Race, The Workplace, And Thinking Out Loud

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So I had interesting day a couple of days ago and thought I would post up on it, because I figure just like everyone else I don't always have the answers and just like everyone else I'm human especially when it comes to matters of race and racism and how I might deal with it - or the perception - in different areas of my life.

Online and offline I'm pretty much the same - somedays I think I have it, other days I don't. Sometimes I'm up for the fight and other times I let it go because it's just not worth it. I like to think that for the most part I balance out - that I find a middle ground where I'm comfortable in my decisions - it's not always easy and sometimes I have to go through a round of questions - but I at least like to think I get there.

On to my story.

Like most people I have a day job, and a couple days ago I happened to be in ear shot of someone saying something that I thought could be construed as - well - less than appropriate in regard to race - but I couldn't quite be sure. While there's a large part of me that says I heard what I heard - I wasn't - and still can't be 100% sure of what I heard.

I could have made a mistake.

But I still had two options.

One was to track the person down and say "A few minutes ago I could have sworn I heard you say..." and get into it - in fact - there was a large part of me that wanted too.

The other option was to simply let it go - because I wasn't 100% sure.

But what if what I heard was actually what was said?

How do you confront something that you have a feeling about? A gut feeling that 95% of the time is on, but has also been 5% off (where you've had to learn from it) - and do it in the workplace (because it's a different environment)?

Since I couldn't be 100% sure, but had that feeling that something just wasn't right, I decided to tackle it in a somewhat indirect way because I'm not going to get on down and be like "You racist MF" when I'm not 100% sure - because that's just not fair.

So here's what I did.

I don't see this person everyday, or even every week for that matter (they're in another department), but someone who I saw with them at the time is actually fairly close to me (at least within ear shot) and seems to kind of know them.

So the next day I pretended to have a conversation on my cell when that person close to me was at their desk, and the conversation I had with myself went something like this:

"Hey man what's up - yeah - just checking in, I need a break - so how's the day?..............Are you serious?.......seriously? That's insane........you know - this is your call, but I would just take that to HR because that's definitely crossing the line........I mean I can't believe someone would say something so incredibly racist - what was the conversation before that.....what?......oh yeah....totally....yeah - definitely cool down, have a smoke, chill, and just make sure you're cool first you know.......definitely......yeah let me know.....totally......yeah, call me later, I'll be around."

While I think I pulled this off pretty good, maybe it wasn't quite as good as it sounds now, but I figure this accomplished two simple things.

1. Anyone within ear shot now knows that I don't mind saying the phrases "incredibly racist" and "take it to HR". Even though I work in a fairly diverse workplace, it just gives anyone who might have listened to the conversation a little heads up to just think a little before they might say anything that's less than appropriate for the workplace.

2. If indeed I heard what I heard, I'm hoping my "conversation" gets back to the person who said what I think they did (even though I'll never be quite sure) because in the end, most people who say racist things are kind of scared of losing their jobs (for the most part), and just like the people in ear shot that were around me, puts the person on a notice.

And if I was wrong?

No harm was really done, and while you might not do the same thing, I just felt like I needed to do something to satisfy that gut feeling I had, because with it, I just couldn't sit and do nothing, I had to do something even if it was just talking to myself.