Identifying casual racism in the workplace

If you've never heard the term "casual racism," you're not alone. Most people are only on the lookout for more overt forms of racism, such as using particular words or phrases or creating policies that very conspicuously privilege one person or population over another.

But so-called "casual" racism is much more nuanced, and it can be difficult to see if you are not accustomed to experiencing it yourself. Below, we outline several situations and scenarios that, taken together, make up some ways that people experience subtle and often socially acceptable ways of marginalizing and discriminating against people outside of their own race or color.

  1. Beginning any statement with "I'm not a racist, but...". There is almost no situation where the end of that statement doesn't end with a racist sentiment. Saying you're not a racist doesn't make it so.
  2. Trying to be funny at the expense of another. Stereotypes are not facts. An off-handed remark in a presentation that is based on everyone believing a stereotype about a race of people - no matter what race you're referring to - is not only offensive, but it is probably illegal. Stick to your script and err on the side of being a boring professional instead of a funny guy. If you insist on being funny, choose to be self-deprecating. That's usually a safe way to get a laugh, but it's at your expense, not anyone else's.
  3. Referring to a group of people in a way that "otherizes" them. When you speak about a group of people by using a possessive ("I" or "my"), such as "my Mexicans" or "our African-American friend," you force them into having to be thought of as the "other." As in, "not one of us." Though you may mean for your language to be inclusive, in truth, it's not.

While saying and doing any of the above isn't necessarily illegal, these behaviors can signal to employees that they should be on alert. These actions could be symbolic of a more systematically racist organization that is prone to establishing policies or procedures that are not only racist but illegal. And over time, employees may come to view these casually racist acts as aggressive, which can create tension and a negative corporate culture overall.

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