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When You’re Confronted With Racially Insensitive Terms at Work

View of Downtown San Francisco from "When You're Confronted with Racially-Insenstive Terms at Work"Last week I sat in a meeting where the word “slave(s)” was said at least 20 times.

No, I wasn’t involved in a discussion on slavery or history, as someone asked when I tweeted about it. I was in the office of a tech startup. [I’m contracting in my old career until my new one takes off.]

Each time “slave” escaped someones’ lips, I cringed internally, trying hard not to externally display my discomfort. However, with each “slave” uttered, I sank deeper in my chair as my tension found other ways to release itself: a bouncing foot, a tapping finger, deep, quiet sighs, shifting positions in my chair. With every vocal release of “slave” it was as though someone tossed the sharp-edged word directly at me. A lashing by lexicon.

I was the only black face in the room. Of course I was, this is tech in San Francisco.

In technology, “master/slave” terminology describes the relationship between entities. In the case of this meeting, the discussion centered around databases.

I’m familiar with the terms from reading about them during my undergrad studies, though they never made the cut for class usage, thank goodness.

I’d also heard the terms during orientation months ago. Mercifully, they were only vocalized twice on that occasion. Afterward, thrown by the incongruity of this word usage in 2015, I turned to Google to research if it’s a topic that’s been addressed before.

Master_Slave_Diagram from "When You're Confronted with Racially Insensitive Terms at Work" on The Girl Next Door is Black
Diagram representing the relationship between databases.

While I didn’t find much, there is one notable case. In 2003, Los Angeles County requested the naming convention not be used in county operations, despite much opposition to the change. They took action after a county employee filed a discrimination lawsuit upon coming across the phrase at work.

Unsurprisingly, those online who criticized the change – with the majority who weighed in being non-black people responded with over-intellectualized arguments about the origin of the terms, their multiple meanings, complaints about an overly PC culture, and other irrelevancies.

As a black American who descends from enslaved people, in a country where the legacy of slavery STILL has its tentacles ensnared in so many institutions and systems, not to mention daily life, it disturbed me.

Do I think that the folks in the room used the words to hurt me directly? No.

Do I think they are evil racists? No.

What I do think though, is that usage of the terminology is insensitive because it ignores the negative affects such words have on some employees, regardless of how small they are in number.

I don’t really care about the history of the words, anymore than I care about the history of the words “ghetto” or “thug.” I do not care about the usage of the phrase in other countries or in peoples’ bedrooms. I care about how the words are used here, where stolen human beings were treated like chattel, with fewer rights than a dog, for hundreds of years. I care about the fact that no one’s work experience should involve them feeling assaulted by the free usage of outdated terminology.

Words evolve in meaning and association. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. We can talk circles around the topic, but I will never again sit through this crap.

I wish I’d left the conference room. I think I was rendered immovable by the shock of the situation. My mind reeled with options. I’d considered walking out as I uncomfortably anticipated the next utterance of “slave.” I didn’t want to seem unprofessional, especially if I left mid-meeting without explanation. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want to make a scene.

Ultimately, I endured the meeting and bolted out of the room the instant it concluded.

I am somewhat ashamed by my response. I promised myself I’d no longer refrain from addressing difficult subjects just because it might make other people uncomfortable. I WAS EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. The longer I sat in the meeting, the more I heated up, stewing over the fact that if the racial makeup in the room were different, this wouldn’t be an issue. But, I was alone and no one else appeared bothered.

diversity trainer from craigslist" border="0"></a><br>More career  humor at <a href="http://academy.justjobs.com/cartoon-caption-contest">http://academy.justjobs.com/cartoon-caption-contest

I don’t expect the use of this terminology to change – at least not anytime soon. Tech is ruled largely by white men and as the thinking goes in this country when we gauge offensiveness, if it doesn’t bother them, why should it bother anyone else, right? If they don’t see a problem, it doesn’t exist.

The tech world is known for a serious lack of diversity. Words matter and continuing old practices like usage of “master/slave” terminology doesn’t help people like me feel included, nor valued.

If the tech industry really wants to attract and retain more black talent (as well as Latino/a, Native American and female), issues like this require addressing. People whose experiences differ from the majority shouldn’t be dismissed as “too sensitive.” Diversity isn’t solely about increasing the number of employees from underrepresented groups, it also involves adapting and evolving customs and practices to foster a culture of inclusion rather than marginalization.


About This Texting Thing

When did it become expected that we be attached to our phones? People can get at you all times of day and night. What are the boundaries? There used to be a time when people made plans to call each other.

They didn’t call during dinnertime.

They didn’t call when you’re sleeping in the early hours to ask “are you awake?”

They didn’t ask you to snail mail them snaps of your private bits  after one date.

Text Messaging Etiquette can be confusing and changes often | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: smartphowned.com

One of my texting pet peeves is when I read a text like this (which I seem to get especially from guys):


I don’t understand “hey” texts. How am I supposed to respond to “hey”?

When someone texts “hey”, I wonder: Do they just want to exchange short greetings? Is there a purpose to this text? If I reply, will I get drawn into a long textual conversation? A text novella?

“Hey. What’s up?”

“What u doin”

Is this rhetorical? Like when people ask, “How are you?” and then don’t listen for your answer?

Is he actually curious what I’m doing? What if he wants to do something and I just want to order pizza, lay around in my PJs and rainbow socks and watch stupid Lifetime movies? (Don’t judge me! Sometimes the allure of terrible, but snarkable TV movie fare such as, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story or the Tori Spelling classic, Mother May I sleep with Danger is too great. Anyway, I also watch 60 Minutes, so it balances out.)

“What u doin?”

“I’m [doing something really cool and impressive, yet believable]!”


“What are you up to?”


Argh! What am I supposed to say to that? What is the point of all of this?!

The Importance of Text Etiquette
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Jesus.”
Photo cr: herescope.blogspot.com

Nowadays, you see people whip out their phones at restaurants, tapping away as they ignore their tablemates; people with no home training lighting up their bright-ass screens in the middle of a dark movie theatre; of course, there’s the much maligned and dangerous texting while driving; the “almost never a good idea” act of drunk texting; and while I haven’t been in years, I bet you people are texting while churching and I know they’re not texting Jesus. What would Jesus do? Probably not text when he’s supposed to be listening to the word of his Father!

Don’t even get me started on the travesty of “text speak.”

What really gets me though, is the timing question. What is an acceptable window of time within which to return a text? Immediately? 10 minutes? An hour? Within 24 hours?

Maybe I’m a weirdo, but I prefer not feeling like I’m at my phone’s beck-and-call. I try to respond to texts in a timely fashion; I don’t want to be rude. If I don’t reply to a text right away, it’s more than likely not personal.

I am of the belief that my phone doesn’t run me; I run it!

It’s healthy to spend time apart from your phone and all its lights and bings and chimes.

If someone runs smack into a utility poll because of texting while walking, I don’t want to say they deserve it, but…

Sometimes all that connnectedness is disruptive and even stressful. Technology is meant to ease our lives; enhance it, not rule us and dictate our actions. It’s okay to tell your electronic companions, “I need some space.”

Walking and texting Photo cr: Lindsay Niegelberg, ctpost.com | From 'About this Texting Thing' on The Girl Next Door is Black
At least pay attention while crossing a street! | source

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