Serena’s return to Indian Wells

By Jean Mavrelis - 03.17.2015

Serena had a lot of guts coming back to the tournament at Indian Wells after she was mercilessly booed here 14 years ago by a white audience that believed her father manipulated the tournament by forcing Venus to withdraw, allegedly because he didn’t want the sisters to compete against each other. That last point makes no sense at all. African American women don’t shy away from competition in contrast to white women, who, outside of sports, generally do.

I was watching a match two days ago, and ended up in conversation with a white woman from Chicago who was sitting next me.  I told her how excited I had been to see Serena the night before.

“I can’t stand her”, said the woman.

White women don’t typically say something like that unless they think they’re likely to get an, “Amen”. She felt sure I shared her view of Serena, because white people react very powerfully to anyone even suggesting that they are racist, and that’s what she believed the Williams’ family had done.

For white folks, if you didn’t consciously intend to be racist, then it is unthinkable for someone to question your moral character, even when the facts illustrate that a Black person was treated differently than a white person would have been treated under similar circumstances.

Her personal indignation around feeling maligned was so powerful that she couldn’t get beyond that to look at the facts.  (Cultural note: when you make general accusations against white people, all whites feel personally implicated).

However, anyone who saw the video would see that Serena was brutally treated, and could further understand that race was an underlying factor in the white crowd’s assumptions of the Williams family alleged unethical behavior.

If one of the McEnroe brothers, or one of the Bryan brothers, had dropped out of a competition against their sibling, no one would have accused them of manipulating the tournament.  There is a deep bias of mistrust of African Americans by white people.

I wanted her to see her bias.  I tried a cultural tactic.  I have discovered through my research that there’s an unwritten rule in white woman culture that you are “mean” if you don’t come to the rescue of someone crying.

So, I used this cultural point to (perhaps unfairly) manipulate her view of Serena.  I said, “You know, Serena was interviewed after the match and she was very emotional, weeping.  Her Mom wept too”.

Black women typically view tears very differently.  They say, “Never let them see you cry” (so as not to show weakness), but these tears were more about the courage to step up and show forgiveness.

In any event, the woman from Chicago whom I was speaking to was on the spot when I said Serena cried, because she couldn’t (culturally) criticize someone who was crying, so she said, “Well, it was always the Dad who was the problem.”

She was inadvertently jumping on the bandwagon to demonize Black men.

I felt sick, and my appearance or my silence must have shown it, because the woman got up and left.

I was left with so many things I wanted to explain to her.

The next night, I was at a dinner with some other white women.  I shared my story.

One of the women said, “I like Venus, I just don’t like Serena”.  My sister chimed in, “That’s because Serena is more culturally ‘Black’ than her sister”: meaning more publicly forthright and likely to speak her mind – something white women aren’t allowed to do within their own cultural circles without risk to their reputation.

The reactions I’ve identified for these white women make sense when you know where they are coming from, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are loaded with bias – unconscious racist or cultural bias even though they were unable to see it.

They thought their views made perfect sense.  However, all of us have to know we have our biases, and be curious enough to want to examine them.

Once we white folks accept that we can’t help but look through our lens of social and cultural bias in analyzing situations such as this one with Serena, we can begin to consider the deeply rooted assumptions that drive our views.

Serena, like everyone, no doubt has her biases and blind spots, too. For example, she probably doesn’t know that white people think it’s worse to accuse them of racism than it is for them to have been inadvertently racist. But even if she didn’t know what was culturally behind the bias, she came to Indian Wells to face it head on anyway and that took the strength and heart of a champion.


An Open Letter to Paula Deen

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.29.2013

This open letter by Janus Adams, an African American, is so beautifully written.

The response reveals the strategy we try to teach white folks in our seminars who find themselves accused of the “r” word: racism.

Janus Adams wrote to Paula Deen in her open letter, “Do you understand that millions of hard-working people only want to hear you say: ‘I said the things I said. I was wrong. I’m willing to learn and to grow?’”

White folks react to the “r” word as if their moral character has been attacked, and anyone who uses it has done something worse than whatever they did to bring on the accusation.

There’s a strategy here that we share with Caucasian folks in our seminars: African Americans are amazingly forgiving if you admit you said or did something that adversely impacted them regardless of your intent.

If you admit you were wrong, and are willing to learn and to grow, there will be forgiveness.

As my husband and co-author of Corporate Tribalism, Thomas Kochman, says, “With African Americans, honesty works for you more than prejudice or ignorance works against you, especially if you are seen to be sincerely working to correct the problem.  What African Americans hate most is denial.”

The All of Me

By Thomas Kochman - 11.16.2010

The present on-going ethics investigation of Rep. Charles Rangel, apart from questions surrounding the panel’s political motivation, illustrates a number of social and cultural differences between African Americans and U.S. Mainstream Whites.

The social part has a racial feel to it: the view of many blacks that they are being targeted (“singled out”) for violations of one sort or another that whites regularly get away with.

But there are also cultural reasons behind the African American view –expressed by Rangel—that what is going on is “unfair.”

That has to do with proportionality—the weight given to one or another violation when measured against all the good things the person has also done.

It’s a judgment call, so to speak, and happens every day, not just at the final (pass/fail) stage when individuals confront their God head on.

White Mainstream Protestants within the U.S., for example, insist on moral perfection to a much greater degree than other groups do. Read more »

Culture in the Classroom

By Kimberly Lord - 10.26.2010

Last week, I had the opportunity to share the KMA Hispanic module with my son’s freshman Spanish class at Whitney Young High School in Chicago – as part of a career day where parents described their jobs.

Although I don’t speak much Spanish, I thought introducing his class to some of the social history, values and experiences of Hispanic/Latino culture would make for an interesting discussion.  I used the latest Corporate Tribalism web-based module as a part of our discussion.

Before sharing the module with the class, I did my best to outline some of the key foundation pieces to KMA’s unique approach: defining culture, exploring individual culture through a quiz and describing the scientific process that supports cultural archetypes – especially the importance of framing generalizations (stereotypes vs. archetypes).

I’ve found in past conversations with teenagers that they are often reluctant to talk about how they are different, preferring to talk about how they are the same.  But after a bit of discussion, they embraced the idea that we needed to acknowledge our differences and establish ways that felt good to talk about them, before we could get anywhere.

Next, we started watching the Hispanic/Latino module.  I wasn’t sure if the kids were into it – as it’s designed for an adult workplace audience – but when I asked if they wanted to continue watching to see the second and third sections that followed the main character, Eddie, they whole-heartedly agreed. Read more »

“What Other People Think About You Is None of Your Business”

By Jean Mavrelis - 04.29.2010

As I wrote in Corporate Tribalism, white women who are “people pleasers”, often feel more defined by what other people might think about them than by what they think about themselves.

Interestingly, first born sons of white woman people-pleasers are also likely to be like their mothers in this way, most likely because mom had more time for her firstborn, male or female, so those first born tend to be like her.

This need to have others like us gets “people-pleasers” into hot water when interacting with anyone except other people pleasers.

I had my own experience with this yesterday. I wrote on a cousin’s blog site that the view in the piece was “naïve”. Then I realized she wrote the piece.

This sent me into people pleaser apoplexy – Oh my god!  I’ve offended! This will ruin our relationship! Like a good people pleaser, I wrote to apologize, saying I didn’t mean to call her \”naïve\”. She responded that she didn’t feel insulted until I suggested that I insulted her.

The ultimate goal of a people pleaser is not to please others so much as it is to make sure other people think we’re caring and nice so that they won’t talk about us behind our back. Read more »

Jesus, Mohammed and Women

By Jean Mavrelis - 04.11.2010

Maybe it’s because she echoes my Irish Catholic world view, but once again Maureen Dowd hits the mark for me. 

When she compares Muslim women in Saudi Arabia and Catholic women in the U.S. I’m right there.  In both cases, culture co-opts religion.

