Watercooler: all cleaning people are named Consuela

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 another story from Sullie:

When the office I work in relocated to a new space, the owners decided they wanted to hire a cleaning service for one night a week. The general manager of the service (an older white man) came in to present the details and pricing of the service, and set up a walk-through before the weekly appointment would begin. On the day of the walk-through, the crew supervisor (a black woman) brought the cleaning crew in to survey the office, explain what they would be doing, and pick up keys. I personally met the crew, as did one of the owners, I’ll call him R. I briefly spoke with them and showed them around the office, while R gave the keys to their supervisor. All went well, everyone was friendly to each other, and the appointment was scheduled for Thursday nights.

One member of my office’s staff (a young white woman, I’ll call her F) decided she didn’t want the cleaning people touching her desk, so she would leave a post-it on it to let them know to leave it alone. She wondered aloud if she should address it to Consuela, which then became the de-facto name of the cleaning service. Every Thursday, someone would remind the rest of the office that “Consuela is coming tonight.” sometimes F would reply “Si!” or wonder if she should write her “keep off” note in Spanish to make sure they could read it. Never mind that the crew is made up of a black woman, Latino men (who speak English), and a white woman; I guess everyone who works in the cleaning business is a Latino woman by default in a racist’s world. This nonsense is still taking place, in fact, it probably will be happening in a few hours, as it’s Thursday today.

You’ll probably know where we’re going when I tell you that R’s ipod went missing one day. I heard him wondering where it was on Tuesday; he called his gym, cleaned out his car, and was going through his desk drawers looking for it. He mentioned to me that he couldn’t find it, then a few hours later he told F. that “Consuela probably stole it.” (Completely disregarding the fact that the cleaning service comes in on Thursday nights, he had his ipod all weekend, and lost it on Monday or Tuesday.) F agreed, but then added that Consuela probably didn’t have a computer to use an ipod with, so she probably sold it or gave it away. A few hours later, R found the ipod in his bag, but never corrected himself for his baseless accusation of the cleaning service, and will still warm people to put things away that they’re afraid Consuela will steal.

I seriously don’t know how I make it thorough the day without having blow-outs with these people; their level of stupidity amazes me. Suffice to say, I’m on the hunt for greener pastures, because working with them everyday is just increasing my stress and anger levels to an unhealthy elevation. Thankfully, a co-worker of mine is just as shocked at the stuff that these people say, so I do have an ally in the office, which is a huge help. Unfortunately, I’ll be able to keep sending you stories until I’m out of here, as racism, sexism, and homophobia seem to run rampant and show up on a daily basis at this office…

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.


  1. Wendi Muse wrote:

    Wow…that is insane! However, people at my office tend to have the same fear of the cleaning people and maintenance men stealing their things. It’s really sad, especially considering that most of the time, it seems as if we just lose things…not that they were stolen.

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