Breaking the Silence is Not Easy

This week’s reading, Breaking the Silence (Tatum, 2008), describes the reasoning behind the silence of discussing racism and other issues of discrimination. Whether it is a fear of being isolated from one’s friends and family, or a fear of sounding ignorant and unaware, fear is the root of those unsure, half-smiles when your boss says something racist and expects you to agree. Understandably, people don’t like to create an uncomfortable environment, worrying that they would be ostracized by their co-workers, peers, friends, or family. However it’s difficult for me to believe that expressing your truths and concerns about society can make those who care about you turn their backs on you. I would want my friends and family to discuss these things with me, and I would listen with an open mind and would be confident that they would do the same.

Ironically, just as we all read this article, I found myself faced with an identical situation in which fear overwhelmed my usual opinionated outbursts. As I overheard my coworker make phone calls in which she implied a student with a learning disability to be incompetent, unorganized, and “not like you and me”, I cringed, and was ready to tell her off as soon as she hung up the phone. However, my mind became filled with all of the reasons I should keep my mouth shut, such as “she’s of higher authority, you could get fired” or “It’s this other worker’s first day, do I really want her to feel like she joined a hostile working environment?” I knew that her words were coming from ignorance, and an old-fashioned sense of “lets help the poor and unfortunate”, rather than from hostility, but this did not mean that she could get away with it anymore.

Is the possibility of losing your job a good enough reason to not speak out? Where do we compromise? I gathered my thoughts over a period of a couple days, and then decided to go talk to the director of the office. Without naming names, I simply expressed that it was bothering me how some people represent our office differently than others, in possibly offensive ways. I suggested a meeting in which we all learn to talk with equal dialogues, whether in person or on the phone, treating everyone respectfully. I don’t know if this was good enough, but unfortunately it was really all I could come up with. My purpose wasn’t to get my coworker in trouble, but rather fix her mentality. But who am I to talk to her about this? She is an employee, and adult, and I’m just a student worker. What would you guys have done?

1 thought on “Breaking the Silence is Not Easy”

  1. Abbey, I think you approached the situation in the best way you could. I had a similar situation with my superior in the workplace instead it was a race related discussion. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to pick your battles. I feel like there’s no right or wrong way to deal with these situations, because they are extremely subjective. You have to consider your relationship to that person, their willingness to hear you out, and the consequences of speaking up. I also wonder if anything you could have said would have made her examine the way she speaks. Maybe approaching it in a group environment where you aren’t singling her out as being offensive might be more effective. I’m curious as to what happened afterwards. Did the office do anything to address the situation at hand?

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