I was recently sent an email message depicting a rural Indian man taking tech support calls from a cobbled field on a laptop fabricated with an assortment of contraptions including a 80’s styled cell phone antenna. The laptop was powered by a stationary bike and from it hung a series of Microsoft manuals and books. Above the picture the caption read, “We have all talked to this guy… at last we have a picture of him.” Below the picture there was another caption that read “Global Support Center. Employee of the Year.”
In the body of the email there was the following joke:
Mujibar was trying to get a job in India. The Personnel Manager said, 'Mujibar, you have passed all the tests, except one. Unless you pass it, you cannot qualify for this job.' Mujibar said, 'I am ready.' The manager said, 'Make a sentence using the words Yellow, Pink, and Green..' Mujibar thought for a few minutes and said, 'Mister manager, I am ready.' The manager said, 'Go ahead.' Mujibar said, 'The telephone goes green, green, and I pink it up, and say, Yellow, this is Mujibar.' Mujibar now works at a call center. No doubt you have spoken to him. I know I have.
Upon first glance, I saw the attempt at humor and related to the cartoonist frustration with the re-routing of calls to India. However, upon a moment’s reflection I felt a strong discomfort with this message. My mind went back over all the images depicting blacks as mindless “coons” that gave way to black face performances as comedy in this country. I thought about the cartoons used to alienate Jews in Germany in the 1930’s, which eventually led to one of the world’s most horrific Holocaust ever witnessed. And I was reminded of the fact that most injustices aimed at a particular group begins as a simple joke.
I immediately responded to the sender with the following request:
Thank you for this attempt at humor. However, I find it somewhat offensive. I know that we are sometime unaware of the subtle ways that racism can creep into our humor. I believe that when we become aware of these subtleties, we need to speak up. This is one of those occasions. As your friend, I feel responsible for bringing this to your attention. I’m sure that others on the list of people you forwarded this to may also feel the insensitivity of this message.
I encourage you to send an apology to your list of recipients and retract this email message. Please know that my intentions are only to sharpen our relationship. I understand you to be one of the most worldly and genuine people I know. That is why I feel comfortable bringing this to your attention.
With the best of intention.
It was my hope to preserve a friendship, increase cultural sensitivity and save a friend from embarrassment. Here’s his response:
I do apologize to you if you are offended, however, I would be surprised if anyone else on my list was. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, however, in my opinion, that is one of the major problems with this world. People need to lighten up.
I have traveled the world and I have been on the receiving end of many prejudices from my color, to being an American (which is quite prevalent) to being over weight and as a kid, for having bright red hair. I would hope that you know me well enough to know that I am more tolerant then most. You are aware that I have done numerous mission trips to Africa, I am on the board for that group and I am currently on my forth hosting of an African in my home.
Apparently you have never had to deal with tech support in India.
After receiving this response I became keenly aware of the need for continuing our national discussions around race and cultural sensitivity. However, the most relevant lesson for our discussion around chess and character centers around this lack of appreciation for our Indian competitor's advantage. Contrary to the image being perpetuated, the person on the other end of our support call is a highly educated, highly motivated, and highly paid young person positioned to dominate the world of information technology.
The Character and Chess Lesson: “Failure to recognize and appreciate your opponents potential is the greatest threat to your success.”
We, the United States of America, are suffering from my generations greatest economic down turn characterized by growing poverty and massive job loss. Our Indian neighbors are predicting a shortage of people to fill 500,000 information technology jobs by 2010. (Time.com http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1671982,00.html) America has failed to produce a workforce able to meet our own demand for high tech jobs. Therefore, our corporations have outsourced these jobs to India, where the demand has been met so effectively that young people are turning away from these high paying jobs for less “abusive and racist” work. Simply put, we are losing the tech race to India. We will continue to lose until we recognize their strength and advantage.
In Chess, I have always assumed that anyone who sits on the opposite side of the table is a worthy opponent. At the highest levels, neither chess nor life makes accommodations for color, gender, or class. It is the best player who comes out on top. Even when losing, we always seek to understand the mind and motivation of our opponent. Yes, we are in a global economic competition. To remain relevant, we cannot continue to perpetuate ignorance and hide behind stereotypes. We must face our challenges in a mature and responsible manner.
As your coach, I want you to always assume that you are up against your greatest opponent in every round. Assume that you are playing against the greatest player in the world deceptively disguised as a beginner. This will guarantee that you give your best at every turn. There is no time for jokes during the battle of your life. I guarantee you this, your competition wants to win and they will not lighten up.