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08 January 2009

Dealing with Your Racist Clientele ...and yes, that was a Belle and Sebastian reference.

If, in your line of work, you frequently encounter customers/clients/patients who are vocally racist or offensive, how do you deal with it?

Me: late 30s white chick, fairly geeky looking in a lab coat
Workplace: outpatient lab in a public county hospital near Seattle
Coworkers: From every corner of the globe, literally. I have met people from places I didn't even know had people living there.
The problem:

1. Patients who refer to black staff members as "colored" or "negro", especially in front of the staff member or other patients. WTF?? I actually had a very average, educated looking middle class, middle aged woman tell me she didn't want "that colored fella" drawing her blood. Just this afternoon a patient called one of the phlebotomists colored to her face. The phleb was obviously hurt and offended by this, and had these crestfallen tears in her eyes as she told me about it. Surely I understand?? Yeah, not so much.

2. Patients who talk to me behind the staff member's back, like they think because I am white I am going to be on their "team". I had an older woman, who was drawn by a very sweet Muslim girl who works here, tell me in a conspiratory whisper "That is so sad! That poor little girl having to be a moooslim! Now she'll never be saved!". (Note: staff member didn't just volunteer this information, I heard the woman endlessly grilling her about where she came from etc, looking for an opening to do the Bible Kato move)

3. Which brings us to the starry-eyed super mega Christians, or "Jesombies". These people find every opportunity to turn the topic of even the most perfunctory conversation into "HAVE YOU ACCEPTED JESUS AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOUR BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!???" Wow, even if I was a Christian I think I would find that intrusive and uncalled for in casual conversation. I just asked for your insurance card! You turning that into Jesus being the only insurance you need make you sound like a car salesman. STFU!!

When issues like this come up I never know what to say. I despise the “smile, nod and pretend to look busy” move because I feel like I am supporting this behavior, but then again this is my JOB and it’s not my place to creating teaching moments for grown adults. Ultimately, I could care less what they believe, I just don’t feel like hearing it day in and day out at my place of work, and I really feel like I should be expressing respect for my coworkers, not to mention trying to spare other patients in the waiting area this discomfort (like the older man who spouted off about “hot Asian girls” while a Korean family sat uncomfortably in the corner) I have asked my supervisors and they have offered no guidance whatsoever, so I thought I would ask you guys how you handle this situation.

Any advice or just want to vent??
my company has a policy that we don't have to take racially/religiously offensive remarks from clients/customers. Your management may not be fully aware of this; check with your HR department. AFAIK we can tell them "I can't discuss this with you further" and hang up on them if they persist. Since your clients are in person, for the Jesus stuff I'd recommend "I'd prefer not to discuss this" and change the subject. Rinse and repeat. I don't know that you can actually turn away patients, especially in a public hospital, but if someone called me an epithet to my face, I'd refuse to take their blood. Or if someone called my coworker an epithet, I'd say (cheerfully) "sorry, they're the only one available to take your blood right now!"
posted by desjardins 08 January | 23:04
I work in public history, and every now and then some factual thing we are teaching about actual events in history strikes someone as offensive. I don't back down in these situations - we deal in evidence and strive to create a picture that doesn't deny any perspective. Though there is a really strong ethos that we are, in large part, a service to the public and don't want to create a bad visitor experience, we aren't going to indulge anyone's fantasy that 'in the old days, immigrants learned English sooner and assimilated better' or 'women stayed home and raised families' or 'slaves didn't have it bad' or 'Thanksgiving the holiday wasn't started by the Pilgrims and wasn't usually religious'. We exist to educate. Every now and then we get a letter of complaint, but as long as we can respond by referring to our mission and the evidence that supports the information, we do not chastise staff or ask them not to talk about these realities. We just affirm the statements.

On the other hand, our mission involves the factual transmission of information about the past. If our mission were healthcare, I'm not sure what I would do. I do think that it's absolutely imperative that people stop letting casual racism and other forms of bigotry fly without comment - it makes racists and bigots think it's acceptable. I know what you mean about people thinking you're "on the team" just because you seem alike, and start talking about "them." I'd really like to see more people saying "I don't see the problem. I don't see it that way. I don't think that's important. That's rude. That's not important right now" or whatever it would be in the situation, as long as employers are not actively objecting and issuing policy about it.

