Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sister for a day

I received an automated email from my company's Human Resources department:  
"Please click the link below and verify that we have accurate personal information for you.  If there are errors, please correct them.  Do not reply to this email."
I dutifully clicked the link and was transported to a page with my home address, telephone number, marital status, and ethnic category.  I noticed that I was identified as Black.  Which I am not.  For better or worse, I am unambiguously white.

There was no apparent way for me to correct this mistake.  The address and phone number had clickable "Update" buttons next to them, but ethnic category did not. 

I pondered my dilemma.  On the one hand, fixing this error would likely involve hours on the phone with the notoriously surly women at Human Resources.  There could be reams of paperwork.  And I really didn't care what race the system thought I was.  Why should I make the effort?  On the other hand, I supposed, employers should have accurate records for affirmative action purposes.  Why should my company get credit for hiring a Black person, when they hadn't?

I resolved to make one attempt to fix things.  If that didn't work, I was out.

Defiantly, I replied to the "Do not reply to this email" message:
"Hello.  I recently verified my personal information as instructed.  I noticed that your system thinks I am Black.  In truth, I am white, or Caucasian, or whatever the correct term is.  I am not sure how to fix this.  Also, it doesn't really matter to me.  Please do whatever you like with this information.  Yours, Susan"
I hit "Send" and left for a meeting.

When I returned, there was a frantic message on my voicemail from C at Human Resources.  I was shocked!  Nobody from Human Resources has ever returned a call from me -- or anyone else -- before.  C begged me to call as soon as possible and gave me her direct line.  She repeated the number twice.

I dialed C.  A grouchy voice picked up on the fourteenth ring.  "Hello," I began, "I'm calling for C.  I'm the one who's not Black."

"You!  I have your file right here."  C's voice was deadly serious.  "You need to tell me what's going on here."

"I don't know what to tell you," I said.  "I have worked here for almost seven years.  I have never been Black in all that time."

"Well, this is a big problem.  You need to come to our offices downtown and fill out a raft of forms.  Your departmental administrator will need to certify them, and then you must have them notarized.  When that's done, bring everything back here, and we'll see if you need to do anything else."

"Look," I said, "I don't think that's going to happen.  I don't really care what race the system thinks I am.  And I have enough to do without running around with a bunch of forms, all to fix somebody else's mistake."

C was quiet.  I started to feel bad about leaving her in the lurch.  I offered to fax her a photocopy of my white ass. After a stunned pause, C whispered "Let me get back to you" and hung up. 

A few minutes later, C called back.  She explained that she had been authorized to fix the error immediately.  I heard the clicking of her fingers on the keyboard.  Then silence.  C barked, "It's done!"  She slammed down the phone, and I was white again.