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Upstairs? 明升暗降

中国日报网 2020-06-09 13:59


Reader question:

Please explain “upstairs” in the expression “kicked upstairs”.

My comments:

First of all, “kicked upstairs” is euphemism for getting rid of someone by way of promotion instead of demotion.

Or downright firing and letting go.

Upstairs? Well, you know, CEOs and managers in all organizations tend to be stationed on the upper floors of a building whereas average employees occupy the ground floor. This is almost always true in factories. While workers toil in the hot workshop, managers get to stay in the top floors of an air-conditioned office building overlooking vast workshops down below. Well, this is true in at least some places. Was true in the not distant past at any rate.

At any rate, to kick someone upstairs is to give them a promotion but it’s really a demotion in disguise. To the person who gets kicked (Ouch! See, it’s not a good feeling to be kicked in the normal sense), moving upstairs may be considered a step up the proverbial ladder. But very soon they’ll find themselves marooned and exiled, like, workless, friendless and suffering alone.

In Japan, they call people who get promoted this way the sitting-by-the-window tribe. They are exactly the same people who are kicked upstairs in the West. You know, they’re undesirable people, incompetent or difficult in some way or just generally annoying but you cannot fire them due to one reason or another. They, for example, may have been in the place for a long time or they may be a relative of someone in the high place. So you give them a promotion so that they can comfortably sit alone in the swivel chair in a room upstairs and while away their life. That way, they will no longer cause trouble for anyone in any way.

In Japan, of course, they’re always assigned a desk by the window – so that they can look out of the window during office hours – hence the idea of the “by-the-window” tribe.

They are given no clear responsibilities and have no subordinates. Therefore, they can peacefully look outside and look forward to retirement and the rest of the staff gets to have some peace, too.

All right?

Here are media examples of “upstairs”, representing management or leaders, as in contrast to rank and file workers, or ordinary members of an organization:

1. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home affairs minister, and the former wife of South African president Jacob Zuma, was elected chair of the African Union commission.

Her former husband exulted that her election would empower women in Africa. Zuma knows a thing about empowering women - he has 4 wives.

She is the first woman to occupy the post. The African Union overcame inner divisions and rivalries to finally break a deadlock and elect the South African candidate.

The fact that a South African won was a precedent for the union. Up to now, the union has elected representatives of smaller states within the continent due to the competition between South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria over who will lead the continent. Each of the 3 countries is hoping that with an expansion of the number of permanent members on the Security Council, it could claim the African seat.

It was to South Africa’s advantage that both Egypt and Nigeria were preoccupied by internal problems: Egypt had the standoff between the Muslim brotherhood and the generals, while Nigeria is contending with Moslem terrorism targeting both churches and government symbols.

Dlamini-Zuma is the first person to occupy the post from southern Africa. She defeated Jean Ping of Gabon, who enjoyed the support of Nigeria and Egypt. Erastus Mwencha, a Kenyan, was elected vice-chairman and this also broke a tradition, as now both top positions will be held by members of Anglophone states. It was previously a custom that the top 2 jobs would be divided between an Anglophone and a Francophone.

Ping lost support when he accused Zuma of running a country that is dominated by foreigners. The economies of most African countries are permeated by foreign interests. Some African states accused South Africa of arrogance and lording it over the poorer states.

Dlamini-Zuma will have to take these feelings into account when she tries to repair the damage caused by the split over policy in the Ivory Coast and Libya.

The 63-year-old chair is a doctor by profession. She became an activist of the African National Congress in the apartheid days and after the first free elections in South Africa, she became Minister of Health in the cabinet of Nelson Mandela. She later became associated with Jacob Zuma's rival in the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, and resigned from the cabinet when Mbeki was ousted from the leadership of the ANC by her former husband.

As Dlamini-Zuma has been suggested as a candidate for president of South Africa on a few occasions, kicking her upstairs to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa rids Jacob Zuma of a possible rival in his reelection bid.

- Dlamini Zuma Breaks A Few Traditions In Victory, IsraelNationalNews.com, July 17, 2012.

2. In January 1968, during Vietnam’s Tet holiday, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas launched an offensive that ended in a disastrous military defeat for the Communists, but the extensiveness and strength of their attacks reverberated in the U.S. with dispiriting aftershocks that would ultimately give America’s enemy all the territory it had failed to win during Tet.

