Case Analysis of “The Road to Hell”

Pat Artz & Timur Muinov

MBA 633 Winter Evening Term 2001-2002

Bellevue University

Description of the Case

The case “Road to Hell” by Gareth Evans is a story of two characters with different backgrounds, personalities and points of view and how these two characters interact.  John Baker is a successful western chief engineer of the Barracania’s branch of a multinational company.  In the case it is mentioned that John Baker is an English expatriate, so we assume that he is white, possibly born in Canada. 

Baker thinks he has an edge in working in a foreign country because he has experience in understanding a regional staff’s psychology and knowing exactly how to get along with locals.  Baker has been working to prepare Matt Rennalls to be his successor in the chief engineer’s position.  Rennalls, on the other hand, is a young engineer who represents the new generation of patriotic, well-educated Barracania’s professionals.  His four years as a student at London University made him especially sensitive to political, racial and equality issues involving relations between his culture and western influence.  

The last meeting between two case characters ended up in a disaster.   Instead of accepting the chief engineer position, Matt turns in his resignation, insulted by John’s farewell interview and advice.  This incident not only leaves Baker puzzled about what he might have said wrong, but also puts the future of the company’s relations with its regional staff and authorities in jeopardy.

Diagnosis

This case is one of many examples of how people from different cultures and backgrounds do not take diversity into consideration.  They evaluate and measure each other by their own scales and perceptions, which often lead to serious misunderstanding and conflicts. 

Baker knew a lot about Matt's political views, racial issues sensitivity and intolerance to any discrimination of value of his country and people in the world arena.  However, he still made a mistake building his interview from his own (European) perspective.  Baker gave some historical and personal suggestions that were not meant to be offensive.  However, from Matt's point of view, the suggestions were totally inappropriate.  Through the interview, Baker emphasized several times the importance and leading position of European staff in the company.  In the effort to teach Rennalls to better cooperate with this leadership, Baker even offered a historical example.  He put European culture on a pedestal of 300 years of development and left Barracania at the bottom of the human history. 

In our opinion, Baker is a racist, even though he would be stunned by this conclusion. Unintentional and unconscious motivations for behavior are as powerful as intentional and conscious behavior.  We will offer a theory to support this diagnosis.  Baker was not intentionally behaving as a racist, but an old saying rings true:  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Critical Race Theory

            “…one must not look for the gross and obvious.  The subtle, cumulative miniassault is the substance of today’s racism…” (Pierce, as cited in Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).

            John Baker, when viewed from the perspective of the critical race theory (CRT), is a racist.  Matthew Rennalls was correct in his assessment of the interview between Baker and Rennalls, and the resignation of Rennalls was completely understandable when viewed from the perspective of CRT.

            I (Pat Artz) am a white American with a Norwegian and Irish background.  Most white Americans, including myself, are accustomed to viewing race relations as a civil rights issue.  If someone at work says the word “discrimination,” then we want to know what policies were violated, what laws were broken, what actions need to be taken, and what lawsuits do we need to worry about.  One of our Discussion Boards features a question about employees who might be reluctant to fly or work in tall buildings, and the discussion almost immediately turned to contracts, lawyers, and possible firings or resignations. 

Coming from a different background (Central Asian/ Uzbek), I (Timur Muinov) confirm that both European and American societies have many laws classifying discrimination and racial issues and putting out legal consequences for violating them.   Actually reading about those laws and knowing of their existence were comforting for me when coming to this country and actually living for six years.  I always felt protected against any mistreatment based on my race or a slightly darker color of skin.  However, as we learn from this case, racism can come in many forms and shapes that cannot always be covered by law.  That is why we want to examine the actions of Baker and Rennall from a perspective other than the dominant, white, legalistic approach.  CRT provides an excellent model for this examination.

            Also, we want to confront Baker’s behavior as racism pure and simple.  In our opinion, Baker is hopelessly and completely wrong.  He did everything but pat Rennalls on the head and call him a credit to his race.  We wanted to find a theory that supported our initial evaluation of the case, and Pat found CRT, which provides the theoretical framework.  Hey, Baker might be a nice guy in many other respects, and he might have had wonderful intentions in talking with Rennalls, but wonderful intentions are not enough if those intentions stem from a racist orientation.

