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At Least We Can All Agree On What NOT To Say

, , , , , , | Working | August 3, 2020

Forty years ago, I worked for a small microfilm publishing company as a newspaper indexer. While the company filmed the paper, the indexers read the articles, choosing subject headings for the article and writing a short sentence describing the content.

I had recently been promoted to assistant editorial which basically meant that, yes, I got a raise, but it also meant I did a lot of leg work when the big bosses decided it was time to fix things that weren’t actually broken.

The bosses, upon looking at the index, felt that African-Americans reading the index would be offended if the words “race” and “racism” were in an alphabetical list with the words “race track” because it was disrespectful to black people. From then on, anything about racing, the sport, was under the name of the item being raced — cars, horses, greyhounds, jumping frogs, etc. We could not even put in a “see” reference from racing to the new terms because that would be so hurtful.

The discussion of race then put them in mind that using the phrase “African-American” didn’t sound right, either. It was going to sound offensive and they didn’t like it.

So, it became my job, the vice president decided, to call every black cultural group on every college campus in the county until I got some kind of consensus. 

In what was one of the strangest little projects, I called the three closest and largest colleges. The first two “African-American Cultural Centers” were, oddly, run by white people. They told me this up front. Number One said she had no clue as she wasn’t African-American and had no one to ask, but she felt sure that the term “Afro-American” was preferred over “Black” or “African-American” because it sounded “hip.”

Guy Two was some kind of didactic intellectual who went off on a long diatribe about how “Afro-American” and “African-American” were somehow insulting — he did not explain why — and it was much better to refer to them as “Black” which was descriptive and therefore preferable.  

Then, I hit Number Three. The gentleman who answered had a deep James Earl Jones voice and what seemed a sour and disinterested manner. I explained my dilemma and I finished with, “And so, I am embarrassed to ask this, but my boss insists I ask exactly this: do African Americans prefer to be called ‘African-American,’ ‘Afro-American,’ or ‘Black’?”

There was a long pause and then he said, “I prefer ‘Steve,’ actually,” before he burst out laughing. He went on to say, “Your bosses aren’t very bright. We are people of African background who were born and raised in the U.S. We are African-Americans. What the heck else would they call us?”

We talked for a bit and he assured me that as a professor of Black History, he was pretty sure he knew his terms.  

I went back to my boss with my findings and she took it to the big bosses.

And, despite what Steve said, they went with “Afro-American” because they agreed with the idea that it sounded hip, happening, and now.

Consequently, an entire year’s work had to be redone because a bunch of people who were so not equipped for their big important jobs needed to meddle in the work of their employees who knew what they were doing and how to do it.

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“Trippin’ Magazine” Would Be A Great Name For A Travel Publication

, , , | Right | April 2, 2020

(When I am eight years old, my father is the editor of a small literary magazine, which refers to a species of trout in its name. He brings me into the magazine’s office to supervise me. One night, he has to go off on an errand, leaving me alone. The phone rings, so I pick it up.)

Me: “Hello?”

Caller: “Yeah, can I get some red beans and rice?”

Me: “I’m sorry, this is a magazine. We don’t sell red beans and rice.”

Caller: “What? Girl, you trippin’. Can you deliver that to [address] in Los Angeles?”

(Los Angeles is hundreds of miles south of my location.)

Me: “Um, sorry. This is a magazine. We don’t make food.”

Caller: “You trippin’! Isn’t this the [Magazine]? That’s red beans and rice, okay?”

Me: “No, we really don’t make food. I think you have the wrong number.”

Caller: “You trippin’!”

(The caller hung up. I was confused, and didn’t understand what “trippin'” meant in this context for another couple of years!)

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History Will Record This Job As Never Existing

, , , , | Working | March 6, 2020

After graduating, I am struggling to find a job that fits my MA in history. In the year after that, my sister sends me an email about a vacancy she saw. It turns out that a certain book which has something to do with a prominent Dutch historical figure will be republished, and therefore they want to make a glossy(magazine) about the historical figure. Obviously, they need historians to help them with the research and writing the articles. 

