It seems America is finally revealing its remaining racist inhabitants who’ve bared their deepest thoughts very publicly at the time of this writing. And while this might be considered to be a chance for America to cut all ties with those people so they don’t further their states of power, how do you handle the situation when a very powerful person utters similar tripe? With L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly uttering disparaging comments about African-Americans at the date of this article, it’s placed some people who work for him in a complicated situation. Do those people walk out and be out of a job, or is there a way to help temper the situation so it doesn’t involve a harassment charge?
This situation might occur more often than you think in the workplace. You may be dealing with it right as you confer with your boss on a regular basis. Perhaps you’ve been in his office suite and heard him utter some racist comments. Other times, you may be the victim of racial taunts yourself, no matter if the boss claims he’s kidding and only being politically incorrect in that Friars Club roast way.
Your first action if you’re a direct victim of racism is to take some legal action. But beyond that, you may have to use some psychology to help at least calm the situation down so it doesn’t disrupt being able to work together.
Taking Advantage of State Harassment Laws
While the Civil Rights Act from 50 years ago still applies on a federal level, many states have harassment laws that can be used if you’re a direct recipient of racism. Some states like California allow you to go after employers directly and can potentially end their state of power in the process.
If you live in the state of New York, you have even broader protections than just about any other state. You can use the federal law to sue for damages, though that law is limited to those with 15 or more employees. Regardless, you can still get compensatory and punitive damages out of being the victim of racism. Going through New York’s state human rights law benefits you even more if it’s coming from a small business. This covers the same damages to those working with as little as four employees.
Some racist comments might be more prevalent in a small business because the boss there may think it won’t affect them as much than if in a corporation. Then again, ultimate states of power sometimes make leaders uninhibited during private events. Recording them saying those things can potentially bring them down in the states that successfully allow you to seek compensatory damages.
It’s possible, though, that you’re not a direct victim of racism and only a bystander to hearing your boss’s racist comments. They may even think you’re a good sounding board for their racist thoughts and your boss pressures you into keeping quiet. How do you handle a seemingly impossible situation like this?
Taking on a Racist Boss by Yourself
The best way to deal with a racist boss is to first go to the human resources department to report it. Particularly if you have it on record what your boss said, having HR in the know about it will help if you decide to press charges. They’ll also possibly deal with the matter themselves to save you from all the litigation charges you’ll have later.
Sometimes HR won’t take care of it, and perhaps they’ll sit on it with the thought it’ll go away to avoid a public brouhaha. When this happens, you’ll have to deal with it yourself if your boss is persistent with his racist rants in your presence. While it’s going to be a delicate situation mentioning how uncomfortable you are, an astute boss will appreciate it you mention any grievances. Don’t hesitate to tell your boss how uncomfortable you are hearing the racist comments without necessarily criticizing your boss outright. Even if you want to cuss him out up and down, you still might be able to keep your job intact.
Frequently, the best way to deal with racism is to avoid going crazy with lawsuits and find a solution so everyone can work together without animosity. Perhaps if the racism is too hard to bear for you, resigning is the only way if you’re financially secure enough to leave. When working through your own comments and HR’s involvement, the boss will get a hint that he’s risking getting into dangerous legal territory. Most bosses will stop what they’re doing and simply focus on the work rather than utter his personal feelings.
Much of this will depend on whether you can still work with someone you know is a racist, even if they manage to shut up about it. With far too many people in positions where they have no choice but to be in the job they’re in, it may have to be the same equivalent of separating the positive art side from the pitiful person in notable artists we support.