In spite of the fact that world’s societies have made substantial progress in eliminating racism from both community and work place, multiple surveys show that racism is still a serious issue.  For instance, the public opinion poll by Gallup Organization revealed that 50% of surveyed believe that racial minorities in US don’t have equal job opportunities with non-Hispanic whites (Gallup Organization, 2001).  Another survey by Harris Interactive reports 51% surveyed think that minorities have too little power influencing government policy, politicians and policy makers in Washington (Harris Interactive, 2001).  So, racism still exists but how is it defined?      

Definitions of terms are always important, but especially with an emotionally, historically, and politically charged term such as racism.  The word racism has many meanings to many different people.  For the purposes of this analysis, racism is when:

1.      One group believes itself to be superior

2.      That group has the power to carry out racist behavior

3.      Racism affects multiple groups (Solorzano, et al, 2000)

 

According to the professional literature, CRT developed in legal studies in the early 1990s.  However, it has broadened its base from its earlier legal scholarship to include the fields of sociology, history, ethnic studies, and women’s studies.  The basic CRT model has five elements.  They are:

  1. The central nature of race and racism
  2. A challenge to dominant ideology
  3. A commitment to social justice
  4. The central nature of knowledge that comes from experience
  5. An interdisciplinary perspective (Solorzano, et al, 2000)

 

Let’s take the five elements of CRT that are listed above to examine “The Road to Hell.” First, we can see from the resignation letter that race is central to the case.  Second, it seems obvious that the resignation of Rennalls is a challenge to the dominant corporate culture of the Caribbean Bauxite Company.  The country of Barracania is newly independent, Rennalls has political connections, and bauxite is a key resource for the country.  Third, Rennalls seems committed to social justice.  He could have had a political career as a nationalist, but he chose to work in industry as a more effective way to help his country.  Fourth, Rennalls' resignation letter reinforces the centrality of knowledge from experience.  He does not quote economic theories or sociological conclusions.  It is a direct, personal, real-life conflict between two people.  Fifth, this is a great case study because it allows an interdisciplinary approach.

In short, this case study fits remarkably well with the five basic elements of the CRT model.  Unfortunately, this short analysis does not permit the full exploration of all five elements of CRT.  A look at one of the basic elements will have to suffice.  Let’s explore the first aspect in more detail.  In CRT, race is a central theme, and this central theme takes on four dimensions:

1.      It has micro and macro elements

2.      It has institutional and individual forms

3.      It has conscious and unconscious elements

4.      It has a cumulative impact on both an individual and groups (Solorzano & Yosso, 2001)

 

How does our case study match up with these four dimensions?  First, the micro element is clear.  Baker and Rennalls have a serious problem.  The macro elements are present also.  Barracania is a former colony, and Baker is from a Commonwealth country.  Second, both Baker and Rennalls work for the same institution, so that dimension can be added as we build our CRT model.  Third, racism can be conscious or unconscious.  I am sure that the Baker’s of the world are absolutely shocked when someone calls them racist.  Also, Rennalls’ change in attitude after living in London can probably be attributed to raising his racial awareness from an unconscious to a conscious level.  Fourth, the unexpected and explosive impact of Rennalls’ resignation can be explained as the result of an accumulation of racial incidents.  Racism does not have to rise to the level of a court case.  The small stuff adds up and wears a person down.  Rennalls simply had had enough.

In short, all four dimensions of the CRT emphasis on the centrality of race are present in the case study.  As a personal note, I (Pat) can testify to the unconscious nature of racism.  I spent a week in Dublin, Ireland.  I stayed in a small bed and breakfast and felt completely safe during my week.  At my next tourist stop, the folks in Galway told me that I had just spent a week in the most dangerous neighborhood in Dublin (no wonder the room was so cheap).  I did not think of myself as in danger, and I did not see people in the neighborhood as a threat.  Why not?  My humbling answer to myself is that everyone around me was white, so I felt safe.  It did not occur to me to consider that an all-white neighborhood could be dangerous.  That was the beginnings of my belief that most racism today is unconscious.

One more interesting aspect of CRT is the emphasis on microaggressions.  One definition of microaggressions is, “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’ of blacks by offenders.”  (Pierce, as cited in Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).  Baker believes that it was Rennalls’ repressed sense of race consciousness the prevented a close relationship between the two men.  CRT offers an alternative explanation.  Baker is a racist, and his racism was evident to Rennalls in a series of microaggressions that ultimately resulted in the resignation of Rennalls.

Prescription:  Diversity Audits

One solution in the business world to problems involving diversity is a diversity audit, which is described by Lin Grensing-Pophal in a recent issue of HRMagazine (2001). 

