Was This A Racial Slur?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about racial slur:

I started work for this company a week ago. Some coworkers were asking about my past job so I told them I used to sell vacuum cleaners door to door. I said I liked to go the the black neighborhoods because they liked how the vacuum was chrome.

No one said anything about it and than today my boss came in and said that she was letting me go because I used racial slurs and she did not think I was a good fit due to that. She also said that I said something about Mexicans but I did not. The other two people in the office had no problem saying anything about gay people and the one who said something about Mexicans is Mexican and he was talking about his hoopty car. Anyway I got fired. Thoughts?

Signed, Didn’t Mean It Bad

Dear┬áDidn’t Mean It Bad:

This is a tough thing to deal with, I’m sure. I’m sorry it worked out this way. A general guide line in most workplaces is that race is simply not mentioned unless there is a business necessity to do so. It’s not appropriate for your coworkers to make remarks about gays or Hispanics either. However, a new employee is often being watched so closely that there is no tolerance for things that others can get by with. It could be there was something about your tone or demeanor when you made the remark that was viewed as taking it past light conversation and into demeaning comments–even though you may not have meant it that way at all.It is also a sad fact that many people who don’t like a conversation or comment will never indicate it at the time, but will wait and report it.

Another truth: Sometimes issues such as these are used against someone, not because the reporting person found it so offensive but because it is a weapon that is difficult to defend against. Your best action now is to learn from this without becoming bitter about it. In your next job, when thinking about comments regarding race, gender, religion, politics or anything else , keep the criteria in mind: Is this necessary to get the work done?Or, change a story or anecdote a bit to make it work within those guide lines. After you are well established you will probably find one or two people who talk more freely than that, when they’re talking to each other. Even then you will want to be appropriate. But you might be more able to converse without weighing words so closely. Best wishes to you as you move past this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.