Don’t be an annoying white person at work


One of the most dangerous ideas in the workplace today is that racism is gone. Because it’s not.

Jesse Rothstein, professor of economics at Princeton University, shows the prevalance of racist thinking, even today. “Some people think racial discrimination is something that ended in 1972 or something. Some people think that segregation persists because minorities cannot afford the neighborhoods.”

But in fact, Rothstein found that there is a threshold for the percentage of people living in a city who are minorites. And once a city crosses that threshold, white people start leaving. In terms of white flight, Rothstein says, “There’s a real difference between a school with 5% minorities and a school with 6%.”

These are the people you work with. The white people who would leave a school district if it wasn’t white enough. No one wears a percentage sign on their shirt to let you know where they fall on the continuum of racist thinking, but we all fall somewhere.

I have written before about how subtle discrimination is. It’s not okay to be racist in an overt way. There is wide cultural agreement on this. Which means that the racism goes to places that are hard to pinpoint. For example, I reported that when we read resumes, we judge people who might be African American more harshly.

The advertising industry is so suspect in its hiring practices that the New York City Commission on Human Rights recently issued subpoenas in an investigation of systemic discrimination against African Americans. And an interview in CareerJournal unveils a long list of excuses the advertising industry uses to explain the lack of African Americans in high level positions.

In a new twist to an old story, Miriam Jordan reports in CareerJournal that employers are coming up with new reasons to discriminate against African Americans: “There is a perception that Latinos closer to the immigrant experience might work harder than black persons,” says Joe Hicks, who is African-American and vice president of Community Advocates, a nonpartisan group that aims to advance interracial dialogue.

So what can a white person do to improve the situation? Start with herself, of course. The more you understand your racial prejudices, the less they will show up at work. In the mean time, I polled a few people, and here are a some annoying things that white people say that African Americans wish they wouldn’t.

1. Don’t praise someone as articulate, as if you’re surprised. There has been a lot of dicusssion about Joe Biden calling Barak Obama articulate. My friend says he has experienced this problem many times in his life, but would never come out an say anything because he’d be labeled “too sensitive.” He quotes Michael Dyson, professor at the University of Pennsylvania: “Historically, articulate was meant to signal the exceptional Negro. The implication is that most black people do not have the capacity to engage in articulate speech, when white people are automatically assumed to be articulate.”

2. Don’t discuss politics. It is a mine field of offensive and inappropriate comments. The number of political issues that have underlying race issues makes politics too risky to contend with at work.

3. Don’t make racial jokes or comments against any race. Often whites think it’s okay to joke with a black coworker about Asian, Latinos, etc. This makes most people of color uncomfortable and also think “If whites joke with me about Asians/Latinos, etc. what are they doing when they’re with Asians/Latinos?”

4. Don’t say “you people” when referring to people of another ethnicity. It creates a division between you and the other person where a division is not necessary.

And finally, here’s a story someone sent me to illustrate how careless white people are at the office: “I recently changed positions within the same organization and willingly took a job in an office in a predominately black neighborhood. Whenever we have joint office meetings or we are in the main office only my white counterparts ask, “How are things going over there (code for “I wouldn’t be caught dead over there, do you feel safe, has your car been stolen?”) This question comes from people who never spoke to me before, and it was an every-meeting type question. In one meeting I responded with, “I don’t have a problem working around or with black people.” No one has asked since.

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  1. I P
    I P says:

    This is a very nice article. I agree with you on every single one. I was having lunch with two white guys and one of them started saying how one of the African American manager must have gotten that position because of skin color. I am an Indian and I thought what are they talking about me behind my back. Another time one guy was telling that India would be the last place on the earth he would go to because it is so poor and disgusting. Not that I care, but I did not need to hear that especially at work. I go to work, and it would be far better if the racism is kept within dining tables and poker games.

  2. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    It may be that Biden was being subtly racist. However… Barak Obama is wonderfully articulate especially compared to others in both political parties. He speaks authentically, simply, and elegantly. His voice and inflection are easy to take for extended periods. His rhetoric includes both logic and passion. He’s much, much more articulate than others (of every race) who force themselves upon us. I think he is a surprise.

    Now as far as referring to him as “clean”… that struck me as a weird call out. But I’ve only been near enough to notice the hygiene of a couple of politicos.

  3. Dave
    Dave says:

    Nice, well written article, however, I must comment about the “articulate” statement. I think you circled the edge of a problem I see with the current state of race & gender relations. While we want to be race/religion/gender blind, we are not there yet. If I say that Obama is articulate, maybe I just mean that he is articulate, period. There doesn’t have to be a hidden “for a black man” caveat left unsaid with that statement. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It is something that I regretfully have to consider any time I say anything in the work place. If I say “great job, thanks”, will she think I’m hitting on her, will he think I left “for a black man” unsaid, etc.? The only solution I’ve found is to be guarded at the beginning, but build relationships so that I can eventually I can say what I mean to say without misinterpretation.

  4. Greg
    Greg says:

    Great essay, but I take issue with “white flight” being presented at strictly race-based. In choosing where to live and raise my family, I have looked at how the public schools in a given area perform, percentage that graduate, percentage that go to college, etc. As a white, middle-aged, sensitivity-challenged male, I would much rather have my kids go to an all-[insert demographic] school, than attend a "white" school that was academically challenged.

  5. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:


    Excellent article. I would love to take things one step further. Don’t be an annoying typical person at work either.

    People should stop using the word retarded. I can’t tell you how often I hear people say “That policy is so retarded.” or “… is just retarded.”

    As the father of a special needs child it hurts to hear people say retard. It is as insensitive as saying niger, fag, or dyke. It’s just wrong.

