What’s casual racism at work?

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Overt racism at work is usually pretty easy to spot. It includes things like co-workers who use racial slurs and bosses who give the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs to employees of a certain race while reserving the “nice” jobs for those of another.

Casual racism, however, can often be covert. It’s less about the conscious belief that one race is better than another than actions that rise out of one person’s subconscious sense of racial superiority (or subconscious belief in another race’s inferiority).

Casual racism can look like:

  • Social exclusion, where employees of one race are locked out of friendly conversations with their coworkers or treated differently
  • Inappropriate jokes that reflect common biases and stereotypes about a specific race
  • Off-color comments about a person’s skin, hair, clothing, racial identity or something similar

It’s always complicated to address racial inequality and discrimination at work. You may naturally worry that you’ll face retaliation as a result if you anger your boss or co-workers. If you do complain, you may also find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being asked to educate your peers about racism or being the focal point of some not-so-subtle meetings that are designed to bring attention to the problem.

Racism is never acceptable. It’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix problems with discrimination and racism at work. It’s your employer’s job to address such issues. If you’ve done your best to bring attention to the problem at work and your employer has failed to take action (or, worse, has retaliated against you), your next step might well be to speak to an attorney.