissioned to help out. The project owner had a problem with how the project’s direction was going, and I had to communicate that information to the agent. If I to un-sugar coat it, the message would have been: We don’t want to be associated with anything not White culture, please. Yup, I had to figure out a way to convince the project owner that he is racist without calling him that, and I had to speak to the agent without sounding racist. A bloody mess! I hated what I became just then, I knew what was wrong, and I should have walked out and away when I failed to remedy that ignorance. But I misevaluated, the man remains a racist, and the agent thinks I am one.
The last incident I want to share is too complex yet familiar. I joined forces with a person who believes she was born in the wrong skin. She did all she could to appeal to a particular culture (and be accepted) and distance herself from her own. I realised this late into the job, or at least this is what I keep telling myself. When it came time to branding, marketing and communication, she took it a step further; well-packaged lies inspired by actual events. The aim was to appeal to the dream culture and disassociate any ties to the real one. As the project matured, public communications started to unfold, and when you connect all the internal communications and remarks, the puzzle becomes a whole. That was my signal to walk away. She is still out there, pushing that agenda with the right team.
I dread those incidents because of the abuse I was under.
I hate the feeling of knowing I am not the hero I believed I was at those times.
I have held on to those incidents ever since as a reminder that I know what it feels like.
I cling to those moments to remind myself I am not that hero I believe I am.
I pick my fights more carefully now
I revaluate my battles more carefully now
I know now it is not about becoming a hero. It is knowing how to distinguish between evil and ignorance. It is about showing up and doing the right thing when it can bring value to yourself and those around you. Just because it doesn’t affect you, it doesn’t make it any less damaging.
Growing up as a human is scarring; it should be. I feel we lose touch with our humanity when we hide those scars, deny them, or worse, inflect them. Not every battle is worth fighting till death, but I fear the day where we fight all battles with the same tools and distance…behind a screen and a tweet. Where cruelty, thoughtlessness and misusage become tools to stop the abundance of brutality, ignorance and abuse.