General Question

padrebeachmom's avatar

How do you deal with an African American coworker who is extremely prejudiced against any person not of "color" & is dedicated to getting the 2 Anglos where I work fired?

Asked by padrebeachmom (38points) September 18th, 2010

I am in my first month at a new job. I’ve always treated this person with respect & kindness & have never said anything to her that could be misconstrued as racist or offensive unless you consider “Good morning and How are you doing today” racist. This person hates white people & has told me that all white people are descended from slave owners who did terrible things to her ancestors. I explained that I come from Cherokee/Chocktaw, French-English descendants who were not slave owners because I’ve researched my family back to the 600’s. She told me all white people have different races mixed in and my Native American heritage didn’t mean anything and that all white people did own slaves. Then she turned me into Human Resources for making racist comments and tried to have me fired. She also tried to start a fight with the only other white person at work and tried to have her fired as well. This is getting awkward – how do I handle this?

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28 Answers

Nullo's avatar

That’s terrible!
If this is going to become an HR issue, I’d recommend getting management et al. on your side.
I’ve always admired my sister’s response to this issue when it appeared in one of her classes. She (who is of very recent Italian descent) replied, “No, my people enslaved [student of Gallic ancestry]‘s people, and made them dig tunnels through the mountains.”

Funny how she doesn’t take issue with her own (rather distant, perhaps) ancestors who sold her more recent ancestors into slavery in the first place.

YARNLADY's avatar

Move on – find another job as soon as possible. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to deal with that type of situation.

LuckyGuy's avatar

She could be setting herself up for a lawsuit claim.
Document all incidents. . Date, Time, location, and who said what.
You and management will need this information.

Jobs are hard to come by. Don’t leave because of one questionable individual.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

She’s racist.

What you need to do is bring this to the attention of your boss if you’d like to keep your job, and document every instance something like this occurs – with the time and date. Do not approach her yourself, and make sure you write down that it was her who approached you.

And you shouldn’t have tried to make your existence okay with her in the first place. Even if some of your ancestors did own slaves – you did not. Trying to make you feel guilty for something like that is extremely immature and an emotionally fucked thing for the person to do in the first place.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Report the racist woman. Then, take her job.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I know a lot of black people who think all whites are out to get them and that all whites hate POC and would try to enslave us all again if given half a chance, so they’re going to go in there with the hate first before someone actually does get them. Do you see what I’m trying to say?

Given our history in this country, though, it’s understandable that she might feel this way. I’m not saying she’s right, but it’s understandable if you put yourself in her place for a moment. There still are racist white people in the US who absolutely would kill us all if they could, and that’s all the ammunition she needs to be defensive.

She’s scared that if she lets her guard down for even a second, some white person is going to try and demean her or violate her rights, or otherwise try to harm her. You have no idea if she learned this at home, if a racist white person did do something to her in the past that was really painful, or whatever. It’s sad, because that sort of mindset leads to behaviour like this, which in turn gives white people more power over her than they deserve, and she doesn’t see it (Which should be none, by the way. No group of people should have unilateral power over any other group, certainly not in the way that was done in this country in the past. Just to be clear.). It’s as if deep down, she does believe they’re more powerful than her.

That all said, have you documented what’s happening for HR? The thing about HR, though, is that they’re trying to do what’s best for the company, and not any of you individual workers, so you don’t know what’s going to happen. In the meantime, while you aren’t responsible for her feelings, you don’t have to engage when she starts up about racist topics. You’re all there to work. IF she starts that stuff apropos of nothing, just say you’re sorry she feels that way, that you have nothing against her, but you’re going back to work. And then don’t engage. Just don’t. If she’s that angry, you don’t want to engage. Her anger has nothing to do with you.

YARNLADY's avatar

I would like to add that this issue is not limited to black and other. I have encountered it in the Choctaw Nation as well.

padrebeachmom's avatar

Thank you for all the great advice! I will definitely take it to heart.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Ugh, unless this is a landmark career move for you then get another job and get the hell out of a horrible environment. Report your coworker’s comments, ask for HR advice and assistence, tell them you feel in a horrible spot to come to work and perform politely around this woman who is invading your privacy with her non-work opinions. At the best you might get some paid severance when you turn in your resignation.

kheredia's avatar

Talk to someone above her and express your concerns. If that doesn’t work out then find another job where you will be comfortable and won’t have to deal with this nonsense.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@YARNLADY has the right idea here.

This is a toxic environment, and don’t think that management doesn’t know all about it already. But they’re afraid to do anything about it.

Your documentation of you-said / she-said, protests against her obvious bias and refutation of her silly claims will get you nowhere. The fact is that she was there before you were, has probably been successful at running others out, and the place is “managed” (I use the term very loosely) by people who are already cowed by her.

Get out. You’ve been there a month and done nothing wrong… but you won’t be able to do anything right, either.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I don’t agree with the people telling you to get out. Although it might go nowhere, this kind of behavior should not be tolerable in a work environment – and people shouldn’t just roll over for others who are like this.

Even if it doesn’t help, at least you know you tried and stood up to try and right things.

woodcutter's avatar

it can be very tricky to take action against a black person. You had better have all documentation compiled or you WILL come out looking like a hysterical racist who can’t get along with people. Been there done that.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Palindrome's avatar

Ahh I’ve encountered a somewhat similar situation. Our neighbor, from what I know, is not only crazy, but a racist. She is African American just to be on technical terms & does not like us one bit because we look white to her. My family and I aren’t even white. I hate stereotyping & do not agree with people who usually stereotype, but this woman literally was the epitome of a “crazy black woman”. I mean seriously. I feel like no matter what we said or how much we tried verbally defending ourselves, we came across nothing. So we ended up telling the manager of our apts. and she even agreed to that lady being crazy, but said she couldn’t really do anything until it becomes a repeated problem. Which in our case, it’s kind of hard to move somewhere else. Idk for your case I believe you should document the things that have already happened just in reference & document more fuel for the fire by not necessarily provoking her, but by strategically getting more dirt on stuff she says (such as videotaping or recording her on a voice recorder) so that if you do plan to take more action in stating your case and getting this lady fired in return you will have evidence to back it up.

thekoukoureport's avatar

You may want to point out to her that you are only 4–5,000 generations seperated from her so in essence you are distant cousins. I want to be a smart ass but that won’t help this string.

I will try to explain but I know I will screw this up.

I am a white man. I have spent most of my life in the African American Community in various ways. As a child in youth detention centers, as a private in the military, as a cable installer in Prince Georges County MD and in Philadelphia, and as a homeless man in New York City.

I have had friends who where 2 percenters and have been called the “N” word many times(as a term of endearment and no I still couldn’t say it back).

I have been through the gammit of different types of people and how they act towards me and I can say with out a doubt that this community is the nicest, most loving group of all. So for her to act this way is to think that she has been burnt in the past. Everything that people have said above is correct. However I believe that you could probably be more successful with this relationship if you could find a commonality. Even if it’s her hatred of the white man we can all agree she’s got a point. But by continuing to take it as a battle you are continuing the cycle.

I Promise you that if you changed your approach and humanize yourself you will not be seen as the white man. In fact one of my friends would go off on a rant about White people and when she was done she would look at me and say “not you baby you know you ain’t white”! She’s right We are ALL PEOPLE.

Why did I bring up cable? Because Prince Georges County is primarily a Afican American Community. With all three classes well represented it appears like every neighborhood in the country. A problem of opportunity, education, and economic development.

Hope I helped.

rts486's avatar

I don’t think there is anything you can do. From what I’ve seen in the work place, an African-American can’t be racist.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Talk to your supervisor about it. They may be able to assist. My supervisor started to attend weekly meetings that I attended with someone from another dept. who was rude to me every time (it had nothing to do with race; more of a power trip). Let him/her know you plan to set up a meeting with an HR representative to discuss how to handle this situation.

HR departments get a bad reputation because in situations where employees’ behavior is based upon he ‘said/she said’, it is difficult to prove. For example, the co-worker reported you, but was any disciplinary action taken? Unless there is enough evidence, nothing is going to happen. HR’s responsibility is to not only the wellbeing of the team members, but to protect the company from lawsuits.

john65pennington's avatar

This person has a buildup of hate for some reason. i believe the slave issue is not the real reason this person does not like white people. after all, you and i had nothing to do with this at all. i am part Cherokee and in the same situation as you. my suggestion is this: locate you a small hand-held tape recorder and keep it handy. the next time this person begins one of her “rages”, record her conversation. its not illegal. you need a defensive tactive to protect not only yourself from this person, but also your other co-workers. its called evidence. her hate may never truly be discovered, but thats not what is important now. its your safety and your job that you are going to protect. a person like this can develope into a serious killing situation, if she is fired. it happens everyday. protect yourself. job safety and your safety and other co-workers safety is number one.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well, she’s clearly deluded. I’m with @DrasticDreamer – don’t quit, document all and continue to report to supervisors.

