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How to Deal With Racism in the Workplace

Most offices are a place of very large diversity- as they should be. In one room or department there are workers of different sex, race, age, religion, sexual orientation and more. While modern companies, universities and businesses pride themselves on being diverse, so many varying perspectives on life can create some trouble when you put all of these people in the same room and expect them to work together.

Although a good portion of people don’t want to admit it, racism and discrimination still take place today. In fact, they are still pretty big issues. Of course, we have made leaps and bounds since the school of thought from the past, but we still have a long way to go. One of the areas we see people struggling with racism a lot is in the workplace. This is unfortunate since this is where most of us spend the majority of our day. When someone faces racism in the workplace, it can really start to take a toll on their work, their health and their overall attitude.

You might be wondering how there is any room for racism in the workplace to begin with. After all, there are many laws put in place to combat and deal with this directly. However, racism in the workplace is often times not overt, but is hidden under the guise of jokes or unfair treatment of certain individuals. In fact, the person delivering the racism may not even really know that they are making racist comments or making the other person uncomfortable or upset. That is why it is so important to have good communication in the office. If a coworker or manager of yours is making you feel uncomfortable or hurts you with words they use, then be sure to tell them right away. Rob from HR might think it’s lighthearted and funny to make fun of how Sara from IT chooses not to eat pork because of her religion, but Sara might not find it to be quite as funny. She may laugh it off as though it doesn’t bother her, but deep down she may be seething.

What’s worse is that if Sara doesn’t address Rob right away, it’s likely that he will crack another joke since Sara never said anything about it. The jokes continue and Sara continues to feel angry, hurt and discriminated against. “Why am I being pinpointed because of my life choices? Why is Rob ridiculing me in front of other coworkers?” This can breed resentment and even hate in the workplace. The sad thing about a lot of racist instances in the workplace is that they stem from pure ignorance. Some people may think it’s funny to joke about others that are different from them or follow different rules, but the fact of that matter is it’s not funny at all. Say what you want around your own friends and family, but in the office you need to censor yourself. If you are one of those people that make offhand jokes about someone’s life choices or differences, then you should check yourself right away because you may find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit. No joke.

So, how can we deal with racism in the workplace? First off, no one should have to “deal” with it. What we want to say here is how do we “combat” racism in the workplace, and nip it in the butt from the get go?

1. Be Part of the Solution
We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, right? As a member of the office and a coworker, you have a good deal of power. If you are not the one dealing with racist issues firsthand, then make sure you are doing what you can to combat it. If there is someone in your office that makes racist jokes and claims they are “lighthearted” and have no malicious intent, don’t laugh. When people make these kinds of jokes, they’re looking for attention and a laugh from fellow coworkers. Don’t participate. Instead, pretend like you have no idea what they’re talking about or that you just simply don’t understand the joke. A good blog post I read recently from Penelope Trunk suggested asking this particular person to explain the joke. Of course, they won’t be able to explain it without bringing up the racist subject line and right there you’ve caught them in a trap. This combats the issue without causing a direct confrontation.

2. Discuss the Issue First
If you experience racism in the workplace, before you go to the HR department to take action against this person try and talk with them first. As stated earlier, they may not be aware of the fact that they are hurting you. By addressing the issue right off the bat, you have told this person that what they are saying is wrong and that it is actually bothering you. By saying nothing you are, in a way, encouraging this person to continue.

3. Go to Your Boss/Manager/Supervisor
If addressing the issue doesn’t seem to work and you have made a true attempt to tell this person how they are offending you, then it is time to take action. No one should have to “deal” with racism in the workplace and this person needs to be told that what they are doing is absolutely wrong and perhaps illegal.

No matter what the degree, racism is racism and there is no place for it in the workplace- or anywhere really. Be sure you yourself are not engaging in this inappropriate behavior and check those around you.

SOURCE: Penelope Trunk
IMAGE: Courtesy of Youth Voices

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter