Friday, August 4, 2017

Feeling the Sting of Discrimination

Too small is our world to allow discrimination, bigotry and intolerance to thrive in any corner of it, let alone in the United States of America. - Eliot Engel

Discrimination is not done by villains. It's done by us. - Vivienne Ming

Today I experienced my first real discrimination that was directed towards me.

As a Caucasian, heterosexual male, standing 6’3”, with an athletic build, with all aspects of my body working as originally designed and with reasonable personal and professional success behind me, I hardly fit the bill of someone who might experience discrimination.

Of course, there is always the ignorance of people who happily tell me “Newfie” jokes when they “discover” my Newfoundland and Labrador heritage but the combination of a person very comfortable in my own skin and my Life track record allows me to not get upset over the ignorance of those who have not been as blessed as I have been.

This is why the events of today surprised me a little … or maybe a lot.

A couple of days ago in my blog post Stop Being Offended and Do Something, I made some observations about people who live in fear of taking action or who run around being offended by the actions of others but who choose not to take any action themselves to address that which offends them.

The blog made reference to a little experiment at our office this week.  In a meeting with my business partner, he happened to notice that I had vivid, pink nail polish on one thumb.  While I was trying to conduct a business meeting, he was quite distracted by my thumbnail.  Here is what ensued.

He looked at it several times with a light smile but said nothing although he was clearly distracted by it.

“You want to ask, don’t you?”, I said to him as I observed him.

“I do”, he said, smiling.

“Then ask”, I replied.

“Ok”, he said, “Why does the President of our company have a pink thumbnail?”

“Great question”, I replied, “Perhaps it is nice to be in touch with a softer side once in a while as we spend inordinate amounts of time being aggressive, assertive, Alpha males pretending to be kings of the universe as we make plans for our next conquest.  What do you think?”

He paused for a moment and then he smiled.

“I like it”, he replied.

“Me too”, I replied, “And besides, since when did I care what others think of what I say or do as long as what I do gets the job done and honors others?”

“I really like it”, he said.

An hour later, my small action was greeted with applause in the boardroom.

And then one of the guys at the office went out to buy a bottle of vivid, bright blue nail polish to give it a try.

After all, blue is our corporate color.

We agreed that we would leave our little experiment in play until the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the public reaction to my thumbnail, as noted in the other blog post, was also interesting.

Some examples:

  • It’s hot (or very hot)
  • It’s cool
  • I wonder how kinky he is
  • It’s neat that he’s in touch with his feminine self
  • It’s weird
  • Normal men don’t do that
  • **stare** / avert eyes when noticed / repeat (the cowardly passive-aggressive model)
  • **stare** / freeze in place (as I held out money to pay for something)
  • He’s probably a pedophile or some other type of sickie (from one mother to another as she moved her child closer to her in a coffee shop)
  • He’s gay
  • He’s “whipped”
  • **snickers / laughter**

That’s a lot of character analysis derived from a single, pink thumbnail.

So when I went to donate blood today (whole blood donation # 136), imagine my surprise when a member of the Canadian Blood Services team looked at my pink thumbnail, frowned, shook her head and said, “I prefer my men to be real men.”

I was shocked.

First of all, I was not “her” man nor do I appreciate being evaluated as a candidate to be one as implied by the comment.

Secondly, there is nothing about the color of a thumbnail that defines the nature of any person, regardless of whether we are measuring character, ethics, morals, values, contribution to society, beliefs, gender or anything else.

However, wearing that one pink thumbnail somehow meant that I had fallen beneath some standard defined by this individual.

I wonder where not being a woman (obviously) but being less than a “real man” left me.

The conversation that ensued is not worth repeating.

However, when it was observed that my blood pressure was a little elevated, I couldn’t help but think, “You are surprised after that conversation?”

Ironically, I was experiencing diminishing, insulting discrimination at the hands of a visible minority.