Just stay within policy guidelines. It sounds like your bosses have refused to legislate about it, which to me would mean you can go ahead and reject racist statements. If the bosses need to set boundaries for you, they will. You might just want to log the fact that you asked them, and then log any incidents that might come back to their attention if someone complains. Then you can say "I asked for guidelines on 11/17/08. I got the impression that no policy prohibited this. Was that wrong? Have things changed, and if so, what's the policy?"

I think we are all just going to have to get a lot more direct and proactive about the biases and prejudices we see around us. Prejudice thrives on silence, which the biased see as social acceptance. As soon as prejudice becomes uncomfortable for people, they tend to modify their behavior. I'd like to see us all do less pussyfooting. Bigotry's not acceptable or defensible in contemporary society.

All depends on your comfort level with taking such a stand, though, and the tenor of your workplace. Decide for yourself and then do what seems right to you. At the end of your life you won't be paging through their employee manual to see how you did.

posted by Miko 08 January | 23:17
Thanksgiving the holiday wasn't started by the Pilgrims and wasn't usually religious'

Hah! Actually that's true. I forgot whose voice I was writing in. We don't seek to indulge the fantasy that Thanksgiving the holiday was religious and started by Pilgrims.
posted by Miko 08 January | 23:19
My f'ing *bosses* keep making really stupid racist statements, usually against Asians. But they're couched in "joke" language, so usually I just get a horrendously sour look on my face followed immediately by a spaced-out "Oh, this again" look. Which I'm hoping is reasonably effective given that I usually laugh at pretty much anything, and we're a teeny office so I think the lack of reaction is actually noted. But I should actually say something; I just haven't figured out what tone would be effective.

Because ha ha ha, it's really NOT FUCKING FUNNY to make jokes about Vietnamese restaurants when someone mentions a dog rescue, or start "ching chong chong"ing when mentioning a client with a Chinese name.

Sigh. I *really* miss San Francisco sometimes.
posted by occhiblu 08 January | 23:33
At my job, I am bound by my personal sense of honor and the fact that if I am racist/sexist and a whole slew of -ists towards a client or customer, I could lose my license and get fined a lot of money. So, in my line of work, I never ask if someone has kids, never tell anyone if a neighborhood is "safe" even if they ask, and I treat everyone I talk to on the phone like he or she is a walking bag of money and they want to hand it over to me (or more precisely, my boss).

That's one thing that I love about NYC: we have the strictest non-discrimination statues in place to protect people who are looking for housing.
posted by TrishaLynn 09 January | 00:25
When people make comments I am really uncomfortable with I just get distant from them and stare. I am not sure what I do but I have been told it is very intimidating.

Still, I was overwhelmed and stunned when I made a car trip from Chicago to Milwaukee with a new sales guy who managed to fit in horrid epithets for gay men, gay women, Jews, women, feminists, Afro-Americans, people on welfare, Mexicans, and Asians. With this attitude and in your late 50's and in sales and no one has beaten you to death yet? Sad.
posted by arse_hat 09 January | 00:34
Many non-metropolitan whites are unaware that 'colored' and 'negro' are considered to be offensive terms. Heck, I only became aware a few months ago that 'oriental' is now considered an offensive term, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why that would be. Actually I don't know why 'colored' became offensive, I only have a guess about 'negro', and I suspect that some may now consider 'black' to be offensive as well. Also, what about 'Jew'? I have often heard it used that sounded offensive although the rest of the statement was not.

Further, many whites are not aware that the examples occhiblu gave are even remotely racist, and you would have to spend a lot of time explaining why with only a little chance of success. Racism education in white america stops at 'nigger'. I doubt non-metropolitan whites even share the same definition of racism and its characteristic behaviors.

On a side note, my ex and I once took in a gay teenager from rural Georgia. This young man referred to all gays as faggots and was astounded to learn that was considered offensive. He grew up hearing the term and nothing else, and it was as natural to him as the word 'apple'.
posted by Ardiril 09 January | 00:35
Further, many whites are not aware that the examples occhiblu gave are even remotely racist, and you would have to spend a lot of time explaining why with only a little chance of success.