    Developmental disabilities come in all shapes and sizes crossing all racial lines.

    Look closely and see how many people with developmental disabilities may already work in your organization.

    Ok, I’ll hop off of my soap box.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward says:

    >No one has asked since

    Maybe they thought – wooow, what a dumbass! My question had NOTHING to do with race, but he dumbly chose to interpret it as such …

    I think you are overblowing the whole thing.

    Would YOU will better walking around in a white or in a black neighborhood, given the same crime rate (artificial example, I know)?

  7. cindy@staged4more
    cindy@staged4more says:

    i LOVE you for writing this post. recently i read a blog post that was written by a quite influential blogger and the idea behind it was just, in fact, horrifying since it was a white person’s commentary on how immigrants should live when they first comes to this country. it was just frustrating to read. (luckily couple fellow readers objected although quickly dismissed by the blogger as “complaining for the sake of complaining”)

    anyway, what i want to say is that racism still persists in this country, now just don’t come in the blatant form of “you n*****” or “you slanted-eye yellow *****.” now it’s much more subtle and much more dangerous. people sometimes just spew venom and they don’t even realize it. i was sitting in my favorite cafe yesterday while a med student next me was chatting loudly with her fellow classmates: “i judge people by what they wear. if they wear something retarded then i think they are retarded.” OMG, this is from a highly educated individual who can potential ruin someone’s life with a mis-diagnoise and in whose daily job should be listening intently to the needed to figure out how he/she can help them recover.

    in both instances above, sometimes i just feel so hopeless because bias and bigotry are hard to change once they are set in people’s mind, until they suffered and experienced what others experienced. *sigh*

  8. Daniel Miessler
    Daniel Miessler says:

    > Don't discuss politics. It is a mine field of offensive and inappropriate comments. The number of political issues that have underlying race issues makes politics too risky to contend with at work.

    While this may be a good defensive strategy for not getting in trouble, I’d argue that it’s also unhealthy for society as a whole. I think if people are likely to talk about politics in a given environment but are hesitant to do so because there are black people around then it’s a sign of disease.

    True progress will not come until people are willing to address the issues they’re facing internally. While I agree with much of this post, this point I feel lends to the fostering of racism rather than open, healthy dialog.

    And I’m not saying bust out with full-on political conversation in the workplace; that’s often not appropriate. But wherever it is o.k., for whatever reason, it should not be shied away from on the account of racial sensitivity.

    * * * * * *

    I spend a lot of time thinking about why I don’t see online discussions where people of a wide range of ethnicities talk about race at work. This comment gives me a glimpse into why it is so hard. I read this comment and I think, “Uh oh, it looks like it’s a white person telling the black people not to be so uppity about politics.” But my black friend tells me that she thinks this is probably a black person who is just engaging in an honest discussion about where to draw the line.

    This comment makes me realize that it’s very difficult to have a discussion about race online because in some cases you really need to know who the person is to know what to do with the comment. This problem reminds me of how sometimes we need emoticons to let someone know if we are making a joke :)  I think I need some sort of race version of an emoticon to know how to read this comment.


    • tiffany louise
      tiffany louise says:

      your response to this poster actually was disgustingly racist and worrisome.

      do you not realise that by stating ” I think I need some sort of race version of an emoticon to know how to read this comment.” you are more or less saying “i am going to judge this comment on the base of the persons skin and not by the merit of the words.”

      white christians aren’t teh evil.

  9. Romuald Restout
    Romuald Restout says:

    I want to react on this post, but I don’t know yet how to turn my words.
    At first, I have always been surprised by the importance of the notion of race in North America. People define themselves, or are categorized as Caucasian, Afro-American, Asian-American, etc…
    I am originally from France. I moved first to Quebec several years ago. This is where I first felt racism… on the receiver end. I was white, he was white. I was speaking French. He was speaking French. The difference? the accent. So racism is a misleading term. It’s not only about race. It’s about being different.

    The other comment that pops to my mind when reading this post is about political correctness. “Don’t do this”. “Don’t do that”. “Don’t to that either”. You could offend someone. Or even “you could potentially slip towards a topic that maybe could offend someone”.
    When you start to refrain yourself because of political correctness, it is not an healthy environment. Open dialog is the sign of an healthy environment.
    If someone thinks that his colleague has been promoted because he has a black skin, it won’t make a better work environment because he’s not saying it. The issue is that he is thinking that in the first place. Speaking openly will allow someone to explain him the situation. From there 2 scenarios:
    1. He’s a smart guy. He understands the situation. He apollogizes. it was good he spoke his mind
    2- He’s a jerk. Case close. Nothing you can do about it. Fact of life: Jerks live all around us. better learn to deal with it.

  10. George
    George says:

    I’d add: #5. Don’t say, “you’re not like the other [insert ethnic group], you’re cool.”

    Looking over the comments, as usual, some get it and some don’t. Kudos for continuing to address the topic.

  11. leon
    leon says:

    i recently had a vigorous discussion with my work colleagues over whether or not jade goody’s comments on UK celebrity big brother were racist, or merely ignorant. (if yr ignorant of this particular blip on the tv trash radar, be thankful.)
    as a white australian working (at a bank) with four colleagues who are from ghana, malaysia, & south africa – and who manage to also cover the female & gay ‘minority’ groups – i admit i was a little bit self congratulatory about the situation after the fact. however, i don’t know that i would have managed the same conversation with a group of white english folks. a shared underdog mentality can be a great bonding tool, i reckon.
    i do agree with the comment earlier that the unspoken opinions & insincere nicey-nicey dancing around people we’re not comfortable with do more damage than the thoughtless, ignorant things all of us can say at times, be they sexist, racist, or otherwise insensitive (remember the joke about the black mans cock on the first series of the (UK) office?)
    i do think we could all afford to come off our high horses a bit too, rather than immediately (and very defensively – see earlier comments) assuming that we’re squeaky-clean thinkers & the bigotry in society is due to the other uneducated, ignorant, probably junk food eating, uncultured, boorish-male, yuppie, redneck, poor driving skilled, smoking, non smoking, interminable dags we’re forced to co-exist with…
    slowly we creep forward…my two p.

