Racist statements at work
February 22, 2017 6:25 PM   Subscribe

What would you do if you saw or heard someone at work making racists comments to himself? He wasn't directing those comments at anyone specific, he was sitting by himself talking to himself.
posted by pieceofcake to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"You may not realize this, but we can hear you, Bob."
posted by phunniemee at 6:34 PM on February 22, 2017 [44 favorites]

I would probably say "What did you say??" and look kind of pissed, letting him know that a) people can hear him and b) what he said is not acceptable.
posted by zem at 6:34 PM on February 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is something his superior should probably take up with him, especially if there's any chance at all that this guy has Tourette syndrome or a similar condition.
posted by kindall at 6:50 PM on February 22, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yeah, I would either assume that he a) had an earpiece/mouthpiece that I couldn't see or b) had a mental condition. In either case, the loud "Excuse me?" would be the thing to do. And a word to HR.

Tourette's outbursts often have a distinctive sound, as if the bad words are being punched or wrung out of people.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2017

Is it possible he's talking to himself benignly but saying an unfortunate homophone in a different language? For instance, I think Cantonese and Korean both have words that essentially mean "yours" but sound like "nih ga", which is pretty awkward in some contexts.

If after considering other languages it still seems likely to be a racist term (and even if he has Tourette's), I think a rather incredulous "What did you say?!" is good- lets him explain if it's anything other than an actual slur.

After that mini-convo, if you still think it's a slur, get it documented with HR. It's not cool.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Quietly: 'Everything OK, Bob? It is? It's just that I thought you say [x].'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sitting by himself talking to himself is sufficient for me to be concerned enough to talk to his supervisor. "This is a little odd but I see Bob sitting there and he's by himself and he said x. I'm concerned."
posted by fixedgear at 6:06 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had a co-worker who, when frustrated, would direct homophobic-slurs at his computer. The first time it happened I was stunned and said nothing. When it happened again another co-worker and I talked to him about appropriate workplace language.

When he protested that he wasn't directing it at anyone and didn't mean anything by it, we pointed out to him that we had LGBT co-workers on our floor, within earshot, and regardless of his intent they shouldn't be subjected to hearing that sort of language. (This resulted in him exclaiming "Really?!! Who!!?" and looking significantly in the direction of the office of a (straight) co-worker whom he disliked and obviously considered a little too flamboyant). He later made a point of telling us about his friend who was totally gay but also a really great guy.

Long story short, his behaviour didn't stop, even with subsequent reminders, and it was eventually reported up the chain of command. His contract was not renewed (this was not the only strike against him).

It's hard to give detailed advice on your particular situation without knowing the type and context of his comments, your relationship to each other, your (and his) position in the workplace hierarchy, and whether there is potential impact from his behaviour through your workplace on members of [X] group. But, regardless, this is probably not something that should be let slide without comment.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:17 AM on February 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

Quietly: 'Everything OK, Bob? It is? It's just that I thought you say [x].'
"This is a little odd but I see Bob sitting there and he's by himself and he said x. I'm concerned."

Please consider replacing 'x' with 'some things that might not be appropriate for work', to sidestep the distraction of "bob" or the HR person taking issue with you saying 'x'.
posted by davejay at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Flag with their manager. "I heard Bob saying X angrily at his desk, it was audible to several Co workers and is offensive and breaches our HR guidelines, could you please have a chat with him and remind him that this kind of language is unacceptable in the office? Thanks." Cc HR is you want to, need to.

Don't talk to him directly unless you have a good relationship already.
posted by smoke at 3:07 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

You should always speak out against racism or anything that expresses someone's belief that people are unequal. I instinctively learned this when I didn't speak out this one time, and couldn't stop kicking myself when thinking about that moment.

It becomes more and more easy to speak out when you start to. Starting is half the work.

In regards to the specific scenario about a man talking to himself, if the environment is set up so that no one has personal privacy and that you are all in a public space (i.e. cubicles), you should convey that he should be careful what he says because anyone can overhear (like you ultimately did).
posted by hellomina at 5:07 AM on February 28, 2017

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