Which is, to some extent, why I haven't said anything yet. Because the only thought that pops into my head when they do it is, "Good GOD you people are dumb," and even on my most workplace-hating days, that seems like a bit much to hurl at one's employer.
posted by occhiblu 09 January | 00:43
""Good GOD you people are dumb," and even on my most workplace-hating days, that seems like a bit much " That is a bit much to say but I have a hard time covering up my feelings.
posted by arse_hat 09 January | 00:52
I'm sure this is not nearly the case, but in Portuguese (don't know about Spanish) we have quite a few traps. Almost all of the "polite" words from Portuguese translate badly. Every once in a while I'm having an English conversation including some Brazilian friends, and have to embarassingly educate them about the appropriateness of "negro" or "afro".

"negro" is the polite form to refer to black people. We have two words for the color black, "preto" and "negro", where "preto" is generally regarded as translation for the color black in most contexts, and "negro" is more archaic, and used in modern language almost only for the race (calling someone "preto" is a bit crude, about the same as calling an Asian "Oriental"*). Thus, I've seen a couple of friends using (in English) "negro" instead of "black" while actually trying to be polite.

The completely PC form is "afro-brasileiro" (afro retaining its sense as a prefix related to Africa). So yeah, once in a while you see someone going out of their way trying to be PC and referring to "Afro-Americans".

*Since I mentioned it, "oriental" (same spelling) is also the polite word for "Asian" around there (the un-PC form is just generalizing every Asian to "japones" or "japa", as most Asian-Brazilians are Japanese).

And our word for "native people of Brazil" is just "indio" (as in modern Portuguese the term for someone actually from India evolved to "indiano"). Both traditionally translate as "Indian" in English. Since there's never any confusion about those two, we never (that I know of) came up with another more geographically correct word, and even official communication just uses "indio". So, when talking in English about "native people of Brazil" we HAVE to use "Indian", since we have no other word ("Native American" doesn't make sense, and "Native Brazilian" sounds silly as we don't really have that term). I'm about 1/16 (or 1/32, not sure) indian (as in native), and every time I mention that I have to give this whole explanation.

So, yeah, if you see some Brazilian using racist language, chances are it's in good intention.
posted by qvantamon 09 January | 00:58
I may be wrong but I think somewhere along the line, the definition of racism stopped being about personal attitudes and abstracted into some kind of cultural metaconflict that is more suited for a post-grad classroom. Thus, even educated people were left behind because that topic was not their specialty. Those in the know are the true students and the hobbyists.

This is why I think it absurd when I hear someone express "It's not my job to educate" about racism, disablism or any other -ism (like on racialicious or some feminist blogs). I have to ask if not you, the offended party, then who? Most often, the event of grievance falls outside normal and routine events with a choice of actions and where the proper response is not at all obvious.
posted by Ardiril 09 January | 01:22
Btw, I think more than a couple people around here would be offended by evilcupcakes's use of 'Jesombie'. Then again, some may be offended by my occasional use of 'Randroid'.
posted by Ardiril 09 January | 01:29
I do what arsey does: Cold stare. Look of disgust (micro-expression, no dramatic eyerolling or anything).

And my big, big, scary gun: silence. Looking right at them, but offering nothing. Silence is really hard to do, but so worth it. It freaks people out so much they fall all over themselves trying to get back to some kind of safe territory.

The woman who tells you she doesn't want the "colored fella" drawing her blood? She wanted you to do it instead? I'd give her a look of disgusted surprise and say "I'm busy." Not, "I'm sorry, I'm busy, blah, blah." No apologetic language, none of the little niceties designed to smooth out conversation. No smiles or pretense that I have the least intention of helping them with this completely outrageous request. Act as if she asked you to come over there and sniff her butt, because it amounts to the same thing.
posted by taz 09 January | 01:47
For far too many, taz, their level of ignorance is such that they would be clueless that they did anything wrong, and a stalemate ensues. Generally speaking, the ignorant do not self-educate when they do not even know they lack some bit of knowledge.

