Dealing With Offensive Remarks At Work

I am a middle-aged white female who works in a retail setting with colleagues whose skin tones are every color imaginable. I respect my co-workers, and they respect me.

Our company generally does whatever makes the customer happy. But this is the South, and because I am white, other white people think I am a safe place for their coded racist remarks. Yesterday, a customer remarked to me that she had to move to a city up north because, “when you have a very pale, blond, blue-eyed daughter, you have to get her out of [our diversely populated city], if you know what I mean.”

It caught me completely off-guard, and she breezed away before I could process what she said. I stood there with my mouth hanging open and just let it happen. I looked at the face of the young girl I was working with, who has brown skin, and I was ashamed I didn’t defend her. I need my job, but this has to stop. I want to make a stand, but how can I confront covert racism on the company dime? – Not at Liberty to Speak


Sadly, many of us if not all of has  encounter moments like the one above., I had to present this one to my students and ask, “What would you do?” They are future social workers a profession built on social justice. I want them to ask themselves  what point do we speak up, and what’s the best way to communicate our beliefs? If we remain silent, how do we cope with the feeling that we are betraying our values?

As social workers, we are often faced with a very diverse population. I have found that honesty works best to shut downs one’s racism. For example saying, “I am sorry, but that makes me uncomfortable” has left many to stop and ponder. If I feel a person is going to want to argue with me, I go Amy’s route of ignorance “I don’t understand what you’re getting at?” My students’ answers were varied from “I would just act like I didn’t hear them” “Oh, I will hit them with the RBF (resting bitch face.)” Many of them said, “I would call them out, you know challenge them. I believe heated emotions often produce the least useful responses. “When people feel that they have to speak up in the moment and they aren’t comfortable doing so, they do it badly,”  I applauded them, as the conversation of race needs to be discussed, but there is a place and a time for that. The middle of a department store is often not the best milieu for such conversation, unless someone is refusing to provide one service. I, however, agree with Carolyn “Whatever makes the customer happy” does not translate simplistically into “Ignore customers’ racist remarks.” How have you reacted to racism? I have suggest my students read  Mary C. Gentile,  Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right  

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11 Responses to Dealing With Offensive Remarks At Work

  1. I have experienced such comments in relation to both racism and sexism. The annoying thing really is the expected collusion. I am ashamed to say I haven’t always responded well enough, although I have never colluded

    Liked by 1 person

    • msw blog says:

      Thank you for sharing this story with me. How we overcome the things we overcome in life is always by something much larger than us, or what I like to call the Grace of God. It also never ceases to amaze me the people who come along on our journey to assist us. In your case your parents, neighbors, and nursery.

      As far as the young man at the store who turned his nose up at charity, I applaud you for setting him straight. I know you follow my blog, and perhaps know I have started to check the bargain bin thanks to a kind stranger. In short, I get some looks that clearly say “You are stealing from the poor”, or if I shop after my morning run the looks say, “Poor you”. How we all must continue to educate those around us and learn from one another. I look forward to reading your other links in the post when more time permits.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gail Kaufman says:

    I don’t think one-on-one confrontations go anywhere positive, especially in the scenario you described. Someone comfortable enough to say that out loud, assuming consensus because of the color of your skin, has deep-seated beliefs that another person could not even dent. Prejudice needs to be addressed on a much higher level through education from birth and through role modeling. This is why the president’s remarks are so damaging. Just think, children heard or read his words. Those with computers and smartphones can’t be shielded by their parents from the news. Racists will play back those obscene remarks to their children to support their teachings. As those children grow up, the vicious cycle continues, leading to remarks like you heard from that woman. No words, facial expression or physical reproach will change a mindset like that. Sad but true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • msw blog says:

      Thank you for reading and so many valid points. I am a optimistic and like to think when you know better you do better that is why I always do my best to simply lead by example as hope has to start somewhere….


  3. I’ve gotten myself into a few little scenes 🙂 as I won’t shut my mouth…not always wise 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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