padrebeachmom's avatar

Thank you all for your advice! I’ve never experienced this before because all of my friends have always been of different ethinicities and backgrounds. And my circle of friends includes co-workers. I’ve never had this problem with any of my friends or co-workers. I’m going to stick it out and use the advice you all have given me to help me get through this situation, but I also have a back-up plan in action in case she continues to make trouble for me. Thanks again for all your help! It’s nice to know there are so many people willing to lend a helping hand! Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday!

iamthemob's avatar

You’ve got some great advice above. I feel there are some important things you should do -

(1) HR does get a bad rap – but that’s because most people don’t talk to them until it’s too late. Do not be afraid of H.R. H.R. WANTS you to tell them about incidents like the one you’re involved in as soon as possible. Your company should have a clear and easy-to-use reporting system for any type of issue with another employee – but definitely for discrimination issues. Talk to the person immediately above you or your HR person, whomever appropriate, and have a sit down with them.

(2) Follow up whatever you can with writing. See if you can get written copies of the report you make or a documentation of the discussion as soon as possible (you might not be allowed access to this – so if they say no don’t think it’s necessarily because something’s up), If you can’t, send an email that discretely (e.g., try not to be specific with facts if possible) shows the topic of discussion, asks for follow up, and tells the dates of the incidences and the conversation you’ve had. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR AN HR PERSON IS THE PAPER TRAIL. Make you’re own if you’re not sure that they’re doing it – but again, be respectful and discrete.

(3) Title VII discrimination claims cover discrimination based on RACE, not minority status. As any ethnicity, you have access to the EEOC to make charges if you feel there has been a mishandling of the situation. If you do talk to your HR representative and nothing happens, follow up. Make sure you find out what is being done. If something negative happens to you, talk to someone at the EEOC to see what you should do ASAP (there is a statute of limitations involved). EEOC policy on race/color discrimination can be found here.

(4) DO NOT ENGAGE THE CO-WORKER. Talk to her only when necessary. If she says something racist to you, walk away and report it ASAP. She’ll be counting on you not to.

I understand your hesitancy, but your company is helped by people who report early and often (although, you know…about things that actually ARE an issue).

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I stand by my earlier advice. You don’t need a crusade at a job that you’ve had for a month. Consider why the opening was there in the first place: she’s been successful at running people off.

You don’t need this kind of drama, legal fight, personality clash and CYA at every turn. You need a job. Leave this one as soon as you can find another.

This woman already has co-opted or intimidated HR and management. She’ll have you for breakfast one of these days. And if you somehow manage to turn the tables on her (fat chance, by the way) and get her fired or reprimanded, then she’ll be dangerous to you on a personal level, quite apart from the work environment.

I’m betting it’s a government job, too. Those types of individuals tend to thrive there.

Get out and move on to a job where all you have to do is work. You don’t have a lifetime invested in this place, and from all indications, you won’t want to.

iamthemob's avatar

It’s not a crusade yet. Since we don’t know what the results of the HR report were, we can’t say what’s happening. The earlier you talk to them, the more credible you look, and the more likely it is that a reasonable resolution can be reached.

woodcutter's avatar

if you look now for a different job you can make the transition with less drama. Usually when an employee gives notice of quit there is a questionnaire of some sort to explain why they are leaving. You may end up being a martyr there but it seems if you explain your situ. with this racist, it has to fall on at least one ear that is concerned. If it has happened other times there will be a file concerning this person- sooner or later she is going to be canned. That won’t help your job there, but it should at least feel good that this person isn’t bothering people any more. This job, is it by chance a community action type of non profit/ affirmative action? Because if it is that might explain why she has hung on so long. You are on her turf right there. leaving a job because of a hater sucks but if HR seems indifferent to your case then it’s what you will end up doing. Take it from me, I know.

Nullo's avatar

Have you any friends yet, observant ones who might corroborate your accounts of abuse?

mattbrowne's avatar

Racism is sad universal phenomenon not correlated with skin color. Obama’s Kenyan grandfather was a blatant racist for example. He thought all white people were inferior and not worthy to be friends with or even married to.

I would not want to work in a company which tolerates racism.

MeinTeil's avatar

Step 1: Keep your cool.

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