The assumption that people should already know this or that is wrong from the start. Take the noose, for example. I lived in SC and GA almost 20 years before I became aware that blacks considered it a racist symbol. I didn't know anything about the South's history of lynching blacks specifically. All I knew was that lynchings had happened but not to certain victims -- for all I knew the victims had all been the default white. When I mention this, people are shocked, SHOCKED, that someone could be so ignorant. The question is though: when, where and how was I supposed to gain this knowledge?
posted by Ardiril 09 January | 02:17
I had an awkward moment recently where someone I like very much said that a pair of sunglasses were "gay". I looked at him for a good few awkward beats, and coming finally back to my senses asked, "Do you mean that they're too feminine for you (they were) or are you using "gay" as a pejorative?" He replied, "Too feminine."

I don't know what we accomplished and I felt bad because I like him, he's not at all bigoted, just doing the sloppy "gay" thing people do. It's been months but it's so unresolved in my mind it still bugs me.

For me, it's much easier in a situation where I don't know/like the person: then I do the arse-taz dead stare of silence. I've walked out on a few dinners when men started being sexist and obnoxious, most recently my boyfriend and his best friend in our dining room about half a year ago. I didn't say anything, I just walked out on my meal and didn't come back (PS - this may or may not be effective, but it's definitely not very good relationship advice).
posted by birdie 09 January | 02:17
I hear what you are saying Ardiril and I like to think I can tell the difference between the meaningful and the ignorant remark. Truth be told though, I am probably wrong quite often, and evil in my own biased way.
posted by arse_hat 09 January | 02:29
There's a big difference, though, ardiril, between what one does in social settings, and what one does at work. At work, most bosses aren't going to be stoked that you are taking the time out to enter into a drawn-out discussion of what constitutes racist language. And at work, you are basically trapped, too, subject to whatever anyone wants to fling.

Could I be fired for attempting to re-educate the clientele when my job is lab work? Yes. Could I be fired for doing my work instead of allowing someone to draw me into some conversation about the Mooslims? Unlikely. Can someone complain that I won't talk to them about Jesus, the colored folk, etc.? I guess they could try.

On my own time, I can choose whether to try to enter into an earnest discussion about racism, but at work I really can't. I can send a signal, and I can refuse to engage with their bullshit.
posted by taz 09 January | 02:53
"I can choose whether to try to enter into an earnest discussion about racism, but at work I really can't." That is true taz but I have crossed that line anyway.
posted by arse_hat 09 January | 03:00
But probably not with clients/customers? I think that the situation with workmates is different, depending on various factors.
posted by taz 09 January | 03:25
The client issue is my point. Giving someone a silent glare only conveys to the client that you may be unfriendly and possibly unbalanced. People are not necessarily going to connect your negative though passive reaction to something they said in ignorance; they are too ignorant to know they are ignorant. That is the point of stalemate. Giving them the evil eye is probably an even worse reaction than doing nothing, because the communication is only one-way and not to your benefit.

As for bidie's example in the dining room, I can easily imagine the ensuing conversation.
Friend: What was that about?
BF: I don't know. Everytime I try to talk about it, she gets so upset, I can't make any sense of it. She even did it once when we were talking about football.
Friend: What's this got to do with football?
BF: Damned if I know.

Of course, this is social and not a client relationship but the result is the same. The perpetrator has no clue what part of a prior behavior was improper nor why.
posted by Ardiril 09 January | 03:45
I guess it just depends on the individual... I'm not willing to get involved in someone else's game. If it's someone I think just doesn't understand, sure I'll enlighten them, but that little conspiratorial between-us-white-folks bullshit isn't happening in any form.

You're at work. When the woman says she doesn't want that colored fella to do his job, where do you start? How long is this going to take to try to explain that his skin color doesn't make him less skilled, and by the way "colored" is considered an offensive term? "Why is it offensive? It's true! His skin has a color! That's not offensive!" etc.

Really? I'm not going to get into that conversation. I might instead get a really puzzled expression and answer, "that what?" ... Her: "guy over there... I don't want him to blah, blah." Me: "Oh, that's Frank; he's very good." Exit.
posted by taz 09 January | 04:03
To completely change the subject...

My real name is Belinda - but I often go by Belle.

I had a cat once, dear little thing. He died, and it was only after he died that I realised that since I'd called him Sebastian, it meant that we were Belle and Sebastian.

I named him after the kid in Neverending Story... Shame I didn't think of that when he was still around, though...
posted by jonathanstrange 09 January | 07:09
Many non-metropolitan whites are unaware that 'colored' and 'negro' are considered to be offensive terms.