  12. Rui Costa
    Rui Costa says:

    Dear Penelope

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts online, which I’ve been reading for a while now. I may not agree with, but nevertheless respect, all of them.

    I come from, and live in, Lisbon, Portugal, and have always though of myself as white in an increasingly racially-mixed society.
    Having visited the US, the question never crossed my mind as to how folks would “brand” me, even quietly: white or latino?

    Regarding subtle racism, I think the very phrase “people of color” may be (mis)interpreted as racist – if only because you are made to stand out for the colour of your skin. White is a colour after all, isn’t it?

    Keep up the good work

  13. Lea
    Lea says:

    In 2000, I moved from New York state to Richmond, Virginia, a place that is still happy to call itself The Capital of the Confederacy. Race is still an acceptable topic of conversation here, which I actually think is healthier than many other places — people here state their prejudices outright instead of hiding them and/or using “code words.” I am half Caucasian and half African, and interestingly, living here has been more comfortable for me racially than living in upstate New York.

    However, I’m now job-hunting as a resident here for the first time — I moved here with a job in hand and am now switching careers — and I’ve begun to wonder whether my race and appearance have been a factor in the decisions not to hire me. (Especially since the jobs I’ve interviewed for haven’t been filled; they just decided not to hire me.) There is no way to know for sure, and of course, I’d rather not get hired due to something I can change than not get hired because of who or what I am. But it’s hard to know.

  14. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’m always perturbed by the notion of that being blind to skin color/gender/religion/sexual preference/short/tall/cultural heritage is the ideal we should strive for. It is our differences that make us interesting and individuals, and if you can accept that, then differences are not frightening or needing to be erased. I can’t stand it when someone is describing someone to me and won’t say their most obvious characteristics because they are being pc. It makes me wonder if they are even actually looking or thinking about the whole person. How absurd to say, “I didn’t notice she was white!”

    I agree with those who feel it is better to speak openly about race, etc than not. A woman whom I work with, (I’m white, she’s Afro-Caribbean) is very open about the prejudice she experiences around her (NYC). It’s rarely about being directed at her, but things her friends have experienced. I find it healthy that she can talk to me about this. Plus, one of the most eye-opening conversations I had at work about the reality of life was when two black middle-class women were speaking matter of fact with me about the hassle of frequent random stops by the police on the Interstate. (Which I had never experienced.)

    The irony of all this is chances are if you are working together in an office, you have much more in common (life-style, experience, etc) with the person you are working with who is “different” than you do with the minimum-wage working adult of the same race as you who is waiting on you at IHOP. Read “Nickled and Dimed” and “Random Family” to see the groups who are really suffering from oppression–those at and below poverty level. That is the real divider in this country.

  15. Dave
    Dave says:

    Since I made a comment about being blind to race, etc, I presume Mary’s comment was directed towards mine. Mary said “I'm always perturbed by the notion of that being blind to skin color/gender/religion/sexual preference/short/tall/cultural heritage is the ideal we should strive for.” I want to clarify that I meant we should be blind to those differences only in terms of hiring and promotions. There is nothing wrong with remembering and celebrating those differences in your personal life, but a hiring manager should strive to minimize consideration of those factors and instead concentrate on skill and ability of the applicant.

  16. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thanks Dave for the comment. I certainly agree with your intent, and I did kind of assume you were using shorthand for the full statement.

    However, I decided to point out the blind ideal because I’ve heard it so many times in many different contexts–and I truly believe some people think it is what society should strive for.

    I think the goal is really understanding, empathy, and tolerance of differences, and striving to make daily life better for all, in our personal and work life. I think I’ll be achieving that around 4:46 tomorrow afternoon–what will be my next project? Perhaps re-organizing my file cabinet. :)

  17. billy cunningham
    billy cunningham says:

    the comments on this blog display well what a massive, painful and pervasive issue race is in this country. i speak as a very articulate (i’ve been told), very educated black person who has spent most of his life happily around white people. more than anything race- especially black vs. white in the U.S. – is about relative lack of power, privelage, and value that blacks experience and that everyone in the society, including most blacks (including me) perceive. by contrast, whitesgenerally experience relative power, privelege and high value, but are not aware of it (there is a whole academic field of “whiteness studies” that documents this, i learned from a white anthropologist friend of mine. see i strongly agree we should not strive to be color blind, but rather to be aware of how the fairly recent history of slavery and segregation strongly affects everyones’ current perceptions, beliefs and behavior (yes, incuding blacks, positively and negatively).

    a subtle example of how this works is
    revealed by looking at how people’s comments here seem conditioned on whether the writer appears to have the experience of being in a more or less powerful group in our society.

    as painful as it is, this is important to discuss and be aware of. Altho is is impossible to give simple rules of behavior that will always work, thanks to Penelope for bringing the issues to mind with humor, and stirring some conversation.

  18. Harvey Johnson
    Harvey Johnson says:

    This is good open dialogue, because America is in denial and,as long as this is not addressed, healing will be delayed and the ” sick energy ” of ancestors will continue to factor in the comedy and tragedy of us all.