This is how it happened:

In the summer of 1967, frustrated with the stalemate on the battlefield and concerned about the aggressive American tactics during the previous year, Communist leaders in Hanoi decided to strike a decisive blow against the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies. Their new campaign was designed to break the stalemate with a “general offensive” that would hit sites throughout South Vietnam, including previously untouched urban centers, and achieve three objectives: Provoke a “general uprising” among the South’s population, shatter the South Vietnamese armed forces and convince the Americans that the war was unwinnable.

The Communists prepared for the offensive with a massive buildup of troops and equipment in the South. They also initiated diversionary attacks against remote outposts to lure U.S. forces into the countryside, away from the targeted population areas.

After some premature attacks on Jan. 30, the offensive began in earnest in the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 1968. About 84,000 NVA and VC troops took advantage of the cease-fire customary during the Lunar New Year celebration, called Tet in Vietnam, to mount more than 150 simultaneous assaults in the South. Many South Vietnamese troops were on holiday leave, and the Communist forces initially enjoyed widespread success. Within days, however, most of the attacks in the smaller towns and hamlets were turned back. Heavy fighting, however, continued at some places in almost all of South Vietnam’s regions, including Saigon, and subsequent phases of the offensive would extend into the early fall months of 1968.

Gen. William Westmoreland, the top general in South Vietnam as head of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, declared in a statement on Feb. 6 that “the enemy’s treacherous military and terrorist offensive has failed to attain its objective, for which he has paid, and will continue to pay, a tremendous price.” Westmoreland seemed to be saying that the failed Communist attacks represented the “last gasp” of a losing cause.

Americans stunned by the scope and ferocity of the offensive, however, saw not a victorious military but a government that had misled them about allied progress in the war. In November 1967, Westmoreland had raised expectations when he said that Americans were winning the war. What people watched on their television sets every night during the Tet Offensive said otherwise.

In the wake of Tet, the media took an increasingly unfavorable view of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s policy in Vietnam, and news reports during and after Tet had a significant impact on already downward-trending public opinion. The extensive media coverage enabled the American public to see for itself the bloodshed and devastation wrought by the fighting. The pictures from Vietnam made it clear that America’s foe remained much stronger than the politicians and generals had led people to believe.

Walter Cronkite, the anchorman for “CBS Evening News” and perhaps the most trusted journalist in the nation, flew to South Vietnam in mid-February and visited Hue, where the battle still raged. In a special half-hour report after his return to the United States in late February, Cronkite told his audience: “To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion….It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate….It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

Cronkite’s broadcast had a significant impact on Johnson. It has been reported that the president remarked, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.” There is no authoritative proof that Johnson uttered those words, but they nonetheless are close to the truth because Cronkite clearly reflected the widespread dissatisfaction with the administration’s policies. Previously, journalists had generally accepted the optimistic reports of military and government authorities, but like many other Americans, they were shocked by the bloody fighting and the ability of the Communists to launch such a broad offensive.

Johnson’s policies were also under attack in Congress. Democratic Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York claimed that Tet had “finally shattered the mask of optical illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves.” But it was a Republican senator, George Aiken of Vermont, who expressed the view of many in Congress when he said, “If this is a failure, I hope the Viet Cong never have a major success.”

The president’s poll numbers plummeted. By late February 1968 surveys showed that only 32 percent of Americans endorsed Johnson’s handling of the war, down from 51 percent in November 1967.


On Sunday, March 31, Johnson spoke to the American people in a nationally televised broadcast. He said the Tet Offensive had been a failure for the Communists, but he did not offer any optimistic predictions. Instead, the president announced a halt to the bombing raids in North Vietnam except for an area north of the Demilitarized Zone and called upon North Vietnamese leaders to join the United States in peace talks. And at the end of the speech Johnson paused and said: “With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the presidency of your country.” Then he stunned his listeners: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” The Vietnam War had finally destroyed Johnson’s presidency.

In June 1968, Westmoreland, who had commanded MACV for 4½ years, was brought home and promoted to U.S. Army chief of staff. Johnson had made the decision to replace Westmoreland with his deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams, in mid-January before the Tet attacks, but the delayed announcement enabled Westmoreland’s critics to maintain that the president had become disenchanted with the general for reasons related to Tet and “kicked him upstairs.”