I'm half-black, and I didn't know that.
posted by Eideteker 09 January | 10:21
Many non-metropolitan whites are unaware that 'colored' and 'negro' are considered to be offensive terms...

I wouldn't say they're offensive in themselves. The issue brought up wasn't that the person called someone "colored" -- which I agree, among many populations can be fairly innocently out-of-touch, but that the person objected to the black staffer drawing the blood, or wanted to work with a white person instead.

There's a woman I frequently work with on local black history. Because she's black and a very open-minded educator who is great at conducting conversations about race, white people often say to her, very frustrated, "I just don't know what to call you all any more! I'm afraid to say the wrong thing!" And she responds "the only wrong way to talk about black people is by saying nothing at all. Use "black," use "Afro-American" or "African-American," use "colored" or "Negro" if you have to - but just don't ignore or pass over black people and black issues and black history just because you're afraid of offending someone."

She points out that most black people have heard all these terms before and many black people use them, and that opinion even among black people is divided about what terms are preferred. So you aren't going to shock anybody by using these descriptors. They might tell you what terminology they prefer and then it's good courtesy to use it. But it's not something that black people have no tools to handle - so my colleague perceives the real danger as people being so afraid to engage topics related to race that they don't even start the conversation, and that increases the invisibility of blacks in the dominant culture and especially in history.

But note that "gee, I just don't know what to call you people" isn't the same issue as "I don't want THEM touching me/doing my accounting/handling my request/ being my doctor/ teaching my kid," whatever. That is a problem and that needs to be addressed. So do the application of stereotypes, either seriously or as an in-joke (like singing the "ching-ching" song).

I'm pretty much in favor of doing this at work. Sure it's awkward and sure you could be having a conversation with your boss. On the other hand, shouldn't employment law and policy be supporting a non-discriminatory workplace? Wouldn't you have a good case if you were confronted with the blood-drawing incident and responded, calmly and directly, by saying "All our employees have the skills to handle this, and Jean is your technician today." Or if you mentioned in a meeting with the boss that the stereotypical joking was making you uncomfortable?

I think we actually tend to hide behind our workplaces and tasks as a way to avoid dealing with racism. That's one of the most powerful reasons institutional racism continues: not because there are actively discriminatory programs in place, but because there is a conspiracy of silence, a tacit agreement that it's never called out, and that the behavior or racists is unremarkable and fairly acceptable.
posted by Miko 09 January | 10:49
Wouldn't you have a good case if you were confronted with the blood-drawing incident and responded, calmly and directly, by saying "All our employees have the skills to handle this, and Jean is your technician today.

Yes, I do agree. But this is not the same thing that was being suggested/promoted earlier, which was a much more interventionist and re-educating response. In your version you don't register even the smallest bit of disapproval... why is that better?
posted by taz 09 January | 11:58
Beacause you neither honor nor ignore the request. I think the important thing to make clear in the given incident is that the request based on racism is rejected. Ignoring sends no message at all - people imagine what they want to imagine when there's no response and that doesn't make anything clear. In the example given (the healthcare setting) I think it would be better to affirm that patients see their assigned staffer, and that the place will not honor staffing requests based on race. The message is "I heard you but I'm not going to honor that request." If they asked why, you'd be perfectly within your rights to say "I'm sorry you're not comfortable, but we don't assign patients to staffers based on race. That would be illegal and wrong."

In the example of having a co-worker make a racist (or anti-gay, in one memorable incident) joke, I have done the range of things - talked to the person or boss, or brought it up in a meeting in a general way if it was widespread. But I've also done the re-educating thing. Once a co-worker tried to get me to roll my eyes with her about the story about a poor, illiterate black woman from the ghetto naming her child "Urine" ("ur-eye-nah") after a label she saw in the hospital (the story varies, I've heard it with other names as well). In those kinds of cases you can say, "yeah, you know, that's an urban legend." In this incident she said "Well, you know, I can believe it because They name their kids such crazy things," to which I responded with the comment that one of my white friends had made up her son's name, so it wasn't unique to black people, and that what she was noticing has been commented on by a lot of scholars as a tradition within broader black culture - valuing creativity and uniqueness with words and wordplay in general, and often names in particular. To my mind, that falls in the re-educating camp.