  19. sk
    sk says:

    Nice article.
    Benjamin Strong, I am glad you brought up the use of the word “retarded”. I work with children with special needs and I always think how awful it would be if they heard someone say “That’s retarded!”. It is so hurtful and offensive. People should really stop saying things like “That’s retarded” and “He’s a retard”.

    I’m still recovering from being told by a colleague that I am ONE of ONLY TWO “smart Indians” she has ever come across. Even when I explained to this woman how offensive she sounded, she said she “didn’t mean anything”. Probably thought she was giving me a compliment a la Biden.

  20. Rob
    Rob says:

    I’m an 27 year old Asian American man and I’ve quit one of my previous jobs because a white manager said he was going to let me head all the projects and recieve the credit of them because all the “others” were “lazy and slow.”

    Which is another way of phrasing “blacks and Latinos.” Not only did I report him but I informed the whole floor of what was said and I promptly quit.

    If I recall correctly, 9 others quit while some are filing lawsuits. On my last day there, 2 of them actually hugged me and it was the best feeling in the world.

    * * * * *

    Rob, thank you for the nice, feel-good story in a discussion that has not had a particularly feel-good bent. However I want to caution everyone that these lawsuits are typically emotionally draining, long-lasting, not particularly financially rewarding, and sometimes kill your chances of getting hired in that industry — a result that is financially disasterous for some people. I’m not saying everyone should roll over and put up with everything. I’m saying know what you’re getting into when you decide a lawsuit and leaving is better than just leaving.


    • guy smith
      guy smith says:

      hey rob. hate to tell you but this is how it goes in ANY office regardless of race. the boss says do and you do and then he takes the credit. ALL white staffs experience this as well. Quit whining with your race card and face facts. 

  21. Bianca Reagan
    Bianca Reagan says:

    Good points, Penelope. And thanks for your email! I’m always thrilled when others read my comments and my blog.

    I agree with Benjamin on not being an annoying person in general at work. You can be an insensitive individual regardless of pigmentation. There’s a lot of prejudice to go around.

    Dave, as a black person, it’s not as easy to accept being described as “articulate” as a compliment in every circumstance. From a relative or long-time friend, being called articulate is usually okay. From a casual acquaintance or a stranger, being called articulate, especially with a surprised look from the other person, is questionable.

  22. Rob
    Rob says:

    I would also like to add that the reason why almost all whites don’t seem to grasp racism is because they believe that to be racist, you have to shave your head, don a white robe, and burn crosses.

    It’s as if they believe that racism was eliminated once Martin Luther King Jr. stepped off the podium after giving his speech. *poof*

    The main problem is that these same individuals are not aware of “White Privilege” which is the covert racism that most minorities are angry at.

    It’s not that minorities have it harder; it’s that whites have it easier. In fact, it has nothing to do with race; it has to do with being part of the majority demographic.

    A friend of mine just realized what white privilege entailed:

    “Yo, listen to this. This guy walked into the shop. Then, another guy, a black guy, followed right behind to help lift up the sofa. Then, in order to move the…”

    “Wait, why did you mention “black guy” just now?”

    “Because that’s what he was.”

    “What was the race of the first guy?”


    “Why didn’t you mention that then?”

    “Because white is the default race. Everyone knows that.”

  23. Robert Dagnall
    Robert Dagnall says:

    When I first read the title of this article, I thought it was satire. Now, I’m puzzled–why can’t white people be annoying at work like everyone else?


  24. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Hi, Everyone. These are great comments. I really apprecite the discussion here. I am not sure I have anything grand to add. I have learned a lot from listening, though.


    • guy smith
      guy smith says:

      you dont have anything to add because you made yourself sound stupid enough as it is. By the way, WHITE isnt a race, its a color. Last time I checked, I dont see anyone walking around who looks white or black at all. 

    • guy smith
      guy smith says:

      you dont have anything to add because you made yourself sound stupid enough as it is. By the way, WHITE isnt a race, its a color. Last time I checked, I dont see anyone walking around who looks white or black at all. 

  25. Erin
    Erin says:

    “…illustrate how careless white people are at the office…”

    This is an offensive racial stereotype! Its not ok to be racist towards white people, either.

  26. Rob
    Rob says:

    Sorry, Erin, apples and oranges. I hate it when people play "Oppression Olympics" but it seems that whites such as yourself would rather join in on them rather than address actual issues.

    Whites don’t have a persistent stereotype of “carelessness” that can be tied to their ethnicity. When people first see white people, they don’t assume that they’re automatically careless when it comes to racial issues.

    Additionally, racial stereotypes against whites don’t prohibit prosperity in this country nor does it encourage discrimination. However, minorities face significant hardships due to racial stereotypes that whites, as the “control” demographic, have of them.

    Blacks are stereotyped as violent, angry, crime-prone, lazy, and stupid so whites are not likely to be living next to them and actively “discourage” them from moving in their neighborhoods. There was a recent study that home realtors actually guided blacks into primarily black neighborhoods and away from white neighborhoods. They’re also five times more likely to be harassed by the police (according to the NYPD report) and face harsher penalties for committing the same crimes as whites. You can’t possibly tell me that blacks don’t notice women clutching their purses a little closer when they see a black man.

    Asian Americans are viewed as “well off” which encourages robbery and crimes of jealousy. The Asian American movement was actually galvanized by such an act when an innocent man named Vincent Chin was brutally murdered by two white autoworkers who shouted “it’s because of you Japs that we’re out of work.” In addition, the stereotype of being "well off" ignores the large amount of Asian Americans that live at or below the poverty line.

    The "Perpetual Foreigner" and "Model Minority" (under the guise of being a "positive stereotype") stereotypes also cause massive amounts of problems when it comes to searching for jobs or attending college.

    See, that’s another example of white privilege. Whites don’t have to interact constantly with minorities every day. However, minorities cannot live without the interaction with whites, the same people whose stereotypes greatly affect our ability to function. Minority stereotypes don't harm whites, white stereotypes harm minorities.

    It's fully within your rights to be “stupid” when it comes to racial issues but don’t be surprised when someone gets pissed off. The author of this thread was merely trying to explain *why* minorities get angry when whites stumble onto racially offensive dialogue. What's annoying is that whites these days think that minorities are just looking for an excuse to hate whites. Sorry, that mentality is completely warped. It's not like minorities woke up in the morning and said "You know what? I'm going to start hating whitey."

    Perhaps it could be something that you're still doing wrong which gets everyone riled up. It's not your white skin that makes others think you're racist; it's the racism that makes us think you're racist. To add insult to injury, most whites these days would rather deflect blame or how minorities are hallucinating racism. It's the apathy *combined* with a condescending attitude which leaves this country in tatters when it comes to racial harmony.

    Don't get me wrong, whites aren't completely to blame. We have our own share of personal community problems and need to meet whites halfway. I've always believed that out of most of the problems you'll face in life, 50% of it is your own fault. Whites just refuse to acknowledge their share of the 50%.

    • Cinthia
      Cinthia says:

      When I read that minorities have to interact with anglo-Americans, but that anglos don’t have to interact with minorities everyday, I almost chocked on my cereal. I lived in a mostly mexican community since birth upto my 27th year. I survived just fine without having any “white” interaction. I spoke more spanish than english. I think that “White” people just have to stop and think about what they are saying. Just because you read in a book, or a “white” professor told you so does not make it universaly true. By the way, not all “people of color” or minorites are brown, or any shade other than “white”. I am a white hispanic, often confused of being non hispanic, and to use “white” exclusively with the anglo race is ignorant.

  27. dc
    dc says:

    Considering that I was just at a law school happy hour and was confronted with a “joke” asking if I wanted Fried Chicken and Watermelon – I find this article very much on point! In fact, I’m tempted to print it out and pass it around to a few people who would call themselves my “friend”

  28. Paul Martin
    Paul Martin says:

    Glad you added “as if you’re surprised” – you’ve give this some nuance that was missing in the discussions I’ve heard so far. How something is said and its context matters a lot. It’s not like there should be a “rule” to never call a black person articulate when it’s clearly meant as nothing but praise. For example, Martin Luther King, imo, was the most spiritually articulate orator who’s come along in my lifetime.

  29. Ann Murphy
    Ann Murphy says:

    Discrimination in all forms is very much alive and well. And while calling today’s discrimination subtle suggests it’s no longer blatant, it would probably be more on target to say discrimination today has gone underground. Case in point. I have coined a phrase to describe the sexist male chauvinist of yore — today he’s just a new good ‘ole boy and far more insidious and dangerous than his predecessor. Why? Because the new good ‘ole boy reserves his true feelings for locker room chats, boys night out, etc. On the surface he appears to be a modern man w/nary a sexist thought. As for me, I’d take a chauvanistic male of yester year any day. At least all the cards are on the table and you know right away what you’re dealing with and how to respond. Not so, with the new good ‘ole boy!

    Here’s another example of how discriminiation has has gone underground. Shortly after 9/11, an elevator repair man whom appeared to be of middle eastern descent began servicing the elevators in the building where I worked. I can’t tell you how many people asked me in hushed tones behind closed doors or beyond the hearing range of others whether I had noticed the new elevator service man. I might add these were not casual acquaintances. In today’s world you would never utter something politically incorrect in front of just anyone. You select those you are going to share your most un-PC opinions with carefully.

    So in the end, what has our liberal facading and never ending quest for political correctness wrought? Not much, we’ve only served to force below the surface what should have been left in plain view. After all, for change to really take place, you need to know what people really think not what they want you to think.

  30. D
    D says:

    I just can’t resist the horror story on this one…

    I once worked in at a university hospital fundraising office – very professional setting, meeting with very well regarded doctors, wealthy patients, and so on. There was a woman there who first volunteered that she would be moving out of the city if the black candidate won they mayor’s race, along with many other people. My eyebrows went up, but I kept my mouth shut, since I felt (probably wrongly) that this was one of those things on the the fine edge of appropriate and out of bounds.

    Later we went to work as volunteers at a charity golf tournament. The whole time up and back (about two hours each way) she talked loudly on her cell phone, and told us what her husband thought about *everything.* How boring. Eventually she was telling some story about a black person committing some crime, and said that her husband was just saying the night before “well, you know, once a [N-word], always a [N-word].” I was absolutely stunned.

    The problem now is that when someone does something so incredibly unprofessional, I can only say “wow, that was the second most unprofessional thing I have ever seen anyone do.” The one above just blows the rest away.


  31. Randy
    Randy says:

    I live in south mississippi and travel a lot for business. Being in social situations both professional and personal in a wide variation of demographics, I have learned so much about stereotypes and racism in general. It is interesting to me that while a person can scream about negative racial stereotyping of minorities that these individuals inadvertantly do quite a bit of negative stereotyping of caucasions in general. For those in the racial majority, it can be quit offensive to hear that sort of reverse racism as well. In a discusion on this very topic one day at lunch, I was being subjected to a barrage of reverse racism. I was shocked because if I as a caucasion were to have said the same thing about minorities it would have been completly unacceptable. I pointed out that fact and was told, “I can’t be a racist. I’m black. Only white people can be racist”. WOW… I once met a co-worker in another state that made the comment to me, “I have never met a racist befor” I ask what she meant, and she said, “your from Mississippi and everyone from Mississippi is a racist”. As silly as this sounds, she was serious. This came from a white woman in Arizona. Incredible.

