Monday, 8 December 2008

Under the Rader

Years ago, I worked - for the grand total of a day and 3/4, as I walked out mid-shift - in telesales, flogging protective wall coating that could probably double as a biological weapon to doddering old women, harassed parents trying to put their kids to bed, and people whom we believed to be soft in the head, but in possession of a valid debit or credit card.

Just kidding. About the biological weapon bit. Everything else is gospel truth. Anyway...

When I was recruited, I was conscious, if somewhat uncaring, of the fact that I had been recruited because I had/have what can be defined as a 'neutral' accent. 'British' base, but without any regional undertones. Clear 'Nigerian' inflections, but not so much as to allow anyone other than an expert to identify it as 'Nigerian' - not that there is any such thing as a Nigerian accent, but that's another matter altogether - or even, heaven forbid, 'African'. A couple of West Africans, clearly more confident and competent in thinking/talking on their feet, but with more pronounced regional accents, failed to make the cut after the initial 'audition'. I did.

If I had any scruples, this probably should have bothered me a little, but I needed the money and pushed my reservations to the back of my mind.

My boss was a Jewish guy from the area - this was in Edgware, North West London. We'll call him Haim.

Haim was a nice enough chap, very smooth talker, and was reputed to be the highest earner in the firm - we were paid (or rather, they were paid, since I walked before I was entitled to even a brass farthing) a minuscule salary and hefty commission.

After I lost my fifth - or fiftieth? - lead in a row, Haim suggests that I listen in on one of his calls to see how it was done.

The guy was a marvel. By the time he had finished, the dowager he was speaking too had invited him over for tea, never mind the fact that he had just sold her £400 worth of bio-terrorism. But what struck me was that he introduced himself to her as 'Jeremy'.

I had to ask him. Wouldn't you?

He shrugged. 'They're not going to buy anything from a Jew, are they?'

We Blacks, generally, are more occupied with the discrimination - real and imaginary - that we face ourselves in our daily lives, and I don't think that before this conversation I had ever contemplated anti-Semitism in anything other than the most abstract of terms. (Oh, this was long, long before I met the Feminist Mrs Goy). I was surprised, about his fears and his response, and said as much.

He grimaced. 'That's the way of the world.' And went off to make some more sales.

What made me think of this?

This morning, I recieved a call from a call centre here in Tel Aviv Central, someone trying to flog me something or the other. I was happy enough to practice my infantile Hebrew, but the person at the other end soon got fed up and indicated that he'd get an English speaker to call me back.

Sure enough, some fellow calls back a minute or two later, chap called Gilad. or Ehud. I forget. Good, masculine Hebrew name, anyway. Also broad mid-western American accent. One could almost picture the cornfields and long hot summers skinny dipping in the river in his voice.

We chat for a bit, the conversation comes to an end, and I want to make a record of it - in case I need to raise Cain about someone trying to rip me off in the future. So I ask him for his name again.


'But I thought you said your name was...Ehud?'

His sigh was palpable. He explains, slowly, hesitantly, that when he tries to make sales in Hebrew, the moment he tells the potential customer his 'American' name, the sale is as good as lost.

Prejudice is an odd thing, no?

I have work to do. Have a good day.


MMM said...

Interesting post.
There is no accounting for the myriad, perverse and unexpected places from which prejudices emerge.
As for whether blacks are really more pre-occupied with discrimination than Jews with anti-semitism, I'd say that statement really is open to debate - just depends on the circles in which you move and what conversations you are privy too.

Goy said...

I meant that we - black people - are more pre-occupied with discrimination directed towards black people that with anti-Semitism.