UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

A racist boss

You are new to a job you badly wanted and are still on probation. Your boss has been helpful and encouraging, but you’ve noticed he has a bad habit of cracking casually racist jokes. You find them offensive but your co-workers seem to put up with them. Do you confront him or keep quiet like the rest?

By Ken Gallinger and Ruth McQuirter Scott



The ad I answered did not say “self-righteous person needed to act as boss’s conscience.” No, it invited me to apply as a widget-maker. Which I did. And, lucky me, I got the job and now am making the widgets of my dreams.
So what part of my job description entitles me to correct the boss on his “casually racist jokes” (whatever the heck a “casually racist” joke is)? That must be in the “five-percent sundry as assigned” — because I sure don’t see it anywhere else.

The reason “act as boss’s conscience” is not in my job description is, of course, because that’s not what they pay me to do. So here’s the deal: I show up each day, work hard, contribute in the best way I can to the company culture and shut the heck up. I don’t need to laugh at jokes I find offensive, and I won’t. I might let my face show my displeasure. I might even try to absent myself from situations where they are told, and if asked why, I might go so far as to say, “I find the humour at these gatherings not to my taste.” But that’s where it ends.

The question as posed offers only two alternatives: confront the boss or keep quiet. But in fact I have a third alternative. I’m on probation; I can look for another job. If the culture in this company is truly racist and so offensive to me I can’t tolerate it, I should move on. The reason for probation is so employers and employees can try each other out before signing on for good; the boss’s humour is one factor in that decision I will soon have to make.

There’s one more possibility. At the end of the probation, there should be a “How’s it going?” conversation. In that context, I might choose to say, “I love the work and the people. But can I tell you one little thing? Some of your jokes bother me a bit.” The boss’s response (thoughtfulness? fury? penitence?) might tell me whether this was a place I really wanted to stay — or it might make the decision about staying for me.
Author's photo
Ruth McQuirter Scott is an educator and member of Port Nelson United in Burlington, Ont.


I would love to believe that by taking a moral stance and directly confronting my boss about his racist jokes, I would change his behaviour, save my job, and one little corner of the world would be a better place. Life experience, however, has robbed me of my naiveté.

As the parent of adult multi-racial children, I have fought the stupidity of racism in its many forms for 27 years. I always tried to go through the “proper” channels, but was often disappointed and perplexed. My complaints were met with a mixture of polite indifference, minimal but ineffective action, dismissal, and even outright backlash against the children.

Now that they are young adults, my son and daughter deal with racism in their own ways. My son is philosophical. He says, “You can find stupidity and ignorance anywhere.” He considers which battles are worth fighting and simply chooses to associate with people who are not racist. My daughter has gone the route of social justice. As a law student, she is involved in research on racial profiling and does pro-bono work for gay rights organizations.

So what would I do in my “dream job” with a boss who likes to crack racial jokes? I would begin by simply leaving the room as a sign of my displeasure. As my position becomes more secure, I would say, “I can’t believe you said that!” If he continues, I would have a private conversation, explaining how uncomfortable I feel about his jokes. I would tell him my own story to make it more personal. If my work is solid, and he respects me in other ways, perhaps my opinion will have some weight with him. But if the jokes escalate, I would find a different job or department, but not before reporting his conduct to the organization.

Would my leaving change his behaviour? Perhaps not, but I would hate to find myself two years down the road sitting in silence while a new hire winces as yet another tasteless joke emerges from my employer’s mouth.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image