In the aftermath of the Tet Offensive and Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, the United States became embroiled in a bitter election campaign. Former Vice President Richard Nixon received the Republican nomination for the presidency and implied that he had a “secret plan” to end the war if elected. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party splintered over the war issue. McCarthy and Kennedy won most of the presidential primaries. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who did not compete in the primaries, entered the race in April with Johnson’s support. Kennedy was assassinated in June after winning the California primary, and Humphrey won the nomination in August at a chaotic Chicago convention marred by bloody street battles between anti-war protesters and local police. Humphrey was too closely identified with Johnson’s failed policies in Vietnam to unite his party, and Nixon won the Nov. 5 election. He was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1969. Vietnam was now Nixon’s war.

- This Was the Vietnam War’s Decisive Event, HistoryNet.com, February 2018.

3. Over the past nine years, I’ve played for four different NFL franchises.

And on four different teams, in four different cities, working out of four different buildings, I’ve noticed a similar divide: There’s upstairs, where the coaches, general managers and scouts have their offices, and downstairs, where you’ll find the locker rooms and the players.

Now the difference between upstairs and downstairs isn’t just management vs. labor — not if you’re a black player. The best way to put it is that, if you’re a black player in an NFL locker room, then you know that upstairs isn’t exactly a place where you feel welcome. And statistically speaking, the reason why is obvious.

In our league, 70% of the players are black. But “upstairs,” among the 32 NFL franchises, there are just three black coaches, two black general managers, two black offensive coordinators and no black majority owners.

This of course isn’t a new phenomenon. And it’s also not unique to the NFL. Among the 130 FBS college football programs, there are just 13 black coaches. Personally speaking, I’ve been playing football since I was in middle school — 19 years — and in that time, I’ve never had a black head coach. And I know many of my peers have had the same experience.

If you’re a football fan, there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of the Rooney Rule. Introduced in December 2002, the rule dictates that NFL teams must interview at least one minority candidate before filling their head-coaching vacancies. The first season after the rule went into effect there were three black coaches in the NFL. If that number sounds familiar, it’s because, yes, it’s the exact same number of black coaches as are in the league today.

Initially, many people thought the Rooney Rule was a success. By 2006 the number of African American coaches had steadily risen to seven and that same season, both teams in the Super Bowl were coached by black men. History was made. But the success of these black coaches didn’t lead to a trend of more teams hiring African–Americans. In fact, the exact opposite happened. The number of black head coaches topped out at eight and then declined all the way down to the three we have today. Ultimately, the same biases that led to dismal hiring in the first place won out.

So given that, it’s fair to say the Rooney Rule has been a failure. In a tacit acknowledgement of this fact, the NFL implemented a few incremental changes to the rule in the weeks following this year’s draft. One of the proposals (which was eventually tabled) included incentivizing teams with improved draft positions if they hired and retained a minority head coach or general manager. It was the logic behind this particular recommendation that really bothered me. It wasn’t just ineffective but in my view it contributed to the underlying problem itself.

The issue is clearly the perception that black people aren’t smart enough, skilled enough, or don’t have the leadership skills necessary to be the head coach of a football team. Studies have found that black head coaches outperform their white counterparts — averaging 2.6 more wins in their first season, and 1.2 more wins in seasons where they were eventually fired. Essentially, based on the data, hiring a black coach isn’t a handicap at all — and certainly not an action that should be rewarded with a superior draft position. They perform better and are more likely to be fired — and that’s something that reflects a certain bias among those making the hiring decisions at the very top of these organizations. It’s a bias that might be unconscious, but it’s palpable, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand.


The hiring practices of the NFL trickle down to lower levels of football. The League has an influence on our culture as a whole. If there’s going to be change, this is the perfect place to start.

Systemic racism does exist all around us. It’s usually not easy to see — and sometimes obfuscated with meaningless “rules” — but if you ask the right people and have a willingness to listen, you’ll definitely hear about it. Listening and learning is the first step to change.

And if we continue to work toward breaking some of these systems, then maybe, one day soon, upstairs and downstairs will just be different floors in a building.

- Upstairs and Downstairs, by Sam Acho, MSN.com, July 5, 2020.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Have a platform? 有话语权


Getting his bearings? 找到方向感


Taking one's lumps? 默默忍受


Before hand? 事先


No contest? 毫无争议


Lift the curtain? 揭露

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