August 16th, 2011
Racist Jokes At Work, “Oh, But I Didn’t Mean You”

We’ve all been there. You’re with your non-Latino co-workers, you’re joking around, and then all of a sudden, someone decides to tell the funniest joke ever — based on racist assumptions or stereotypes. And you’re standing there, with the people you have to see everyday in a place that supports you economically, and you don’t really know what to do.

Do you correct them and make things even more awkward? Do you look at other Latinos and exchange that “Can you believe this dude?” look? Do you excuse yourself to your desk? Do you just stand there and not laugh, hoping they get the message? Do you decide to send them an email or tell them later it wasn’t funny? Or just go straight to your boss or HR?

I guess what I hate most about these scenarios is that, somehow, when you take action you end up being the “aggressor” who “has to make everything about race.” How is it that introducing racism with jokes is okay, but calling it out is problematic? And then, somehow, your problem is not just that you’re too sensitive, but that you have no sense of humor. After all, they will say, “I didn’t mean you!”

In my own experiences I’ve tried any and all of the aforementioned solutions.

If you correct someone, they may take offense and, all of a sudden, you’ve got an enemy at work. If you do the glance exchange with Latinos, you may create alliances at work, but you still have the problem of the racist joke teller thinking it’s okay to talk that way. If you just walk away, the joke teller may or may not get the message. If you stand there like a sourpuss, you can still offend and they may not understand that they did something wrong. Sending emails after the fact leaves too much room between the incident and your correction, and then talking to them after the fact still can create a personality conflict.

Finally, your supervisors or HR people may be on the side of the racist joke teller — you can take a joke, can’t you?

At this point in my life, though, I have very little tolerance for sexism, homophobia or racism. It’s all just a plain waste of my time, a waste of others’ time and it’s pretty counterproductive. Although in the past I felt confusion or anger or helplessness in these situations, today, I have the poise and experience to address these situations in the moment and with the amount of seriousness merited by trying to put down an entire group of people for your own petty amusement.

Because after all, anyone that knows me knows I have a ridiculous sense of humor. And whether or not some fool wants to make a joke but clarify “I didn’t mean you,” is no longer my concern because racist jokes are just never funny.

Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD.

[Photo By dan queiroz]

2 thoughts on “Racist Jokes At Work, “Oh, But I Didn’t Mean You”

  1. In Australia, these comments ALWAYS start with “I’m not racist…..but”, followed with something racist. Which is ok because they said they weren’t racist.

  2. I do two things when I hear this sort of crap: One, I swallow my righteous indignation and calmly remind my colleague that our school district has a very explicit policy regarding hate speech, which is what these “jokes” are.  Two, I remind them that, as a union rep, I might be the one who would have to represent them if a less calm and controlled person heard this sort of crap coming from them.  And that my defense might be… less than vigorous.

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