Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aren't We Living in the 21st Century?? Secret Code Words for Discriminating Workplaces

There is an excellent, disturbing article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. It is called "Coded Prejudice is cloaked dagger" and was written by Dehleen Glanton. The topic is how racism and discrimination has mutated in the workplace.

Even though the dangers of overt racism have been discussed by companies for years, and hopefully some corrections have been made, this story highlights a more insidious form of discrimination with some disturbing examples.

A woman in a small medical office is called a "reggin" by her supervisor. She claims not to get the term at first, but feels the negative reference when she hears it.

According to the story, Federal officials say they have seen increased complaint levels involving coded terms and images in the work place.

-- "Welfare queen"

-- "crime ridden neighborhood"

-- "full blooded Americans"

-- "you people"

-- "that one in there"

-- "alternate lifestyle"

-- "family oriented employer"

All of these are words that have gotten someone in the workplace in trouble, or cost someone the opportunity to hire qualified talent. The story ends by citing the Racial Slur Database which purportedly defines 2,649 slurs. Their mission: 'helping to make the world a better place."

Highly freaking unlikely.

Yesterday I read a great discussion about a blog on "Fistful of Talent" discussing recruitment of talent from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. This morning I read this.

I believe we have made progress, but apparently we still have a long way to go.


  1. 2,649 racial slurs? I had no idea people had that much time on their hands.

    In my (privately held outside of the workplace) opinion, sometimes people just LOOK for reasons to get upset.

    Case in point: an HR Director friend of mine in Atlanta recently told me of a conversation she had with her Assistant who is black. Yes, black. She is NOT African American. According to her, African American is derogatory to the "younger" set, yet--still according to her--the term "black" is derogatory to the middle-aged and up set. My friend replied, "So, do I have to ask someone's age before I use any racial terminology?" To which her Assistant responded, "Pretty much."

    Then I had a conversation with my controller (who is gay) about how "Homosexual" is considered a derogatory term within the gay community, because homosexual is clinical and doesn't "recognize" the "gay lifestyle."

    I just go with using a person's name these days. Hopefully I won't get in trouble for that!

  2. You know, people are sensitive. That's okay. People do look for reasons to get upset. That's okay, too. I believe in the power of common sense. I know there are frivolous lawsuits and stupid people who look for ways to scam the system, but most people are decent & hardworking. Go out of your way to treat people as they expect to be treated and not as you assume how they should be treated. When in doubt, ask.


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