    My point is this, while Rob and many others of various ethnic backgrounds including caucasions have probably been subjected to insensitivity and ignorance at one point. Assuming the worst and harboring bitterness is never a good attitude. Perhaps that manager meant “others” as being everyone else but him. Meaning everyone and not just minorities. Maybe it was an honest compliment of his abilities as an employee and there were truly no racial undertones meant. I think unjust oversensitivity is causing this “political correctnes nightmare”. Sure sometimes there may actually be an ignorant statement made to that effect. Lets deal with that on a case by case basis.

    If we as a human race would look at every person as an individual and judge them on their own words, merit and actions and stop the stereotyping in general, racism would fade away. The connotation that white people are part of a collaborative effort to supress minorities and we are all racist is as ignorant and narrow minded as white people thinking that minorities are all stupid and can’t speak properly.

    I do a lot of public speaking and often comment on the speaking abilities of others of all ethnic backgrounds. My comments are strictly about their ability, not a racial “jab”. I can’t stand the thought of someone assuming if I say, “Great job, he/she is really quite verbose”, that I left out the, “for a (insert minority)”.

    I think we all need to start focusing on the future. While there are many great lessons to be learned from the past and many great leaders that we can draw wisdom and guidance from their words. To move forward as a nation we need to drop our defensive shields, stop pointing fingers, calling names, acting like children that had toys taken from them by the school bully, act like adults and take responsibility for our own situation and success or lack thereof. Statements like,”Whites just refuse to acknowledge their share of the 50%” do nothing but let racism fester and keep anger and bitterness alive.

    Rob, I know you mean well and probably were truly offended by your experience but Stereotypes hurt all races, saying otherwise is being ignorant and racist. Stereotypes perpetuate stereotypes.

    Is there a difference of one stereotype to another just because of the color of the person. I think not.

  32. Rob
    Rob says:

    When will people understand that stereotypes at the expense of the majority do not equal the stereotypes of the minority; especially since the latter have a history of being abused both physically and mentally? Minorities have a history of being marginalized, dehumanized, degraded, minstrel-ized. If we proposed the opposite, we’d be lynched.

    I’m sorry to be the one to burst your harmonious “colorblind” view of society where equality is paramount but while being colorblind sounds like a good idea on paper, it’s anything but that. The word “colorblind” contains a very important word and the word is “blind.” It means you can’t see. I’d rather see everything and make a conclusion based on what I can see. The perfect solution is for everyone to see race but treat everyone equally. If you can’t see race, you can't understand what’s offensive to any particular group.

    Different races in this country are not equal and their ability to project racism and stereotypes, while equal in derogatory intent, are not equal in how they transpire in American society. Your theory on how the world should be colorblind is extremely dangerous because it ignores explicit details on how racism affects others in this country. As I’ve stated before, whites don’t suffer the ramifications of racial stereotypes as potently as minorities do because whites don’t depend on minorities to survive but minorities depend on whites.

    This helps explain your experience with the individual who stated “I can't be a racist. I'm black. Only white people can be racist.” Let me state that I don’t agree with that assessment but I know where the rationale behind it comes from. The reason for the whole theory on how blacks can’t be racist is taken from what I’ve stated above. There is an innate ability for individuals of all walks to life to be racist. However, it’s when a certain group can act on their prejudices is when racism forms into a tool to subjugate others.

    Since, they rationalize, blacks have no power to act on their prejudices; they can’t be racist. However, whites can actually conduct action from beliefs which causes discrimination. Who controls the media, political power, and economic power in this country? Whites do. If whites have racial stereotypes of certain people, they have the ability to act on it and negatively influence minorities and other whites. Though whites are subjected to the same racial harassment by individuals on the street, these same perpetrators can’t do more than insult you. (I’m obviously removing physical assault out of the equation at the moment) However, will they ever have the ability to pull you over and harass you, not represent you in government and media, decide where you can live by steering you away from certain neighborhoods, or not hire you for a job? No. Whites, on the other hand, control all avenues of economic and social progress because they control everything.

    In regards to your analysis of my personal story, your "excuse" that he said “others,” he meant everyone else but me is great example of racial ignorance. It’s possible but when a stereotype conveniently fits the appropriate race, it’s not bloody likely. Your example is exactly why the British didn't understand why there was such as huge outrage over the racial row on the UK version of Big Brother with Shilpa Shetty, an Indian. Long story short, one of the contestants, Jade Goody, referred to Shetty as “dirty, can’t speak English, and disgusting” and wondered if she “sleeps in a shack” or if she was “thin because they don’t cook their food well which is why they’re so sickly.”

    Now, I want you to come up with all the stereotypes of Indians that are rife in Anglo society. Dirty. Poor. Live in shantytowns and slums. Smelly.

    Could it be mere coincidence that Jade’s comments just happened to reinforce specific stereotypes to the appropriate race? Yes but not likely. If a black person was bothering you and you told him to “go away and keep busy by pimping a woman, stealing a car, or singing a rap song,” would it be racist? Yes, because blacks are stereotyped with those aforementioned stereotypes and it becomes racially tinged. Would it make sense to use the same exact sentence with an Asian person? No, because the stereotype doesn’t fit the race.

    My former supervisor complained about the rest of my fellow workers and called them lazy and dumb. They just all happened to be black and Latino who, in turn, are stereotyped as dumb and lazy. You decide rationally and ask me that question again.

    I’m also tired of politically correctness but whites have to understand that the reason why we have this “political correct nightmare” in the first place is because whites haven’t learned anything at all and choose to not look racist by employing a “No Tolerance” policy when it comes to racial issues. This results in whites clamming up and would rather not talk about racism in general.

