January 2020 Issue Number 234
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
I hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Now available! On
the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda
F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women
firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available
from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.
Fire-Rescue International will take place in Phoenix, AZ August 19-21, 2020.
Women in Fire will hold an international conference in Spokane, WA September 23-26, 2020.
Ignorance is No Excuse
A white fire lieutenant in Mississippi recently resigned after being disciplined for keeping a noose in his locker at work. The noose had been in the locker for some time and was clearly visible when the locker door was open. Two African-American firefighters were alarmed when they saw it and shared that feeling with others, along with a photo of the noose. A confrontation then occurred between the officer and the firefighters. The fire officer claimed he had no idea that the noose would be offensive to anyone and that he would have taken it home if he had known.
While I can accept that the fire lieutenant might have had no personal malice associated with the noose, how can anyone, but especially someone who grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi-- a city with a majority black population and one where a number of lynchings took place historically-- how could that person seriously say he didn't know that a noose might be offensive to someone?
The lieutenant defended himself by saying that for him the noose symbolized America’s lawless wild-west culture, where cowboy vigilantes meted out rough justice. He said, "You know, I'm a cowboy. I'm out in the country. I ride a tractor every day." He later said, "Anything could be offensive. But unless it's brought to my attention, which it never was till after the fact, then how do I know?"
That's like saying-- well, any word can be offensive to someone, so if I say the n-word, that's just words and it doesn't matter unless you tell me that you might be offended by it.
There are some words and some symbols that are clearly and generally accepted as being offensive to many people, and thus inappropriate in the workplace. It doesn't matter what the intention is behind them. Everyone should know that, but for someone who grew up in a place where racial violence was rampant, that knowledge should be second-nature. And for someone in a position of leadership to excuse himself in this way is beyond belief.
This matter does bring up the issue of overall leadership and organizational culture. This officer had 22 years on the job. He had been promoted. He was from the area. How could he still be so clueless? The City Attorney's comments at the disciplinary hearing were not encouraging in terms of the larger example. He said he could understand why the officer did not understand the noose's symbolism since "he didn't grow up African American."
Source: Associated Press, November 30, 2019