March 29, 2002

Commentary

Government’s Racial/Ethnic Profiling Extends to the Post Office:

Hispanic Discrimination Revealed in Packaging

By Glenn Gutmacher

Are you concerned about possible racial and ethnic profiling by police, in stores and elsewhere? It’s more pervasive than you think: it also extends in a subtle way right to the U.S. Postal Service.

Have you ever bothered to read the back of the Tyvek® envelopes produced and supplied by the USPS to send Priority and Express Mail packages? This is what it says (the only difference is the word “Priority” is replaced by “Express” on the latter):

“This packaging is the property of the U.S. Postal Service and is provided solely for use in sending Priority Mail. Misuse may be a violation of federal law.”

That is immediately followed by a Spanish translation: “Este embalaje es propiedad del Servicio Postal de los Estados Unidos y se proporciona solo para el envio de correo Priority. El maltrato intencional constituye infracciones del codigo penal federal.”

However, only the first sentence is an exact translation. The second sentence translates to: “The intentional misuse constitutes infractions of the federal penal code.” That alternate translation was a conscious choice, as it is no shorter than what the length of an exact translation would have run.

So what’s the problem? The implication is that if native English speakers misuse the package, it might be a problem, but it might just be an honest mistake and that’s OK. However, Hispanics aren’t given the benefit of the doubt. If you only speak Spanish, all you’re being told by the Post Office is effectively: “If you’re Hispanic and misuse the package, we suspect you’re doing it intentionally and so you’ve violated federal law.”

Subtle? Perhaps. But it would have been easily detected and corrected by any Spanish-speaking human resource professional or executive sensitive to public relations matters. It appears that the Post Office could use a few more Hispanics in such positions. Unfortunately, their professional/senior management structure parallels many large organizations, where Hispanics make up a significant percentage of the workforce, but an insignificant percentage at the professional levels we’re talking about.

The good news is that this is slowly changing. The annual Hispanic Business Corporate Elite directory, published in HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine’s January/February 2002 issue, showed an increase of 43 percent over last year’s directory in the number of senior Hispanic executives, from 651 to 928 executives, and the 162 corporations represented on this year’s list is five percent greater than 2001’s total of 155 firms. Maybe the USPS can hire someone like these executives to oversee their communications and eliminate gaffes like this going forward.

Glenn Gutmacher is president of Recruiting-Online.com, Inc., in Norton, Mass., and has a particular interest in diversity recruiting issues. Gutmacher can be reached at: glenn@recruiting-online.com

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