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How to Deal with a Racist Colleague

At one point or another, you are bound to come across a small-minded racist colleague in your career. Whether it is during your internship or when you are at a managerial position, it is important to know how exactly to deal with this situation before it gets progressively worse. The unfortunate truth is, racism is a growing problem in the workplace, and it is one that causes a lot of distress in the office environment.

What is Racism?

Before getting into dealing with racism, I’d like to point out what exactly qualifies as racism. Here is a brief description of racism taken from BBC:

“Racism is when someone is discriminated against (singled out) because of their race, the colour of their skin, their nationality, their accent or first language, or their ethnic or national origin. Racism is a hate crime, and is illegal.”

Racism - A Common Issue

Racism has become common in the workplace because many people find racist jokes and comments humorous, which leads to the ‘victim’ of the racist remark feel like an outcast. Regardless of who makes these comments towards you, it is imperative that you address the issue as soon as possible. Failure to do so can lead to a decrease in productivity, feeling uncomfortable in the workplace and stress.

Here is how to deal with racist colleagues:

1. Remain Calm

Being the subject of a racist remark not only makes you upset and distressed, but it will make you angry and frustrated as well. The thing you should remember is that people who are racist have a very narrow mind - that is where the problem is rooted. Their failure to acknowledge different races and nationalities is a testimony to their small thinking. Be the bigger person, and remain calm. Do not lose you cool as it could lead to a petty argument, or even worse.

2. State the Obvious

Next time your colleague makes a racist joke or remark, make sure you ask for clarification. This not only put them on the spot, but it shows them the pettiness of their comment. Many racist people claim that they are making a comment in a ‘lighthearted’ or ‘innocent’ manner, however there is no nice way to be racist - it is all just bad. Once the person tries to explain or states their joke explanation, you should state the obvious and say outright that it is racist. This label will not only bother them, but it will be a wakeup call as well.

3. Bring in Management

If the problem persists, it is important that you take proper action to combat it. Racism should not be taken lightly, at work or otherwise, therefore you should take the appropriate measure to counter it. There are two ways you can go about this: HR department or manager. Whoever you choose to confide in, you should make the problem as clear as possible. Do not beat around the bush, instead tell them about the exact incident/s you have experienced. There should be a zero tolerance for this behavior in your workplace, so do not be nervous or scared to get management involved. 

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