Roy Blumenthal (Creative Artist - WOW guest speaker) in response to my post on ''Racial Relations in the Workplace'' raises some very salient points. Perhaps that particular story does not adequately show that I am not addressing the issue of ''racism'' in particular but really ''racial perceptions''. More to the point, how different races relate to one another in the workplace in South Africa, and their perceptions about one another.
I was really using the story to underscore a point raised by Hilary Geber (Wits Center for Learning and Teaching Development) during our ''Grow Tomorrows Leaders'', workshop on mentoring last Saturday and the one before. She talked about how interns/mentees should seek the advice and guidance of their mentors on how to handle matters in the workplace. Given that the workplace is ridden with internal and external ''politics'', there is so much more that an intern/mentee has to deal with, which is why mentorship is necessary.
In South Africa particularly, the issue of race permeates every aspect of society and life in general. Due to space constraints in my last article on this subject, I didn't want to go into an elongated spiel, but when my friend told me the story, there were other dimensions which I didn't think would be appropriate to present in a public sphere, such as this.
I agree with Roy that my presentation of the facts does appear one-sided. And that the ''Mbigi'' (Prof. Lovemore Mbigi, expert on Ubuntu) attitude of actively and consciously examining your flaws and correcting them is a winning approach. Realistically, the issue of racial relations in the workplace is a much more complex and deep-rooted problem. As an outsider, viewing the situation objectively, I think it is not being adequately addressed.
As a non-South African, if I found myself in a similar situation to my friend, my reaction would probably have been different. I would perhaps first make sure that I was delivering on my responsibilities. Then I would go to my line manager, and have a discussion with her/him to ascertain if she/he was satisfied with my work. During that discussion I would expect to deduce if my line manager was happy with my work, if not, what areas I needed to inprove on. If this approach proved unsuccessful due to a number of reasons, which I may or may not be aware of, I would then seek the intervention of my mentor.
My point is that, the various racial perceptions and in some cases prejudices, amongst racial groups in South Africa, influence the ways in which actions that are appropriate in certain circumstances in the workplace are often-times misjudged.