Wednesday 13 October 2010

colour blind....

As you might imagine, as part of the normal ebbs and flows of life in a big office, there has been a fair amount of staff turnover since I left at the end of January. Most of the people I worked with are still there, but several aren't, and (as often seems to be the case around the time of a restructuring) the office also seems to be filled with lots of new people on contracts for specific pieces of work.  I was introduced to one such new chap the other day, and we hastily set up a meeting to discuss something of profound importance to the future of the business, the country and quite possibly to the future of capitalism itself.*

*or not.

As the hour of our meeting approached, I wandered casually over to roughly the area of the office where I though this chap’s desk was, and hovered behind him as he tapped away at an email on his laptop.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, turning slightly in his seat, “did we have a meeting? I’ll be with you in a second.”

....and as he said this, it dawned on me that this wasn’t the chap I was supposed to be meeting at all, but someone else who looked a little like him. Just at that moment of realisation, the guy I was meeting rescued me by coming over and taking me off to a table for our chat.

All perfectly understandable. An honest mistake that could happen to anyone etc. No harm done. After all, it’s easy enough to mistake someone you’ve only briefly met for someone else who sits in about the same part of the office, right?

Except... except.... the guy I was supposed to be meeting is black. The guy whose desk I had mistakenly stood behind is also black. They sit almost next to each other, they are of a similar height, and build and they both wear glasses. They look similar. Everyone made light of it, but I had an uncomfortable sense that we’d just shared a “...but you all look the same!” moment.

“It’s okay,” said the guy I was meeting, clapping his colleague across the back, “everyone thinks we could be brothers!” He then gestured at a black lady sitting just over the way. “At least you didn’t mistake me for her!”

Hahaha. Oh shit.

It was an honest mistake, but I thought it was probably wise to smile, apologise and head off quickly to our meeting. There was nothing else I could say that wouldn’t dig the hole even deeper than it already was.

I’ll get my coat.


  1. I did something similar last week: a student (Chinese) was acting up at one of the computers, so I went over and said [NAME!!]... he smirked and quieted down a little. About 15-20 minutes later, noise from the same computer. I walked over and said [NAME!!!!!!!] - only it wasn't him, it was another student, this time Korean. Same grade, nearly the same haircut and that day similar clothing.

    We (the Korean and I) have since made a joke of it (I get to call him Not-Name), but it did shake me a little!

  2. Awkward, indeed.

    I suppose this is the bonus of working at a small office where it's impossible to mistake anyone for anyone else, eh?

  3. Ouch. I think you handled it in the best possible way.

  4. Be that as it may, if you ever call me P.Lo.....


  5. Des - you taught me a very important lesson when I was 13 years old, and I've never forgotten it.