Neither Jesus nor Mohammed excluded women.  In fact, it’s quite the contrary.  Mohammed worked for his wife, transporting goods back and forth to Mecca.

Jesus loved women, and even embraced the “prostitute”, Mary Magdalene.  For me, that’s right up there with Abraham receiving the message he shouldn’t sacrifice his son.

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea points out (p. xv of In Search of Islamic Feminism) that “Islam was the only shared identity of people (in the middle east) that predated western colonization.” And later on p.422,  “ In their struggles for legal and economic equality they stress the viability of the family group, a sense of responsibility to the wider group, the importance of religious values, . . . Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women are combining elements of both East and West to develop several feminist ideologies of their own.” Read more »

Social Etiquette at Work

By Thomas Kochman - 10.09.2009

What prompts this blog is a complaint by an Asian friend of ours about a work place situation where he presented himself in front of two white male associates who were bullshitting about personal stuff and they continued to talk as if he wasn\’t there. Compounding his sense of indignation was that what they were talking about was personal while what he wanted to talk about was work-related, which, in his mind, should trump the personal –after all, isn\’t everyone at work primarily supposed to be working?

Apart from the possibility that racial and ethnic bias may also have factored into the way the white men reacted–would another white male associate who approached them be similarly invisible?– there are also matters of culture and social etiquette here which tend to be less obvious, so let me discuss a few of those. Read more »

Obama Socialized by White Women

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.23.2009

Talk show host and liberal social commentator Bill Maher criticized Obama on his HBO show “Real Time” when he said Obama was “focusing too much on his charm offense and not enough on substantive change…I’m glad he got elected. But he’s not really putting it on the line against the banks, the insurance companies, the energy companies who run the country and in many ways, have ruined this country.”

In effect, he accused the President of being what I describe in our book, Corporate Tribalism, as a “people pleaser.” I have observed that when the oldest child in a family is male, he often spends more time with Mom or Grandma, and tends to also fit the description of what I describe as a white female “people pleaser.” It would not surprise me if Obama learned from his white mother and grandmother that you catch more flies with honey than with a fly swatter. Read more »

What’s Racist – Intent or Impact?

By Thomas Kochman - 06.23.2009

In our blog Race Awareness we looked at social reasons that explain why Blacks see race where Whites do not. In this blog we look at cultural factors that also play a role.

We find disputed cases especially interesting because they raise for us the question of what’s going on that leads Whites and Blacks to come to such different conclusions on whether something is racist or not.  It is a question we address in Corporate Tribalism.   We look at court cases where racism has been charged but not found or situations where there is disagreement over the charge of racist policies and practices. What we’ve found is a clear pattern of difference in what blacks and whites look at and weigh in coming to their different conclusions of what’s going on.

One constant factor for African Americans is inconsistent treatment along racial lines or “being singled out.” Attention and assessment and from that accountability is established around what was said and done and the impact of that. This can be seen in the case with former Yankee player Gary Sheffield when he said back in 2007 that he felt that Yankees Manager Joe Torre treated black players differently than whites. Read more »

Race Awareness

By Thomas Kochman - 06.20.2009

A report by Target Market News last week noted that News Corp is forming a diversity council following protests over a cartoon of President Obama that appeared in a February issue of the New York Post. Protesters picket New York Post over chimp cartoon February 19, 2009. Over the years we have noted many protests occurring as a result of blatant racism (as in the present case), as well as thinly disguised racism, or  simple racial insensitivity, as in the case of Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilgheman who was suspended for the \’lynch\’ remark about Tiger Woods.

Sometimes, the charge is more one of bad timing or bad taste, as directed toward The New Yorker for example. The New Yorker ‘s cover of Barack and Michele Obama in which they were depicted as terrorists, was presented and seen by many as satire –mocking the mockers, so to speak.  But it was also received as having “all the scare tactics and misinformation that has so far been used to derail Barack Obama\’s campaign — all in one handy illustration.Read more »