• Revd Kirsten Birkett

Christ is the answer

Recently, I read an account written by a young woman, describing an encounter with her company’s boss, at a yearly company dinner. The boss was making an effort to go around every table and talk to everyone. At her table, he struck up a conversation about the cricket with three men who were there; in the course of this, he turned to her and asked her opinion. She stammered that she wasn’t much of a sports follower, and he went back to his conversation. She criticised herself for being so hopeless; then started reflecting about exclusion and power politics, and the subtle, deeply engrained nature of oppression. And sexism. And racism, given her particular background.

Fair enough. The woman, it appears, was indeed disadvantaged compared to the men at her table, when it came to making a favourable impression with the boss (and she wrote about it insightfully). But that could equally have happened, at any time, to a white middleclass man who happened not to like, or follow, cricket.

One of the main differences between the situations is what the man might do about it. He might have recognised it and been secretly annoyed, even bitterly furious. He might have learned about cricket so he could talk about it and so blend in, and seen this as a necessary suffering for the sake of his job. He could have even embraced this as a positive tactic for getting ahead (I can well imagine ‘get to know about your boss’s hobbies’ as a recommendation in a book called ‘How to Win Promotions’.) But most likely he would just have to suffer it. He most likely wouldn’t have written an article about oppression and intersectionality as a result.

It is wrong to be partial in your dealings with people, especially if you are in a position of power over them. It’s wrong to be friendlier, and give more advantages, only to those who are like you. In the workplace, that was never a legal issue until there were people there not like the norm, whatever that is. In the professional world of the West, it pretty much means people who are not white middle class men. Now, there are laws preventing unfair discrimination against those who differ from that, in a range of ways.