My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

There’s no HR friendly or PC way to tell this story and fortunately no one was harmed in the making of this incredibly awkward exchange…

My father has been in this country for over 30 years, but there is only so much nuance and cultural literacy one can own in the absence of having not been born and raised in this country. And even then, many people still either choose to, are not exposed to, or find it difficult to understand how various races and cultures operate linguistically.

That’s enough of a preface, so boom:

My father and a white employee of ours were working hard in moving a shipment of oxygen tanks to the basement of our previous office. This was hard work. They were both up and down stairs carrying these cylinders that are heavy and that you also have to take care not to bang up. Our employee was working their ass off and my father was really impressed.

While they are up and down, I’m minding the phone lines. And as they are working I can hear their conversation both because I have the ears of a demigod but also because the walls were paper thin. All of a sudden I hear my father say, “Wow you are a really hardworking redneck!” To which she responded with a laugh.

I just…

After the panic subsided I immediately pulled my father aside for a hushed conversation and told him to never use the word again. He was shocked! He said he thought it was a compliment. And sure the denotation of the word is based on the premise that when a white person is working hard outside, and their neck is exposed to the sun, it gets red. The connotation is what gets us in trouble. I had to parallel the use of the n-word; because while not nearly as offensive, the same rules apply. If you’re not of that race, just don’t use it. Put in that context he felt horrible and said he would make it right.

I then heard him approach the co-worker and ask her if the term he used was appropriate for the circumstance because he wasn’t sure. He mentioned that all his white friends used it, so he thought he could too. She went on to tell him that she used it all the time and it was okay that he used it. But, that sometimes people may get offended. But she wasn’t. He apologized and said that he did not know the term could be offensive and that he really wanted just to convey how much he admired her strength. She laughed and said that there was no issue.

She came to me laughing and began to tell me the story so I too could have a good laugh. I acted as if I knew nothing and then made sure she saw that I was mortified. I immediately apologized to her and told her that he probably didn’t understand the meaning behind the use of the term.

In a way, I can’t blame my father. When you are black and an immigrant, and you come to a country like America; is there much that can verbally harm white people? In a nation built for the gain of whites, what stones can you throw to dent their exterior? The reality is that white people in America have never been slaves, subjugated, or maligned. There is no white subaltern voice in America because they have always maintained hegemony. The language reflects this. The language of the colonizer, unless dismantled or altered, will always inherently favor them. This is why the employee laughed, because ultimately what’s a redneck to a nigger?

In any case, this serves as a beautiful example of immigrant acculturation. There’s only so much our environment can afford us, outside of seeking that information ourselves. We still laugh about the whole thing. And fortunately, my father can now avoid such a faux pas in the future.

Advertisements

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

Inevitably, when working with your family, there are going to be cringe worthy moments of either complete embarrassment or disaster. Before embarking on joining my father, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate as far as our work relationship was concerned. Would he be a totalitarian and dictate to me how he wanted things? Are we going to fight over every important decision? Will we think likeminded and maintain professionalism? How would our work and home life balance?

Suffice to say, working with my father has probably been the easiest part of this experience. We discuss and analyze options and directions logically and try to maintain compassion for our customers/patients without getting personal or taking anything to heart. This doesn’t mean faux paxs and mild arguments don’t occur. Sometimes we do take work home and to the dinner table. There have been times I haven’t spoken to him and vice versa at home, but upon entering the office doors, we resume communication. But really, he’s probably the easiest person I’ve ever worked with.

Honestly, the best anecdotes are the funny or embarrassing ones. The very first incident being the story behind this post title; which I think I may turn into a series where I compile all the embarrassing, cringeworthy, and/or funny moments I’ve experienced working with my father.

For around the first two years of my joining the business, it was only my father and myself. We did everything. From my scrubbing the toilet to interviewing hires, to him visiting his patients to going to business meetings; it was just us two keeping the ship afloat. As such, the environment was more familial than professional. I got used to yelling across the office, “Hey Baba, did you get a chance to…” or, “Baba, I thought we were going to…” In turn he’d respond or call for me by my full name: Kalkidan. It was, after all, just us.

As business grew we made our first hire. This person has come to be an important part of our team, but at the time was simply an employee who was neither kin or kinfolk. Simply put: she’s a white woman. Okay? So, she joins our team and we begin to build our workflow and rhythm for our day-to-day. Well, one morning she knocks on the door to come in for the day and my father opens it. All of a sudden I hear her say, “Hi Baba, thanks for opening the door.” Maaan. We definitely had a good laugh.

I no longer call my father Baba in the office, but by his first name. And because my full first name is not used by Americanas, he started calling me, “Kallie”. There is a lot of intimacy in language and this was a lesson we both had to learn for the sake of professionalism. Not that my full name is unprofessional, or that my father should not be called endearingly, but that the way you communicate with one at home is not for your professional world to be invited to. If you can’t pronounce Kalkidan, don’t try because I’m not amused. And don’t call my father Baba, because he ain’t your daddy.