Prejudice lurks within us all

In this posting I shall lay bare, for all to see, not only my embarrassing ignorance, but rank prejudice on my part. Blogs are a place for confession, right? A place where we honestly confront the demons we find within ourselves? Well, here goes:

My wife and daughter are flying home from Memphis as I type this. Well, not directly, of course — they’re going to Charlotte at the moment. Then they’ll come home.

Anyway, I took a moment from my work (which I shouldn’t have done: time management rule No. 1) to look up their itinerary on this laptop. I’m now regretting that action because I saw they are flying on something called an EMBRAER JET.

So I further wasted valuable time (I mean, what was I going to do with the information at this point?), by Googling that term, and was punished with a fresh dose of anxiety for doing so.

Turns out Embraer is a Brazilian aircraft maker.

I had no idea Brazil made jets. There’s the abysmal ignorance of the aircraft industry, which I obviously need to bone up on what with Vought Alenia and all that.

I was instantly uncomfortable that my wife and my little girl were — are — flying on a Brazilian jet. If they can’t fly on a Boeing, an Airbus would be OK. Or maybe something German — say, a Fokker. There’s the rank prejudice. And yes, I was instantly ashamed in addition to being uncomfortable. Quite a mix.

I couldn’t help thinking: I hope they didn’t make this one during Carnival.

I’ll say only one thing in my defense: This bigotry is not entirely my fault. Brazil doesn’t exactly market itself as a country full of engineers in white coats and hardhats, peering through safety goggles at the production process while checking off quality-control boxes on a clipboard (Oh, I suppose some ministry or other in Brasilia does try to sell this image, but I’ve missed the ads). Brazil markets itself as a place that knows how to party.

Hey, I used to live in South America — the Spanish-speaking parts, at least — and I still picture nearly nekkid beautiful women with towering feathery headdresses dancing in the streets if you say, "Rio." (Well, that and the statue of Jesus on top of Sugar Loaf. Now that’s an odd juxtaposition.)

Look, I’m sure they make fine jets. And the Brazilian people I actually know (as opposed to the ones I see in those pictures from Rio) would probably be at least as good at building aircraft as anyone else I know. This just took me by surprise, that’s all.

Tom Friedman’s right: The world is flattening out, and we’re all just going to have to get used to our loved ones flying on jets from countries we didn’t know made jets, and being OK with that.

Otherwise, we end up looking like the idiots who used to sneer at Toyotas back in the ’60s.

10 thoughts on “Prejudice lurks within us all

  1. Mike C

    Brazil also makes the gasoline engines for BMW’s current generation of the Mini.
    I think BMW was forced to move production of the gas engines for the next generation of the Mini, due to debut in 2007, out of Brazil because the Pope considers the tiny car to be a birth control device, but I may be wrong on that…

  2. Osvaldo Coelho

    Greetings from Tehran, Iran! Fokker is defunct Dutch aircraft maker. Not a German. Germany’s defunct aircraft maker is called Dornier.
    Both defunct because couldn’t compete with Embraer.
    Embraer (Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica S.A.) (NYSE: ERJ – News; Bovespa: EMBR3, EMBR4) is the world’s leading manufacturer of Commercial jets up to 110 seats with 35 years of experience in designing, developing, manufacturing, selling and providing after sales support to aircraft for the global Airline, Defense and Business jet markets. With headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, state of Sao Paulo, the Company has offices and customer service bases in the United States, France, Portugal, China and Singapore. Embraer is among Brazil’s leading exporting companies. As of June 30, 2005, Embraer had a total workforce of 16,878 people, and its firm order backlog totaled US$ 10.9 billion.

  3. chip atkinson

    I have one Brazilan client. My familiy is in the Home Theater and security business in Greensboro.
    I had a crew finishing a security job for this couple the day they were moving in their new home. My foreman called me, “Chip, you better get over here fast. Larry put his foot through the ceiling and this lady is screaming.” I had to ask, “Why is she so mad, we can fix that?” The foreman repllied, “I told her Larry was new and being trained, she flipped out.”
    I’ll admit, I expected to find a dark skinned, exotic family. I could not imagine why she would be so upset. Perhaps she had bad experiences with contractors in Brazil.
    The moment I pulled in to the driveway I knew this was no ordinary woman. She was a short, fair skinned blonde with a menacing scowl. I was never given the opportunity to introduce myself. “No way! This would never happen in Brazil! We don’t use trainees on beautiful homes! In Brazil, we use only the best workers on our homes. I thought America would be better…”
    On and on she went. Brazil this, Brazil that. I can’t remember a person (outside my family) finding and pushing my buttons faster. I called around, with this woman screaming in the background, and found an incredibly expensive painter who could also fix drywall. It was all I could do not to say something like, “This does’nt happen in Brazil, because grass huts don’t have sheetrock!”
    The rest of the story makes it all worthwhile. They fired us from finishing their theater room and hired a Brazillian crew out of Miami instead. How do I know about the Brazillian crew? They put their foot through the ceiling… twice…and had my painter friend fix the ceiling!

