Dealing with casual bullying/racism at work?
January 27, 2013 6:23 PM Subscribe
I'd appreciate your advice on dealing with what seems to me racist joking/bantering at work -- particularly when it's directed at me. This is my first white-collar job since moving to North America, and I think this kind of "joking around" is unacceptable but this office's culture seems to tolerate it.
posted by papafrita to work & money (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Some context: A couple of years ago we were forced to leave quite suddenly our country due to violence targeted at our children. My wife tells me I am still grieving the loss of what we left back home -- extended family, our careers, our home and even status -- which may help explain why I am in no mood for people cracking jokes at my background's expense.
After working a few odd jobs I found an office job in my field, although at a junior level and with below-average pay. But I was happy to take it because with foreign credentials and experience white-collar jobs are hard to come by. It's a high-stress environment and there is a lot of aggressiveness in office interactions, which may shed some light on my situation. I've done my best to steer clear of office politics and just worked my butt off, which paid off since I was very quickly promoted.
The problem: There is a guy (younger than me) in my new team who has been giving me a hard time since joining them, and lately has been taking to say bullying remarks just to get a reaction out of me. He plays the political game: he pretends to be a team player, sucking up to the right people -- while at the same time elbowing me out of a couple of projects. We were instructed to work together in a new fancy project, which may be the cause of his recent verbal abuse escalation. (My gut tells me he feels threatened by me: I've shown to be more experienced and knowledgeable on what we do, and he probably has a hard time accepting that the foreigner from the country with the name he can't pronounce may just do a better job than him.)
My relationship with my boss is conflicted -- on one hand he's a gregarious, funny and generous gentleman, fair to me in work dealings and well-liked... but he's also sort of a "lovable rascal" who prides himself in his off-color jokes and politically incorrect teasing. As much as I like my boss, he is part of the problem: his un-PC kidding makes my coworker feel it's okay to troll me (and only me) with demeaning comments making fun of my nationality.
At first when these guys started with the teasing comments a few months ago I thought "okay they're just hazing me I'll just pretend I don't care and they'll stop eventually". It's actually only gotten worse. Like many (all?) introverts I avoid confrontation, but it's gotten to the point where I need to do something or else I won't be able to continue working there. Which is a source of much anxiety because I dread the options available: Quit, which isn't an option with a family to support in a strange land where my foreign credentials/experience aren't worth much... Or put my foot down and make this shit stop.
To give just one example of what I mean: Once I was joking in a self-deprecating way with some guys from another team about a silly mistake I'd made (and fixed), and this coworker butted into the conversation to say something to the effect of "lol must be because of your ____ background huh?", throwing me a provoking look as if to say "u mad bro?" I was offended, and challenged him to repeat himself but he just pretended not to hear as he slinked away. Disrespectful stuff like this happens a few times a week btw.
As I am still fairly new to North American work culture, I'd like to ask you what is the best way for me to handle this? Should I write this guy a short professional email, focusing on the need for respect if we're going to work as a team.. Or should I pull him away to talk to him about it? Should I involve my boss in either the email or the talk? (I don't know how supportive my boss will be, considering that he himself usually makes similar jokes about everyone, albeit in an "aw shucks" manner which comes off more teasing than mean or humiliating). Alas, HR is not an option atm. And yes probably the best thing would be to find a new workplace, but for a newcomer like me that takes serious time and effort; this is something I plan on doing but in the meantime I need to deal with the situation right now.
[And finally, am I being oversensitive? I ask myself, What if my black friend tells me that his coworkers taunt him when he makes an everyday mistake with "Must be because of your black background lol"? I would tell him that's racist and unfair, and that he shouldn't stand for that treatment. Well, looks like it's time to stand up for myself. It's unfair and infuriating that I even need to deal with this bullshit but here we are. On a final note, there is no other place where I would feel safe sharing any of this. Mefi is the one place on the net or IRL where I feel like I "belong" among like-minded, sensible people, and I highly value your input.]
Apologies for the wall of text. I tried to stick to the more relevant details of a long story.. if you have any questions please ask. Thank you for reading and thanks for any input.