I rarely think it's helpful to say "That's racist" or "you're racist." I think going for the broader context is more helpful.
posted by Miko 09 January | 12:33
Well, redefining actions that are different than what you would do as "ignoring" definitely makes you come out better, but nobody actually said to ignore the offensive behavior, I think. not going back.

How one deals with offensive behavior also has to do with personalities; I definitely know what I can do that makes people feel more comfortable, confident, or relaxed - or feel very uncomfortable/embarrassed. How I will respond is going to be within the parameters of how I deal effectively. Characterizing what I would do as "ignoring" is definitely incorrect.

My husband is sort of constantly fearful of these episodes because he can't believe how "cold" I can be (read: scary). This is completely unlike my normal behavior, and outside the bounds of standard polite behavior, yet I do almost nothing. And always the person I direct this towards tries to make up. Do better. Even years later, they are trying to prove that they aren't the creep I thought they were.

But now this sound like some kind of power thing, or bragging about my astonishing ability to humiliate. This is not the case, and not how I feel, but if we are talking about how to influence bullshit behavior, mine works really well for me, and has nothing whatever to do with ignoring.
posted by taz 09 January | 13:25
redefining actions that are different than what you would do as "ignoring" definitely makes you come out better,

No no no (yeesh). I just think that a response of silence is open to interpretation, and people's self-preservation often makes them write that off to mood or manners or something other than "oops, I must have fucked up." Growing up with racists in the family, I witnessed that. That's why I think that clearly stating the policy works best, at least for me, and like I said in my first post, it's what I do in my present job: "it's unfortunate you were uncomfortable, but these are still the facts."
posted by Miko 09 January | 14:18
...but then, I'm both fact-based and comfortably confrontational, so there you go.
posted by Miko 09 January | 14:26
I have to just drop in a placeholder here, so it doesn't seem like I'm not responding as a way of striking a blow :) ... but it's suppertime here, and then probably sleep - so I'll be back, and possibly I'll be able to make some things clearer... we can hope!
posted by taz 09 January | 14:46
I'm not currently employed, and oddly enough, don't recall any noticeable racism at my various places of employment. It was probably there, just not in my line of sight/hearing.

Anyway, in non-work environments I usually either stare, wince or close my eyes, then glance away shaking my head. The person making the remark is usually an old (age-wise) friend of the mister's or one of his family members. And the remark is usually aimed at First Nations or Asians (I also don't know why Oriental is considered non-pc. The use of Oriental in Canada is the norm.).

My reaction may not be the best way to convey my disgust but I also don't want to rock the boat enough to over turn it; maybe just enough to splash them with some cold water, to stretch the analogy. These are older people and family and, right or wrong, I was brought up to show respect, whether I really feel it or not.

At work I think I'd come back with, "So'n'So is your phlebotomist/server/helper/etc. person today. S/he is quite capable of the job. If that's not acceptable you're welcome to take your business elsewhere." As for someone spouting religious stuff, "This is not the time or place to be discussing that subject. Please desist or take your business elsewhere." I'd treat them the same as if they were swearing at me. Of course, all of this depends on what HR says is acceptable. But if what HR says is acceptable isn't acceptable to me, I'd be looking for a new job.

As for the actual words (negro, asian, oriental, coloured, etc.), the intent behind the use of the word is important. And, of course, what people perceive to be your intent.
posted by deborah 09 January | 15:40

No, but I love his work.

I take the high-and-mighty road. (surprise, surprise)

No one has ever told me I was wrong or alienated me for saying, politely, that I find what they are saying offensive. "Could you not use that word to refer to my friend? I know it's not the same here, but where I'm from, that was a really crass and offensive word/phrase/gesture etc. and it's very distracting from what you are trying to say."

Insert your own "that word" and region/town/neighborhood for "where I'm from". Easy as that. I promise this has worked on strangers and friends alike.

(If you're curious - in Oregon the word "'coon" is a reference to the animal, "raccoon". In my home in IL, it was a really horrible term for an African-American. I can't barely TYPE IT let alone HEAR IT.)
posted by sakura 09 January | 20:34
The assumption that people should already know this or that is wrong from the start. Take the noose, for example. I lived in SC and GA almost 20 years before I became aware that blacks considered it a racist symbol. snip The question is though: when, where and how was I supposed to gain this knowledge?

