The Benefits Of Communicating Stereotypes In The Workplace

January 20th, 2012 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

In a previous post, The communicated Stereotype argued that stereotypes are bad for business. In today’s post, TCS takes a different approach and demonstrates the benefits of communicating stereotypes at work. In the narrative below, the writer provides a first hand account of a situation in which stereotypes were used to her benefit. Particularly, stereotypes of blacks as prone to complaining allowed the writer to use “blacks” as a scapegoat for her own error on the job. In this narrative the writer attempts to balance the weight of honesty with the weight of personal gain. As an everyman the author highlights the common moral struggle people face when trying to decide how to respond when a stereotype is communicated.

I work at a deli owned by one woman and two men from Korea. It was my third day when I took an especially long order over the phone. I double checked the order with the customer, and gave it to the cooks. An hour later, the man who put in the order called up and complained that the order was missing an omelet. I began to get really nervous; I thought for sure I was going to get yelled at. My female employer just smiled at me and told me not to worry, that the customer who called in was black, and that, “black people complain.”

On the positive side, this stereotype kept me from getting in trouble. It was such a relief to have someone else to blame. One of the reasons stereotypes exist in the first place is in order to scapegoat an “other” so that the member of a group doesn’t have to carry the burden of blame. I was able to justify to myself that I didn’t mess up the order; certain types of customers just like to whine. My employers cautioned me to be more careful with orders from African American customers, especially when it is an order from that address, because they have complained repeatedly in the past, but I got no further reprimand.

On the negative side, if the customer did have a valid complaint, our stereotype virtually silenced it. My employers immediately assumed that the customer was lying or exaggerating, so that customer was ignored. In reality, the cook didn’t understand my handwriting when I wrote the code for an omelet, and interpreted my marks as an order for hash browns. Although we didn’t charge them for an omelet, they were still justified in calling up.

My support of the stereotype had positive repercussions in that it allowed my employers and I, who are very different, to bond over something. By “othering” the black customers, we became a united front, something that is very useful in the work place. Had I disagreed, or told them they were racist, they might have been less willing to bond with me over other, less offensive issues.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. Nick
    February 23rd, 2012 at 00:08

    I agree that this is a complicated situation, in part because it took place in the workplace. Workplaces are interesting environments because most people want to please their employers and portray themselves as agreeable, especially when they are just beginning a position. That being said, I believe that the issue in this circumstance is fundamentally about whether or not the customer was correct or not in placing their order. As noted, the customer was correct.

    Stereotypes are perpetuated because people do not make an effort to learn another perspective or because people are hesitant to protest. I believe it is important to speak up and resist stereotypes, even though that can be difficult to do. Only when people work to break down barriers and stereotypical perceptions of others will they be able to more productively work out their differences.

    It is absolutely a challenging moral struggle to decide when and how to respond to a stereotype. Yet challenging stereotypes opens up communications between groups of people and pushes people to open their minds, which is critical in fostering a progressive society.

  2. Meghan
    February 27th, 2012 at 17:28

    I work in retail in a small city by the shore. We always have a huge mixture of people shopping in our store: upper-middle class whites to poor minorities who live in the area, to New York tourists. During the summer, I witness these stereotypes coming to play almost daily, as an intersectionality of race, class, and even geographic location.

    One time, I was ringing up two older women who told me they came “down the Jersey shore” for the week, and they were from Staten Island. One of the lady’s shirts was not ringing up a price that was offered, and she repeatedly yelled at me for the mistake. I fixed it without hesitation, but she continued to yell at me for the rest of the transaction. The three young women who I rang up after the older two left tried to comfort me. They said how New York tourists are always extremely obnoxious and unbelievably rude, especially the “old hags.” They told me they hoped that “there wouldn’t be any more washed-up, bitchy New York tourists ruining my day”. My co-workers agreed with everything, giving my sympathy for the episode.

    One of my newer co-workers was returning items for a young black woman with her two daughters. The items were from another department store, and the woman must have mixed her items up. Telling her she was wrong, however, turned into a dramatic argument. The lady was very stressed, and took it out on my co-worker, cursing and saying she shouldn’t tell people “all snotty” when they were wrong, and left in a huff. Obviously, these things happen a lot in retail, but because this woman was African-American, the other co-workers had more sympathy for the girl ringing the lady up, telling her that “they can be so ridiculous and rude” and laughed about the episode.

    These stereotypes allow similar members of a community work place to bond. It is funny, however, to note that both my older, New York native co-worker and my African-American co-worker were not there to hear the “comforting” remarks to my co-workers.

    • YF
      February 28th, 2012 at 00:18

      I wonder if both your older co-workers were there, would others still comforted you in the same way…

You must be logged in to post a comment.