A few years ago, I was working as a contractor at a company that had everyone from non-union warehouse workers who were probably making minimum wage to the executives and CEO, all under one roof. Since office space and light industrial are zoned differently, this is an unusual arrangement I’ve only seen a couple times in my career.
I quickly noticed a spot at the end of a row of cubes I passed on my way out of my area where there was always a joke of some kind posted. Sometimes something genuinely funny, other times just odd, and once truly offensive.
This time the joke du jour consisted of a Photoshopped picture of a young black man, his hair cut like topiary into a trendy hat, with a caption indicating that if you couldn’t afford the hat you wanted, you could simply grow your own.
From all I could observe, this company seemed to have a good track record of hiring and promoting minorities, so seeing this tasteless joke hanging on the wall for days was puzzling. I felt it was in particularly poor taste considering the large number of people who worked there who weren’t making much money, many of whom could have been the Photoshopped person.
There were very few actual company employees in my area, but I asked one whom one could speak to about something offensive in the workplace and she said she had no idea. Clearly Human Resources did not have a high profile at this company. I was on my own.
I was totally clear on the fact that I was at the very bottom of the totem pole at this company, quite possibly on the portion of the totem pole that’s underground. As I thought about what I could do, it occurred to me that I didn’t need authority at this company to take action–all I needed was moral authority. Reminding myself that I’m a senior member of the human race, on my way out that night, I removed the graphic, took it home, and fed it to my shredder.
Who are you to stick up for the underdog, speak truth to power, fight injustice and prejudice? A senior member of the human race, that’s who.