    I wish to make this perfectly clear to Randy and everyone else that might be reading this blog. I am in no way bitter or resentful towards whites and fully acknowledge that there are good and bad people in every demographic. However, I believe in telling it like it is and from what I’ve seen, the white community is ignorant at best and racist at worst when it comes to racial issues in this country. And as another point of “White Privilege,” whites can view the world in a colorblind fashion because they can choose to see or ignore race at a whim, minorities cannot. We’re constantly reminded of our race and it's a luxury we don't have.

    Minorities are not fighting for more than they deserve, they’re fighting to get what whites have and whites just don’t seem keen on giving it to them.
    I think that the future of the country when it comes to racial issues will get worse. That's my personal assessment. As I've said before, whites chose to remain willfully ignorant about this topic and it'll completely consume the country. By that time, it'll be far too late to repair ties between us.
    As the majority population and control demographic, whites have the power to actually affect big change and open peaceful and honest dialogue in order to rectify grievances. Whites must take the first step, minorities can't. God knows we try to bring it up whenever we can but we constantly hit a wall of apathy from, surprise, whites.

  33. Rob
    Rob says:

    I would also like to point out that if whites are stereotyped as racist, the stereotype is earned by whites constantly stereotyping minorities. Think about it. If whites didn’t stereotype minorities, the stereotype of whites being racist couldn’t possibly happen.

    On another note, these are two great pieces explaining the intricacies of White Privilege and it showcases a small list of some racial perks that whites enjoy.

    Many whites and some “conservative” minorities have criticized us for speaking out on something which they allege is trivial, doesn’t exist, or doesn’t affect us.

    One of them is written by Paggy McIntosh and another by Tim Wise; two very eloquent and outspoken anti-racism activists.

    Tim Wise:
    “Race to Our Credit”

    • guy smith
      guy smith says:

      ok Rob, ill point out then if the “non white” stereotype is spoken about or presented, its because large groups of white kids dont walk around wearing red caps and addidas, harassing anyone and anything who walks by. If the “non white” stereotype is earned, its because white people dont drive around shooting people except in the rare case where the white person wants to be anything other than white. Your’re right, each race earns its stereotype. The only difference is the white stereotype ends up as insulting, the non white stereotypes end up with some one robbed, stabbed or shot. 

    • guy smith
      guy smith says:

      ok Rob, ill point out then if the “non white” stereotype is spoken about or presented, its because large groups of white kids dont walk around wearing red caps and addidas, harassing anyone and anything who walks by. If the “non white” stereotype is earned, its because white people dont drive around shooting people except in the rare case where the white person wants to be anything other than white. Your’re right, each race earns its stereotype. The only difference is the white stereotype ends up as insulting, the non white stereotypes end up with some one robbed, stabbed or shot. 

  34. Dave
    Dave says:

    Rob – long post, but interesting. I disagree with some of the observations, but your points are worth thinking about and considering – thanks. I’d like to engage in a longer discussion about this, but I think I’d like some time to consider your points before I post more.

    At the least, thanks for making this a thoughtful and interesting discussion. This subject is certainly one which can be difficult to discuss in such a calm manner.

  35. Rob
    Rob says:

    Dave, that’s perfectly fine and you seem to possess a desire to learn when discussing such a sensitive topic such as this. It’s a discussion I would look forward to and wish to set up such a debate. I don't mind ignorance. It's the fact that so many people refuse to learn and actually wish to indulge in their ignorance like a chocolate cheesecake.

    Given the tone of hostility with such a topic, it’s driven by one reason and it was Randy’s simplistic and misleading idea that somehow stereotypes seem to affect everyone, across all races, evenly. This is definitely not the case; as I proved above, white stereotypes of minorities can lead to mass discrimination while minority stereotypes of whites have limited projection since it’s not likely for minorities to negatively influence their personal economic and social success of whites.

    The first step is for the white community to acknowledge that they already have an advantage in this country simply for being white. While personal success obviously involves self determination, society is not equal. A large part of the problem is that white individuals in this country who think minorities have a heads up with policies such as affirmative action, history month, and culture clubs, don't understand this specific concept of white privilege and they absolutely refuse to believe that maybe, just maybe, they might have it easier than anyone else.

    This why I believe the country is not going to make inroads into this debate for at least a few decades. We're (all races) are simply not mature enough for it.

    • tiffany louise
      tiffany louise says:

      so it is ok to be racist as long as the group you are being racist towards is in a position of advantage?
      i’m going to stop reading now.

  36. David
    David says:

    Penelope, great article – I’m fast becoming a fan. If you get the opportunity sometime, read some Crit Theory (Critical Race Theory) books. You’re in an interesting position being a Jewish female, with a biracial child. And you have a platform from which to comment from time-to-time. My diversity anecdote came from Southern Cal when Chuck inquired of me re: recruiting. I basically responded that players just want to play at the highest level. As you know, the vast majority of recruiting for women's’ volleyball is via the “club system.” I basically conveyed to him that players, who don’t have access to the clubs, could “fit in” the program (previously the only players of color were biracial). Sure enough, Chuck began to expand his recruitment activities, which I believe was for the better. Heterogeneous society, inclusion is always, besides you may pass up good talent in following the status quo.

  37. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    So basically walk on egg shells around black people if you’re white. Lovely. At least the double standard is growing, maybe it will grow to a size that will begin to be obvious to the mainstream and then we can move on with our lives. Ever think people take themselves a bit too seriously?

  38. Shirley
    Shirley says:

    “So basically walk on egg shells around black people if you're white. Lovely. At least the double standard is growing, maybe it will grow to a size that will begin to be obvious to the mainstream and then we can move on with our lives. Ever think people take themselves a bit too seriously?”

