Watercooler: When the chair of the anti-racism committee is a racist

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Watercooler is the section of the blog in which we share with you real-life horror stories from the frontlines of race in the workplace. :) This week, we have a story from V:

I work for a government agency which is charged with promoting community harmony and working to increase our city’s level of interracial trust. While i am an employee of the agency, we also have an extension arm of volunteers from the community who serve on a committee and actually do much of the leg-work. The Chair of the committee is an older white man from Baltimore who is prone to saying things like “Illegal Alien” at community immigration discussions, “China-man” or “Oriental” when discussing Yao Ming’s athletic ability, and waxed nostalgic during a luncheon about how the “A-rabs” used to sell goods on the streets of Baltimore when he was a lad.

Anyway, one day at work i discussed with him finding possible funding sources to help sponsor a study abroad trip to learn Spanish in an immersion program. While grilling me, an African American female, on why it is necessary for me to learn Spanish since we already have one Spanish speaker on staff, he also pointed out that my country of choice (Dominican Republic) sounded like i was tyring to get a work funded beach vacation.

As I stood there like an idiot trying to convince him that I was serious and not looking for a free vacation, the discussion turned to the benefits of immersion studies in terms of the cultural experience. To which he stated “Well if you want to know what it’s like to be an immigrant, I can call homeland security and tell them you’re a terrorist and have you deported. Of course they would have to send you to Africa, because you clearly don’t look Hispanic.”

I don’t remember much after that. The red veil of rage lowered and I went to my office to fume.

The thing that kills me about this guy is everyone knows he’s racist but yet and still he is the Charmian of a committee created by our local government to fight racism and discrimination.

Now, when i deal with him, i am quick to cut him short and point out his racism. Oddly enough, his impromptu visits to my office have dwindled significantly. Coincidence…?

Please email team@raceintheworkplace.com if you’d like to send in a story, put “watercooler” in the subject line, and let us know what name we should use for you. Pseudonyms and first names are totally fine. You can read more Watercooler stories here.

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. What you missed on Race in the Workplace at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on 19 Apr 2007 at 6:34 pm

    […] Watercooler: When the chair of the anti-racism committee is a racist This is the section of the blog in which we share with you real-life horror stories from the frontlines of race in the workplace. What happens when the chair of the anti-racism committee is prone to using terms like “Chinaman,” “Oriental” and “A-rab?” […]


  1. Kaywil wrote:

    WTF? Can we have some ‘emoticons’ for this blog that allows us to react with a hair-on-fire blazing red smiley face?!?!? This story is crazy. Just plain crazy!

  2. srah wrote:

    You need a way to document these comments and share them with whoever’s above him in the local government. That’s abhorrent.

  3. Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    It may be that certain times when people are using the term ‘illegal alien’ they are expressing racist sentiment, but it doesn’t follow that the mere use of the term is evidence of racism. If I use the term ‘illegal alien’ to describe a white Canadian or Brit whose presence in the U.S. is not legal, I don’t understand how there’s supposed to be anything racist going on there. There may be other reasons not to use that term, of course. This isn’t to say that the term is unproblematic, just that it’s not inherently racist.

  4. Marya wrote:

    Wow…that’s a nightmare. I don’t see why you have yet to report him because he obviously should not be holding that job…nor should he be making such comments in the workplace.

  5. AM wrote:

    Not to excuse this man, he sounds awful, but street produce vendors in Baltimore were always called Ay-rabs or Ay-rabbers. They were almost always African Americans or Jewish, not Middle Eastern or Muslim, and supposedly the name comes from “arable goods”. The man described was probably expressing racist or antisemitic thoughts anyways.

  6. Lyonside wrote:

    Jeremy: but if the discussion is about ALL immigrants, and integrating them into the city population, and the ONLY thing this moron talks about is ILLEGALs, then his reasoning is that immigrants are suspected of being illegal first, when that is rarely the case… especially if they’re getting city services. THERE is where the racism lies - seeing all immigrants as OTHER and ILLEGAL.

  7. Jeremy Pierce wrote:

    Lyonside, I’m not disputing that this guy’s use of it was racist. In the context of everything else he said, that’s overwhelmingly likely. It’s just that the way the post is worded it sounds as if it’s supposed to be a further sign of his racism merely because he used that term. I wouldn’t word it that way, because it gives the wrong impression that it’s always racist to use that term, and I don’t think that’s true.

  8. rockmara wrote:

    In the wake of the Alec Baldwin audio and the era of YouTube, how about catching this guy in flagrante delicto and submitting the evidence to the relevant hiring authority?

    And if they don’t do anything, to Oprah and the New York Times?

  9. Angel H. wrote:


    You’ve got to be careful with that. In some states, it’s illegal to record somebody without the person’s knowledge.

  10. Koko wrote:

    Wow…this type of stuff is gonna make me bring a tape recordar to work.

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