I could have reminded her that nail polish has been worn by male cultural, religious, business and government leaders for many millennia, including Pharaohs and other people.

I could have reminded her that “male polish” is now an in-thing, worn by business and political leaders, celebrities and many other heterosexual men.

I could have reminded her that at a time when Canadian Blood Services is actively trying to bring more people in to donate blood, insulting dedicated donors like me could cause me to stand up and walk out (possibly never returning).

I could have reminded her that walking out could cause any other donors there with me to walk out as well.

I could have reminded her that as a visible minority herself, receiving respect as a minority includes giving respect to other people.

I could have reminded her that a place to give blood is not the place to have your religious, political or cultural views imparted upon others.  I’m sure if I decided to tell her that I didn’t like her culture or race, I would have been thrown out (as I should have been).

But I was there to give blood, not go toe-to-toe with ignorant people.

I choose when and where to pick my fights and her ignorance will not go unnoticed.

Will going toe-to-toe with her or having her boss read a reprimand to her fix this person’s outlook?


But if we choose to not step up and respectfully but forcefully defend against discrimination, then we allow it to continue.

And if we allow it to continue in silence, we could be accused of condoning it, supporting it or even spreading it.  Our defense against such accusations would be weak since we didn’t take a stand when we could have.

The Bottom Line

Discrimination in the 21st century, where humanity has allegedly reached the pinnacle of knowledge and insight, is a reflection of ignorance.

If we don’t step up and do something about it when we witness it or receive it, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.  If we accept that people can be discriminated against, then we also accept that discrimination can be applied against us at some point if someone chooses to use it against us.

To think the world works any other way is a reflection of ignorance and is the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Are you willing to take a real stand against discrimination in any form it arrives?

If so, well done.

If not, you will have to accept it if it ever comes your way - you will have earned the ignorance that is being reflected karmically back in your direction.

Be a force for good and a positive role model for others.

Anything else qualifies you as a member of a group of people described by Lieutenant General David Morrison who noted, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

What do you choose to accept?

In service and servanthood – create a great day, because merely having one is too passive an experience.


Addendum: What If It Were Someone Else?

I have been reminded by quite a few people that what I experienced could be interpreted as a violation of the hate crime act in Canada.  I don't know the intricate workings of the act but the feedback caused me to wonder what would happen if someone else had been on the receiving end of the comments that I received.  It could create quite a bit of complexity for a lot of people.

At the end of the day, I was there to save lives and I will continue to be a proud blood donor and to collaborate with the great folks at the Blood Center.

I won't allow the ignorance of one miscreant to change my actions moving forward or change my perception of a great bunch of dedicated, professional, friendly staff.

Addendum 2 - A Followup - August 8, 2017

A colleague and friend of mine posted some questions (see comment section) that I believe are worthy of a response in the form of an addendum.  Here are the questions and my response.

The Question:

Thanks for the insightful post, Harry.  I was interested in your experiment from reading about it in your previous post.  You mentioned what other people's negative reactions were.  Were there any positive reactions (other than the one's from your team)? Also, do you think the nail polish had the intended effect of being a counter balance to your "alpha maleness"? Was this beneficial to decisions you made and interactions you had with others? Did your team members have any interesting experiences with it themselves?

My Response:

Thanks for your thoughtful questions, Nathan.  There were some positive reactions from many people although the gender divide was interesting (notwithstanding the fact that my data sample is small).

The majority of men seemed offended by it or rejected it although one praised it and said I should have done both hands completely and I was agressively solicited by a gay male.  While some women seemed offended by it, the vast majority seemed intrigued (even tittilated) by it and many praised it.

I was surprised by the reaction from men because we generally don't care if another man is heavily tattooed, pierced or has unusual hair / beard color but a man with a painted nail created a source of irritation or offense for many of them when it should have been irrelevant to them in their lives.

