Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Picturing Discrimination

Only young white females need apply. (Photo: El Espectador)

Wanted to hire: 'Female medical surgeon with diploma....
                           From 25 to 35 years of age, white skin.
                           Personal interview with Dr. Guarin, July 22 at 10 a.m.'

This shamelessly racist classified ad was published recently in a newspaper in Cali, a mostly Afro city. Dr. Guarin has deservedly received lots of criticism for his overt racism. The clinic where he rented his office disowned him, and I suspect he'll be facing lawsuits.
Would you hire these people? Resumés with
photos make it easy to select applicants by race,
age and appearance.

But Dr. Guarin is not only a bigot, but also stupid. After all, Colombian employment practices make employment discrimination of every kind perfectly easy - and covert.

Why didn't Dr. Guarin just call for all applicants to send him their resumés - and then toss into the trash all those whose photos showed they didn't have 'white skin'? (I'm not saying he should have done such an ugly thing, which would also have been stupid, since he'd be reducing his own pool of applicants.)

The Colombian practice of including photos on CVs has always seemed to me not only pointless, but also an open door to discrimination of every kind: by age, sex, ethnicity and attractiveness.

Not long ago, researchers at Los Andes University in Bogotá sent out a bunch of resumé's with identical qualifications and experience, but accompanied by photos of applicants of different races. Surprise, surprise: those resumés with photos of black applicants received fewer calls for interviews.

The contrast with the United States, which seems obsessed with stamping out discrimination, couldn't be greater. There, if you were a member of your high school's black/Jewish/gay/Christian etc Student Union you're supposed to leave it off just in case it might give you an unfair advantage or disadvantage with the employer. Require applicants to include their photos, and every civil rights organization, as well as the federal government, would have you in court in no time.

It's a measure of what a hot-button race is that the public uproar was all about skin tone. After all, in his tiny ad, Dr. Guarin also discriminated by gender (he specified that the surgeon be female) and by age. Such discrimination is routine in Colombian businesses, and taken for granted. Is it illegal?

I have no idea about Dr. Guarin's medical abilities. But, judging by this ad, he's a lousy businessman. After all, by restricting applicants by age, gender and race, he's excluding most potential applicants, likely eliminating his best potential employee.

It all makes one wonder whether Dr. Guarin's motives for hiring only a young woman were something other than professional.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


chiefstingy said...

Wait this surprises you? I applied for a job in bogota for a graphic design position. The position said that they wanted people under 25 and so many years of experience. I fit the bil for experience but was 10 years over the age qualification. When they called me for an interview they wondering about how I had all the experience. I told them my age. They did not call me back after.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I remember flipping through resumes during my brief, and hopefully last flirtation with the Colombian workplace. Some of the stuff these guys would put on their resumes was pretty amazing. Almost every resume had a headshot on the front page, and many included details that were totally irrelevant in regards to their ability to do the job (civil status, children, etc).

Yeah, racism is pretty rife here in Colombia. I don't think they have ever really taken a good hard look at it for many reasons. The primary reason being that Colombia, as a country, has no history of institutionalized racism. Therefore, many people can deny the existence of it outright, because it has never been an official policy. I've even heard wealthy Colombians deny it altogether (even though their only interactions with a black or indian person comes from the help).

I was on the TransMilenio the other day, and a black guy from Providencia was rapping for money. One of the white Colombian passengers began to yell and go on a tirade about how lazy, dangerous, and generally worthless he thought black people were. Of course everyone on the bus just did what the people in Bogota do. Very much similar to how the issue of racism is addressed here, they just looked at the ground and pretended that they didn't see anything. I've also heard a few taxi drivers blame rising crime rates on newly arrived afro Colombians from the Choco.

There is a false narrative that permeates Colombian society, and a real disconnect in terms of how Colombians see themselves and how things really are. I think rather than confront problematic social issues such as racism, many of them just put up a wall in order to not disrupt whatever fantasy they live in. Rather than deal with the glaring issues at hand, they just pretend like they don't exist in the first place. There are some hard truths that Colombia will have to deal with if it is ever going to progress as country and take it's place alongside the big boys. Unfortunately, I don't see much going on in the way of meaningful self criticism.

Miguel said...

I agree that people here often just shut their eyes to uncomfortable problems. But do they do the same thing other places? I've lived for so long in Latin America that it's hard for me to judge whether people would act differently in the U.S.

Yes, it's true that Colombia didn't have institutionalized racism - since the end of slavery, at least. However, I hear less overt kinds of racism, such as comments about 'people from the Caribbean coast' being all this way, and it just so happens that those people are overwhelmingly Afro.

As for hiring discrimination, I guess that if people want to act stupidly, it's hard to stop them - especially in a country where the law is a relative thing.