Everyone Should Be a Minority Sometime
Aug. 5, 2015
Can You Walk In These Shoes?
I walked to work in Ghana and I am white.
After earning an undergraduate degree in International Studies from Texas A&M University, I moved to Ghana. Specifically, Ho, Ghana, which is in the Volta Region. I went with an organization called Cross Cultural Solutions and it changed my life. I chose Ghana because I believed it to be a place I was unlikely to see in my professional career and I chose Cross Cultural Solutions because of its secular mission. I had no idea my five months in Ghana would have so much to do with my American experience, my work as an attorney, or my insight as an investigator.
Most of the Americans who lived in my compound on the south side of Ho were teachers or medical professionals and they were placed in internships with schools and hospitals. I was placed with the Ministry of Tourism because of my degree. Unfortunately or fortunately, that ministry was not funded the year I was there. It was sad that the dedicated employees were not receiving their salaries and it was amazing that I could donate $20 in gas money and have a government truck full of government employees escort me to any place in the region they needed to inspect.
Since my work with the Ministry of Tourism was so minimal, I took an afternoon job at the Ministry of Veterinary Affairs (within the Ministry of Agriculture) where we treated only humans, because it was cheaper than the hospitals. I collected the blood of kings with needles big enough for an elephant…and I still owe them an apology. I also tried to help sooth sick children with candy and dolls and soothing noises. Unfortunately I just scared the poor kids because I look so different. The children at the clinic and in the streets called out “yevo” and asked their parents if my eyes were supposed to be blue, like a ghost. Those kids taught me about being an “other” first but my adventures in Ghana allowed me to know I was an outsider with regularity.
Being an “other” meant that I was to be intermittently coddled and feared and exploited and kept at arm’s reach. The folks in Ho didn’t know how to treat me but the children were honest and the adults were polite enough. The irony is that the United State’s blacks typically descend from the ports of Ghana and their descendants experienced or experience a horrible version of what I was briefly facing.
As an Austin Workplace investigator, it is important to spend time as an “other” because you cannot possibly understand the emotion, motivation, and reactions that employees have to circumstances if you have always dwelled comfortably. Although our work often requires us to make legally mandated comparisons regarding the way employees are treated or react to treatment, a good investigator is also savvy enough to tease out the inherent distinctions between those employees.