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Fighting for equality in the 1990s in Phoenix, Arizona

People who know me know that I'm a believer in equality. I am a follower of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that we should judge someone based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And interesting enough, I fell into a category that a lot of people didn't consider worthy of that equality, a male Anglo-Saxon straight man. And it's how people have treated me that I have judged the content of their character. Because there are things you can't change, the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation. And if those things are held against you, especially in your career, it's horrible.

My career started in the 1980s in Los Angeles, in the era of quotas. A "quota" meant that a manager had to hire people based on race, and gender. As a white guy, I knew that I wasn't going to fill any quotas, and it made me nervous. Yes, things have gotten better, but back then this was a road being built with best intentions that had unintended results. Instead of creating equality, it polarized. Nowadays, of course, managers can't say things like "I've filled my quota, so now I can hire you", but that's what I heard when I got the job in LA. And then there were the memos that the managers would get that said that they couldn't hire, or promote, anyone of my gender or race. Yes, I know that's not what was intended, but that was the effect.

When I lost the job in Los Angeles, and returned to Phoenix, I brought my "non-quota filling self" to job interviews. I heard of people who were digging up information about their family so they could include some type of minority on their resume. I had none - I was a white guy, and besides, I didn't believe in that kind of stuff.

I brought my intolerance of degradation of people based on race and gender to the workplace. As a Graphic Designer I resented working on things that were gender-and-race specific. If someone decided that my race and gender were things to be made fun of, I politely asked for them to stop. I got the same reactions over and over - "Come on, lighten up."

When new brochures for the company I worked for needed to be designed after 1992, my boss asked me to look through the stock photos to see if I could find something that corporate would approve. What they wanted was diversity, and the stock photos didn't have that. It seemed to puzzle the people I worked for, and I volunteered to art-direct photos for the brochures. The models were all fellow-employees that I knew, and I selected all kinds of people - white people, black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, Indian people. The brochures often needed to show couples, and I would match people up. I wasn't allowed to do mixed-race couples (I did ask), but I did as much as I could. Looking back now, it doesn't seem like much, but back then it was very progressive, especially for Arizona.

I still fight for equality, and I still judge people based on the content of their character. And I'm afraid that some people are just stinkers, I know. But many people just don't realize what equality means, and I have hope for the future.

Image at the top of this post: A representative of a white male in a brochure that I did in the 1990s, Phoenix, Arizona. That's me.

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