    Seriously! This article is garbage.

  39. fedup
    fedup says:

    In response to Shirley who posted last. The article is garbage to you, because you want to be the racist that you are. You are probably too scared to confront an African American person. Just like most racists. You walk around with that look on your face and do petty racist acts. If an AA acted like some of the references in the article tells you not to do, we would be dismissed rather quickly. I hate that term “you are taking yourselves a bit too seriously.”. When you walk a mile in someone elses shoes then you really give an honest opinion.

  40. Karla
    Karla says:

    Don’t be an annoying WHITE person… isn’t this statement racist? Plug in any other color here to run the test.

  41. mel
    mel says:

    You actually are the annoying white person. I’m so tired of white appologists and their wealth of knowledge on racial relationships. If this article was written by a minority who has actually had these experiences, I would take more credence in the opinions of the author. How about writing an article titled “Don’t be an annoying black person at a movie theater”. i’m sure you actually have experience with that.

  42. Sam
    Sam says:

    Hi everyone,

    Interesting blog. I just want to add some points about prejudice in the US as an outsider. I am an African residing in the US. I went to school and I’ve been in the work force for quite a while. Growing up in Africa, I was taught by a diverse group of teachers both africans and europeans. I used to be very open about the world as I have never been judged by how I look like (color of my skin). My experiences in the US changed my whole perpective about people of other race. I had to remind myself constantly not to be caught up in the whole ‘labeling’ and ‘boxing’ culture of America. Most americans when they first see me (before I start talking) they will think I am african american because I am not very dark skin and fit in the ‘african’ they have in their mind. So, some white americans who do not like african americans will try to ‘not look into my eyes’ and all kinds of their usual actions against the ones they think I am from…. then later on when they find out I am not an american they tend to loosen up.. The african americans will smile at me and try to be my ‘friend’ at the beginning. Then once they know I have a different background and outlook in life.. they tend to have a problem with me as I do not gang up and box myself with either boxes they all tend to belong.
    Basically, I found americans not to have an open mind to make friends and deal with people who is of a differenct background or race. Here in the US one of the greatest experiences I have is meeting people from different cultures, I have friends from China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Caribeans and other Africans… When America is such a great place to meet and learn about each other, typical americans do not take an advantage of broadening their horizons and see beyond ‘labels’…..

  43. sanfran
    sanfran says:

    Private schools promote ignorance and bigotry. It’s how they make money – scaring asians and whites away from dark skinned people.

  44. Leah
    Leah says:

    To me the suggestions in your post seem like common sense and basic politeness. Of course, it is always helpful to be reminded of things in a concrete way. And important to be reminded that there are lots of people who are still out of touch enough that they could use these suggestions.

  45. Danah
    Danah says:

    I am white and sick to death of the racial insults handed out to the white population.

    It’s like it’s assumed that racism only happens to black and asian individuals!

    I work in a predominantly black environment and I’m joked at every day for my colour and there’s nothing I can do about it!

    This article is very one-sided and (from my point of view) has been written as though it’s true of all whites.

    Racism of ANY description is disgraceful and is not restricted to black/yellow/brown skin tones – €“ don’t forget that!

  46. Pg
    Pg says:

    I love the part at the end when you tell your story. You know when you stereotype white people. You don’t want to be associated with stereo types, yet you stereotype. Because I am pretty sure all white people are not the same. just like all black people are not the same.

  47. Tim
    Tim says:

    This article is written as though whites are the villains. I have been fortunate enough to work around the world. Most of the world population is not white, has brown eyes and dark hair. Most non-white majority nations dislike foreigners unless they have money to give. In every non-white country in the World the whites are racially abused (with no right of redress) in ways that would raise billions of dollars of litigation in the US. Do you think this won’t happen in the US when whites become the minority?

  48. Dan
    Dan says:

    Strange coming from the epitome of white stupidity, a white liberal in Madison, WI. I noticed my northern visitors are far more “sensitive” to race than we are down here in Tennessee. I have heard both black and white people describe people by their race and this is not considered offensive, yet I say this to my wife’s relatives and it’s so “uber” sensitive that I get accused of “why does that matter.”

    My neighbor, “cash money,” has a black business partner. This is fact, not sure what the big deal is.

  49. nicole
    nicole says:

    please excuse the mispells or grammer. im only 18. i think its important that we understand that racism doesnt mean “prejudice towrds any race of people other than ‘white’ people.” racism goes both directions. latins or african americans or polynesians or anyone else w/ darker skin can often be racist towrds white people. im a waitress and there are only 4 white people (including myself) at the restraunt i work at. there are apx 40 or so mexican workers so im completly out numbered. and unfortunatly the latin workers treat me and the other 3 white workers like SHIT! I had to use a swear word and capatalize it because this is no overstatement. they talk bad about us (in spanish) the whole time we’re at work. (they dont know i know spanish so they dont know that i know everything theyre saying. they screw us over by giving themselves more tables, more hours, better shifts, and then to top it off just treat us very poorly throughout the work shifts. the only reason i get any shifts at all and ever was hired there in the 1st place and then am able to keep my job there is because the general manager (who’s never there because she manages other restraunts as well) happens to be one of the 4 white people. it sux to be treated poorly just cuz of your race. i wish the darker people at my restraunt would learn to treat everyone, regardless of skin color w/ mutual respect

  50. Ben
    Ben says:

    Why are white people in this article referred to as ‘white’ and not European American while black people are referred to as African American? Seems a bit racist to assume that all black people in America are first generation immigrants from Africa. Either that or the author giving blacks a more specialized title because he/she thinks he/she is being PC.

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