As for a counterbalance to my alpha maleness, I will offer this observation.  I have often claimed (and believed) that I don't care what people say and think about what I believe and do.  I learned through this experience that I needed to resynch this belief.  Men who do things like "walk a mile in her shoes" (where they wear women's shoes in a walk to raise awareness for women's abuse) do so with like-minded colleagues and so there is comfort in doing something "out of the norm" in the safety of numbers.  Doing it with a small team where one is often alone in public requires a different type of courage that REALLY struck me.

I became aware of people watching me / looking at me / trying to figure me out and I knew it was because of the nail.

I felt firsthand what it was like to be judged and categorized by others who had little if any data about who I was, what I do, how I do it, who I do it for and why I do it.

I actually wondered what they were thinking and as described in this post, I felt the sting of disapproval (which surprised me).

And there is the reality of the scale of such categorization with such an insignificant piece of data.

The sting also opened my eyes to something.  As I noted in my post, I am not a typical demographic for discrimination (although I was bullied in my youth) and while we can claim to defend those who feel discriminated against, we can't really understand it until we have felt it for ourselves.  This experience has humbled me and taught me a valuable lesson in what it feels like to be on the receiving end of something less than positive.

My team members have expressed similar experiences "in the wild" and one was even drawn into a loud, aggressive argument with someone.  He felt embarrassed afterwards that he allowed himself to be drawn into such an argument over something so unimportant but he felt that he needed to meet an aggressive evaluation with an equally aggressive response (which he acknowledged in hindsight as being incorrect).

We as a team and myself as an individual are still experiencing the lessons of humility and courage that developed out of this experiment.  As colleagues who study human motivation and behavior, this has provided some interesting insight that we may continue to experiment with - that remains to be seen.

I can't say that the experience has altered my alpha maleness in terms of diminishment of assertiveness and the like (which some people might assume from doing something associated with women).  However, it has heightened my sense of humility and courage to the point of needing to re-explore it.  Some of this humility also stems from an awareness of potential vulnerability, something easily lost amongst a group of men "conquering the universe".

It was also a learning experience for people who made comments to me about it.  As I explained to people who commented on it, for 5000 years, MEN of power painted their nails - emperors, pharaohs and the like.  Men in the Roman legion painted their nails red before battle.  Women were surprised to hear that this was a common male activity until recent history and so they learned something also.

This experience has given me some new insight that I will carry with me into my next venture which you are familiar with.

More thoughts to follow as they become coherent and useful.


  1. Thanks for the insightful post, Harry. I was interested in your experiment from reading about it in your previous post. You mentioned what other people's negative reactions were. Were there any positive reactions (other than the one's from your team)? Also, do you think the nail polish had the intended effect of being a counter balance to your "alpha maleness"? Was this beneficial to decisions you made and interactions you had with others? Did your team members have any interesting experiences with it themselves?

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful set of questions, Nathan. I have decided that a response was worthy of an addendum which you will note above.

      Create a great day, Nathan!

  2. This was an insightful read - thank you for the courage to share it. I had a similar experience when I donated blood in the Calgary clinic over the summer. A Chinese woman who screened me took offense to some of the piercings I had and told me that real men aren't pierced. My wife was angry and told me not to go back and so I am left with wondering if I should go back to save lives or if I will be harrassed some more.

    I wasn't sure if writing Canadian Blood Services was worth the effort. Did they ever respond to this blog post and if so, what did they say? Did they apologize?

    Thanks for the courage in sharing this.


    1. Thanks, R.

      Organizations need to be cognizant of the impact that ONE person can have regarding the public persona of their organization.

      As for the response to my blog, corporate apologized but I was told that an apology from the clinic where the incident occurred, if any, would depend on how busy the clinic is (intriguing - apologies from me are issued immediately and without excuse for delay).

      To date, I haven't heard a peep from them (months later).

      One must be careful when insulting a champion of an organization - also an important lesson here.

      Thanks for your note - create a great day!