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Cam Marston on Watching His Words

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When the Zoom webinar began Wednesday morning, I was very nervous. My contact for the meeting told me repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the broadcast that her company – a Fortune 500 international bank – was very in tune with diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she said, “are a big deal around here, Cam. I mean a real big deal.” And she didn’t say it to me once, she said it at least a half dozen times in the two weeks leading up to the webinar. The first time she said it, I said, “OK.” The second time she said it, I said, “Ok, I understand.” The third through sixth time I got the impression she was giving me a message that she couldn’t outright say. And that’s when I started getting nervous.

Though I didn’t ask her about it because I’m sure she’d deny it, I’m pretty sure what she was saying was “Cam, you’re a middle-aged white male from the south. Be careful. There are people in my company who enjoy feasting on people like you who unwittingly say something and get clobbered.” Again, I have no way to prove this but that’s the message I think she was sending.

And when my image popped up on 1000 computer screen across the world, they saw a middle- aged white guy trying to teach them something. And baby, I was so careful about everything I said. I bet I was only about 75 percent as effective at what I was doing because 25% of my efficacy was lost to fear and analyzing every word I said so very carefully. I couldn’t throw my thoughts into how to help them solve their problems due to having to think so much about analyzing my words so carefully.

A Black friend of mine told me that whenever he’s around white people he feels like he has to behave perfectly. He can’t be himself. Businesswomen tell me they feel like they have to be twice as smart and twice as effective as men to be taken seriously. And I’m sure the LGBTQ+ community - I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what the plus means – feel that they have to put on some sort of façade or veneer, too. And, man, it’s a shame, isn’t it?

After this Zoom call experience, I think I’m beginning to understand how women and so many different minority communities have had to behave in the workplace for a long long time. It’s not a challenge a white male like me has historically ever had to deal with or, much less, hardly acknowledge. And…I’m beginning to get it. I’m beginning to see their point. At least I think I do.

The good news is I’m learning. The other good news is that there are some things that are indeed universal. Like telling a good gas joke – they always get a laugh.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.