Interested, I apply for the job. After a few weeks, I get an answer by email. The person doing the applications mentions that he selected a few of the candidates and will make a definitive selection from these. Therefore, we have to supply some ideas, to show how professional and creative we are. Since this is one of my first job applications since college, I do not think too much of it and start working on ideas. This is tough, since I am not experienced with making this kind of article and have no clue what kind of audience they want to reach. After a while, I deliver my ideas by email. 

After that, several weeks go by without any reply. Looking back in the email, I realise the guy never gave us a deadline when we had to deliver nor a date when he would let us know. With the weeks passing by, I am starting to wonder whether I will hear more of him or not.

Much to my surprise, the guy sends another email. By this time, almost a month has passed. His reply, however, only mentions that he will look at our “ideas” and then will let us know of his final decisions. Again, no date is mentioned. Also, he never explains why his reply is so late. I feel tempted to ask him, but I decide not to do so, since it could threaten my chances.

Not very surprisingly, I never hear from the guy again. I conclude that either he took all of our ideas for himself — a conclusion many people I know made — or that he did take on some people after all, but simply couldn’t be bothered to tell the people who failed — which is also likely, since he never put on any deadlines or dates, meaning he might be kind of careless. A few years later, I mention the story to someone, who replies that if you want a job and you don’t get an answer “you have to go after them.” Although that might be true, I am quite sure that it would have been a waste of effort with this bloke.

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Put Them In A Scam Jam

, , | Legal | March 15, 2019

(I work at a book self-publishing company. Recently some letters have gone out notifying authors that they have money in their accounts that they can use. A man calls our post-sale department and gets one of my coworkers. I only hear half of the conversation, but she fills me in on the rest later.)

Caller: “Hi. I’m calling to change the deposit information for my account.”

Coworker: “Okay, sir, and what’s your name?”

Caller: “[Unisex Name].”

(A person by that name happens to be an author featured on our website.)

Coworker: *hesitating* “Um, sir, do you have the authorization to do this?”

Caller: “What are you talking about? I’m [Unisex Name]. I want to withdraw my credit. Quit hoarding my money.”

Coworker: “Sir, I’m afraid I can’t continue this call with you.”

Caller: “What? Why not?”

Coworker: “Well, because [Unisex Name] is a girl, and she’s giving me a really weird look right now. She works here.”

(The caller hung up immediately. We all got a kick out of a person trying to scam funds out of an account that belonged to an employee.)

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The Next Great American Novel Is An Everyday Thing

, , , | Right | April 5, 2018

(I work at the corporate office of a retail chain and publisher. We get product submissions all the time, but they’re SUPPOSED to be done electronically. The buyers never do walk-ins; they just don’t have time.)

Lady: “Hi, I’ve written this novel, and it’s the most amazing story. I’d like for you guys to publish it.”

Me: “Okay, great. You’ll need to submit the manuscript electronically through our website.”

Lady: “Yeah, I know that’s what you’re supposed to tell me, but I know how this goes. Only really dedicated authors get to see the publishers, right? Well, I’m dedicated! So, you can go ahead and give me the green light to talk to them.”

Me: *sighs* “I promise you, that’s not the case at all. In fact, you’re hurting your chances of being considered by being difficult about this. Please go through the proper channels, and you’ll hear back from a buyer soon.”

Lady: “So, here’s my five-minute pitch.” *gives me a FIFTEEN-minute pitch, outlining every detail of her book*

Me: “I’m just the receptionist. Seriously, I have no say with the publishers, so I’m not the one you needed to tell that to.”

Lady: “Fine. Let me talk to a publisher!”

Me: *knows they never pick up their phone, so tries just to humor her* “Sorry, they’re not available.”

Lady: “Okay, fine, I’ll leave this here for them. Oh, but first can you take a picture with me in front of your company sign? This is my first time being published!”

Me: *takes the photo, just hoping she’ll leave* “Okay, I’ll see that they get this. Good luck.”

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