  4. kc

    Tom Friedman’s right: The world is flattening out, and we’re all just going to have to get used to our loved ones flying on jets from countries we didn’t know made jets, and being OK with that.
    Pretty soon, you may have to get used to a world in which Brazilians say, “Wait a minute, this car was made in the United States? I didn’t know those people were capable of constructing complex machines . . .”
    Have you seen this?
    WOODSTOCK, Ont. (CP) – Ontario workers are well-trained.
    That simple explanation was cited as a main reason why Toyota turned its back on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies offered from several American states in favour of building a second Ontario plant.
    Industry experts say Ontarians are easier and cheaper to train – helping make it more cost-efficient to train workers when the new Woodstock plant opens in 2008, 40 kilometres away from its skilled workforce in Cambridge.
    “The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States,” said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, whose members will see increased business with the new plant.

  5. Mike C

    KC –
    Gary Fedchun has denied making the remarks reported by the CBC.

    I never used the word “illiterate,” nor would I. I have been in this industry a long time. The use of diagrams and illustrations is common. I was horrified that my remarks were reported as they were.
    I have led four trade missions to the Southeastern United States. Several Canadian suppliers have set up plants there as a direct result of these trade missions. If I believed what the article implied, would I have done so? I think not.

    The southeast has done rather well in attracting foreign manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai have assembly plants in Alabama (link in PDF), accounting for 31,197 direct jobs and 55,477 indirect jobs in 2003. SC has BMW, and BMW is happy. And thank goodness for Mississippi – it grabbed a plant that Nissan was considering for Canada or Mexico (link in PDF).
    But does the original report seem biased in its characterization of Toyota’s motives? Another source which is quite reliable on auto issues, The Detroit News, reports that Toyota chose Ontario in part because of growing demand for SUVs in that region, and notes that Canada does subsidize health insurance costs.
    This story starts getting very interesting because the decision was apparently delayed because it’s been taking longer than expected for the government to acquire the land, with the owner of a 90-acre parcel refusing to sell. But a few days later it was reported that Oxford County had taken steps to expropriate the mall, the last parcel. No great loss, however, since the locals had taken to boycott the mall since it stood in the way of the Toyota deal. Shades of Kelo!
    The delay gave the Canadian government time to kick in a $55M sweetener on June 29th. That announcement followed a meeting the Canadian Prime Minister and Industry Minister had with Fujio Cho, President of Toyota Motor Corporation, in Tokyo, Japan, on January 19, 2005. Following this meeting, the company approached the provincial and federal governments to help support the project.
    The snarkiness started after the deal closed. Here’s another example from a Canadian automotive writer:

    Canadian industry insiders also like to point out that Ontario’s work force has a slight advantage in education, the slight advantage being while many workers in the southern states that were competing for the same factory often can’t even read, Ontario is spending millions training workers specifically for high-tech automotive industry jobs and the nearby Cambridge facility can contribute their expertise and training to help get Woodstock on line.

    “Industry experts” and “industry insiders” may have been celebrating with adult beverages.
    Yet despite Ontario’s success in attracting automotive business, the largest declines in Canadian employment the 12 months preceding June 2005 have been in wood, clothing, as well as in motor vehicle and parts manufacturing.

  6. Lee

    Prejudice is a survival mechanism. Prejudice against the unknown makes you stop and investigate, and think, before acting. You were ignorant of Brazil’s airplane industry, and were worried. Then you learned more, and felt safe. If you still learned more and remained prejudiced, that might indicate a character flaw, or an emotional problem.
    Just think of the American aerospace engineers who were too prejudiced for 40 years to go to Brazil and talk to the ex-Nazis who had built the first stealth aircraft, a bomber designed to deliver an atomic bomb into New York City in order to negotiate an end to World War II.

  7. Angelo

    hope you enjoyed your flight in one of our planes……
    Quality controller
    Embraer at FLL (Ft lauderdale airport)
    visit and check out the new “Phenons”..100 and 300….

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