Ideally, companies want to use diversity to increase productivity and increase profits.  However, at a minimum, companies want to avoid legal problems.  Lawsuits related to discrimination are on the rise, and the chances of plaintiffs winning a case are also on the rise.  The average settlement is $221, 612, and plaintiffs win 72% of the cases brought to court.

In a diversity audit, an audit team visits a company site and conducts one-on-one interviews with employees.  The team spends several days at a site and interviews about 10% of the employees.  The interviews are confidential.  Feedback from the audit is provided to the management at the site and to senior management of the company.

The arguments in favor of a diversity audit are that it allows employees to speak confidentially about discrimination issues before the issues rise to the level of a lawsuit.  The interviews avoid some of the superficiality associated with surveys.  Also, diversity should be enhancing productivity.  If it is not, then the results of an effective audit can be used to increase productivity (Grensing-Pophal, 2001).

Fallout 

Some arguments against a diversity audit are legal.  Can confidentiality be maintained if a lawsuit arises?  Could the information be used in a discrimination lawsuit?  Don’t discrimination complaints need to be acted upon rather than audited?  These are serious questions for the legal advisors to companies.  Many people are leery of putting complaints related to diversity on paper because the information could be used later in legal cases.  Confidentiality would not offer protection from a court order to release the contents of a diversity audit.  Other legal advisors point out that a confidential audit is risky, but the risks of trying to ignore problems related to diversity are even greater.

Other arguments against audits are at the managerial level.  Does a good manager really need an audit?  Won’t an audit raise unreasonable employee expectations of quick solutions?  Some companies are unenthusiastic about a diversity audit because it is seen as risky.  If problems are uncovered, then action needs to be taken, and diversity problems are a difficult to confront and resolve (Grensing-Pophal, 2001). 

In our opinion, Continental Ore, as the parent company of Caribbean Bauxite Company, should do a diversity audit.  It is always difficult for multinational corporations to keep tabs on its operations, and an audit is a good way to get into a site and get a good, solid picture of what is going on.  Caribbean Bauxite may be in danger of being nationalized by the newly independent Barracania, so confidentiality and discrimination lawsuits are lesser worries.

Summary

The case "Road to Hell" by Gareth Evans made us reevaluate our views towards racism issues in modern society.  Often enough these issues can not be fully covered by standard legalistic approach and need a deeper research to prove that racism has been a cause of the major problem within a community, organization or a whole society. CRT has helped us justify our position that unintentional racism by John Baker caused the conflict within the organization and resignation of one of the key employees, Matt Rennalls.   We used three characteristics of racism in the analysis of the characters' behavior including:

  1. One group believes itself to be superior
  2. That group has the power to carry out racist behavior

3.      Racism affects multiple groups (Solorzano, et al, 2000)

 

and found that all five elements of CTR could be applied to this case study:

 

1.      The central nature of race and racism

2.      A challenge to dominant ideology

3.      A commitment to social justice

4.      The central nature of knowledge that comes from experience

5.      An interdisciplinary perspective (Solorzano, et al, 2000)

 

The central nature of race and racism element seemed to have most application to the racism problem in the organization described in the "Road to Hell".

As shown by this case study, racism is a serious issue which organizations should be aware of and use all possible methods to prevent racism driven conflicts from happening.  One of the options is performing periodic diversity audits.  While this method can be effective, some matters such as legal consequences and validity should be evaluated. 


References

Gallup Organization, Gallup Poll. Public Opinion Online (June 29, 2001). Copyright 2001 Roper Center at University of Connecticut.  Retrieved December 3, 2001, from Lexus-Nexus Academic Universe.  

Grensing-Pophal, L. (2001).  A balancing act on diversity audits.  HRMagazine, 46, 11, 87.  Retrieved November 30, 2001 from ProQuest Direct database.

Harris Interactive, Harris Poll. Public Opinion Online (May 16, 2001). Copyright 2001 Roper Center at University of Connecticut.  Retrieved December 3, 2001, from Lexus-Nexus Academic Universe.  

Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., &Yosso, T. (2000).  Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate:  The experiences of African American college students.  The Journal of Negro Education, 69, 60-73.  Retrieved November 30, 2001 from ProQuest Direct database.

Solorzano, D. & Yosso, T. (2001).  From racial stereotyping and deficit discourse toward a critical race theory in teacher education.  Multicultural Education, 9, 2-8.  Retrieved November 30, 2001 from ProQuest Direct database.