What do you think is the answer is to your question? Living in New England and California, 43 years old, I've learned about the history of lynching from school (more college and law school than high school), the internet, books, newspaper articles, and lectures I've attended. I have learned a lot more about lynching in recent years -- there are more books being published and historical work as well as truth and reconciliation work. Why do you think that you did not learn about lynching for so long (not a rhetorical question)?

I'm curently working on a race harassment case (in Mississippi) that includes the impact of hangman's nooses on black workers.
posted by Claudia_SF 10 January | 03:00
Sorry to miko for being snippy!

My earlier point should have been better worded, but I'll just say that individuals will/should respond in the ways that are more successful or natural for them... For example, Sakura's "high and mighty" reference; I totally get that. I also totally get the patient and expository method, and many other ways of addressing prejudice. The worst is regretting not saying or doing anything. For a shy person, it may be just a flicker of an expression that crosses their face and bowing out of the conversation. This is still a response, and in many instances might even have more impact than someone else's strong, articulate argument. Every action or effort contributes, and it's great that they are wide-ranging in form, since the personalities and beliefs of the offenders are also wide-ranging. Any given bigot might brush off one sort of response, but be significantly affected by another... so it's all good.
posted by taz 10 January | 08:31
Since no one has addressed this yet:

"Oriental" is offensive mostly because of the prevailing colonial attitudes that came along with the term. Here's an interesting link that talks about the history of the usage of the word.

I know that personally, if I have to pin my race down to something, I'd rather be Filipino first, Asian second, and "Oriental" never.
posted by TrishaLynn 10 January | 09:14
claudia: The better question is probably why wasn't I taught? In high school (rural PA), the most likely reason is my history teachers didn't know it either. In my area, the history of the South was as foreign as Ecuador. Also, my history classes rarely reached the Civil War by the end of the year. The extent of racial relations education was 'Lincoln freed the slaves.'

For us, lynching was something from a cowboy movie and what they did to horse thieves. Hanging as capital punishment for something like simple theft was practiced in almost all the colonies. The way we were taught or shown only portrayed whites as swinging from the rope.

I suspect the answers lie in how journalists choose stories. As the initial documentors, they are the first-hand historians. At the other end are the news consumers. Through the decades, how closely have people followed the news and how much did they retain? I imagine the answers lie in the phenomenon known as locality, information is highly concentrated in the region of relevance but dissipates as the distance increases.
posted by Ardiril 10 January | 10:32
My main concern, in response to the question, was dealing with racism when you are representing an institution or organization. There are many ways of handling it when it happens socially, personally, but in an institutional context you're in a well-developed realm of policy. In addition, an individual employee's actions in an institutional context have a power greater than that person's actions as a private citizen and are more open to review by the public, supervisors, and/or courts.

In that context, a nonverbal response may simply be insufficient to make clear the policy and ensure that the organization is not inadvertently perpetuating institutional racism. It's not only a moral question, but in some cases - interviews, awarding of contracts, performance of publicly funded services - not stating a clear response could leave one open to the accusation that a racist request was welcome or had some influence - and that's something worth thinking about.

If you're ever involved in an employment lawsuit, these things do come up. The law doesn't even require discriminatory statements or actions - lack of action, or inconsistently applied action, can also be perceived as discriminatory. That's why I responded as I did and why I recommend to my staff that they stay with the facts and affirm the policies. So while I definitely agree that in personal and social settings, there are a wide variety of ways of handling prejudicial remarks that can be effective, in the workplace the choices for responding involve not only personal preferences and moral decisions but also the use of safe and important strategies for the protection of employees and the avoidance of infraction and potential litigation for the institutions.

I think my lifetime spent in workplaces like this has trained it into me to the point where I do the same thing in private life. But I think the important thing to remember if you encounter racists at work is to find out what the law requires of you, regarding discrimination, in your job, and how well your current supervisory and policy situation supports you in adhering to the law. In many workplaces, there will be policy that goes beyond law, and that needs to be known as well (like a mission statement or core values you're supposed to demonstrate or evaluation criteria that take into account your appropriateness or tolerance for diversity or what have you).
posted by Miko 10 January | 15:08
I'm cutting my hair tomorrow. VERY short. Help me find a style. || I am officially old. or the world has gone mad. or stupid. or something.