Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm not racist but

This week my "there are no inherent differences caused by race" stance has been highly threatened by my "there are some cultures I just don't like" position. I nearly blogged about it a few days ago, but the nag in my head was telling me it wasn't bloggable.

So it's been on the back burner for days, trying to work out what my experience was actually telling me. After interacting with a help desk in India, it took my rational mind some extended wrestling to kick the "All Indians are morons" conclusion (A) out of my head. Academically I knew that was bullshit, but I dealt with 5 or 6 Indians - all of whom were incapable of doing their jobs (and not as a result of language issues). I then dealt with one person in the UK, who knew what he was talking about and got results.

So, given that stupid, racist conclusion A wasn't viable, what can I really say? Well my stats course is ringing in my head with the line "from the population from which the sample was drawn". So, "All Indians employed by company X are morons, when compared with Brits employed by company X." (B)

Yes, I am happy with conclusion B. It is accurate, from a statistical point of view*. However, social commentary it ain't. What is this telling me that is meaningful? I ask myself, why would company X employ morons in India and competent people in the UK? Surely this can't be good for business.

And then reality finally dawned. Company X's clients expect conclusion A. Company X doesn't have to spend money on good people in India, they can just rely on the racism of their clients to have very low expectations.

But company X is based in the UK. They have to spend money on good people there. You can't have people thinking Brits are morons.

And so the racist feedback loop continues. And it is really hard, when you are just trying to get a job done, to look deeper than the frustration caused by an inept person on the other end of the phone.

So when I get the chance to have a bitch about the standard of the help desk, I'll be asking why they don't employ good people in India, like they do in the UK. I will not be duped into blaming the Indian help desk.

Although I may still swear about the incompetence every time I deal with them.

After all, Bigpond's help desk is proof positive that you can staff a help desk with morons anywhere in the world.

*I am assuming significance, this is a blog, not a stats assignment :)


  1. I think you might be on to something here....

  2. Could it be a language thing, maybe? I'm guessing they speak fluent English, but maybe their English isn't as fluent as we imagine. Maybe things come out wrong?

    I also think there are cultural issues.

    What's accepted and polite in one culture might not be polite in another culture.

    Yeah. Who knows.

  3. @Dina No, it's not a language thing. The stuff they failed to do could be done in their own language. They did have to interface with Chinese speakers, but I'm guessing the guy in the UK doesn't have any better Cantonese than the guys in India.

    You are right about cultural issues, there are plenty of those - Hence my "there are some cultures I just don't don't like" position. But culture doesn't make you stupid. It can make a simple procedure turn into a massive production (Japanese). It can cause completely unnecessary offense (Australian). It can make saying "No" taboo (most of Asia). But it doesn't make you incapable of understanding fault finding techniques.

  4. Just started reading your Journal, interesting read.

    Just a thought on this issue, what's to say the person in the UK wasn't an Indian as well? ;)

  5. Hi Special K, thanks.

    And yes, indeed, there is absolutely no reason why the person in the UK couldn't have been Indian, further making my knee-jerk conclusion A truly stupid. He just didn't *sound* Indian and therefore didn't trigger the stereotype response. :)