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What does casual racism in the workplace look like?

Oh, it’s Mexican theme day at work, so everyone is encouraged to wear sombreros and ponchos and your co-workers seem to think that putting on a fake accent that sounds roughly Hispanic is great fun. Or, maybe you’re an African-American and you have a white co-worker who thinks it’s perfectly okay to comment on your natural hair or ask to touch it.

You may realize that your co-workers don’t mean to be racists, but educating them about why their behavior is offensive isn’t your job. At the same time, you may fear retaliation if you speak up.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Document each incident as it arises. If you do decide to discuss your situation with management later or file a complaint, that documentation will help support your case. Make sure to note what was said or done, who was present and when the incident occurred.
  • Check your handbook for the complaint procedure. Ultimately, you want to address the situation through proper channels before you take any other kind of action. Give your employer time to act and make some changes. It may be necessary for your employer to hold sensitivity training, establish clearer policies and take other proactive steps.
  • Be alert to potential retaliation. If you’re suddenly given the “cold shoulder” by your co-workers, demoted, given a bad performance review or experience other negative consequences, you may be a victim of active discrimination or workplace retaliation.

You are never responsible for making other people comfortable about their racism — even when it is the kind of subtle, covert racism that this article mentions. If your situation has become intolerable, it may be time to seek some legal advice.