The Low Cost of Being Racist


Hotel owner tells Hispanic workers to change names. You know, you’d think that at some point in this series of increasingly bad decisions it would have occurred to him that he was creating a public relations nightmare, if nothing else. But I guess this is one of those times where bigotry trumped any semblance of critical thinking skills. And it’s easy to say that being a bigot is a state of mind devoid of logic in the first place, but it’s more complex than that. I’m certain that this man (and all the people like him) are convinced that their behavior isn’t based in racism or is even problematic. They really believe that they are in the right and it’s other people who lack logic. And it’s not until there are real consequences that they begin to consider the possibility that maybe, possibly, perhaps their thought process is flawed. But that’s an uncomfortable thought pattern and not necessarily one they follow for long so real change is rare. Why? Because sooner or later other people who know them (or who just agree with them) start saying things like “So and so is a good man. He’s not a racist.” or “They are just a product of their times. You have to understand.” or even (and this one is my favorite) “That’s not real racism. Real racism is…” because some folks think that it takes a burning cross, rope, and a tree before it’s real racism.

Racism doesn’t work that way of course, but it might as well when you consider that other than the initial public censure someone like this hotel owner faces, there’s not much in the way of consequences for most racist behavior. And no, I’m not advocating time in the stocks or whatever horrible physical punishment someone wants to liken to being held accountable. All I’m saying is stop giving out those excuses and justifications and free passes because it’s not racist enough for whatever standard would make it difficult to look a POC in the eye while retaining a relationship with the person whose bad behavior you’re excusing. I won’t even get into whether or not someone should boycott businesses/books/other goods and services based on individual bigoted actions. That’s a personal decision. I just want the minimum cost for engaging in racist actions to be acknowledgment that the action is racist. Yes, there is no way to peek inside someone’s heart and know for sure that their motivation was conscious racism, but it’s not about the intent, it’s about the impact. So, regardless of what you know about your friend, relative, significant other, favorite comedian, other unnamed person connected to your life in some way…stop making excuses for their bad behavior. Personal accountability isn’t toxic even when it’s being taken for toxic behavior.

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The Low Cost of Being Racist

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32 Responses to The Low Cost of Being Racist

  1. 1
    Myca says:

    Great post.

    One of the things that always strikes me when I read blog comments in particular is that there are always a few people who, on almost any blog post related to racism, will pop in to say “That’s not racist!” or “We don’t have all the evidence!” or “Charges of racism get thrown around to freely” or “Let’s hear the other side of the story”.

    It would be one thing if it just happened some of the time, but it happens a lot, and it’s always the same people.

    I just have to wonder … how do these folks lack the self-awareness necessary to recognize what they’re doing? How can they not pause and say to themselves, “Wow, you know, I must really seem like a racist asshole to everyone around me. I should cut that out.”

    Quick rule of thumb: if 75% of the time people of color complain about racism you’re there to tell them why it’s not really racist … then you’re racist.


  2. 2
    PG says:

    My instinct is to agree with every word of this post, except for one concern: does it make sense to establish an acknowledgment of “that’s racist” as a sufficient response? I had thought the reason that even ridiculously egregious racists (e.g., the guy with KKK paraphernalia in his business who referred to health care reform using the N-word; the justice of the peace who refuses to marry interracial couples) will deny that their words or actions are racist is because of fear of consequences beyond people shrugging and saying “yeh that’s racist.” It’s because they do have to fear the letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, etc. that they care about not being labeled as racists. If the label carries no other penalty, I doubt they’ll care about it anymore.

  3. 3
    Karnythia says:


    I would prefer the bar be higher, but I think a lot of the resistance to calling out racism revolves around this idea that it’s the worst thing in the world to have to bear the label for longer than 5 seconds. So, we may need to set the bar just that low for some people to be able to get them to undestand the need for the letter writing and boycotts. This is not about the people who are racist, this is about the people who are willing to excuse their actions.

  4. 4
    PG says:


    but I think a lot of the resistance to calling out racism revolves around this idea that it’s the worst thing in the world to have to bear the label for longer than 5 seconds.

    Right, but I think the idea that it’s so awful to have to bear the label comes from the belief that the label has consequences: that being labeled as a racist will mean you make less money or have fewer friends or don’t have opinions that should be taken seriously. And it’s those consequences that the racism-excusers are trying to deflect on behalf of their relatives/ friends. If being racist has no more import than finding brunettes more attractive than redheads — if it’s merely a difference of taste — then there’s no sting in the label. On the other hand, if it’s a moral judgment on the person, in a society where moral judgments generally come with some kind of consequence — legal, social, economic, political — then the label will be fought off by the person on whom we’re sticking it, and by his friends. They’ll declare that he wasn’t even thinking about race, that he belongs to the NAACP, that he lets black people use his bathroom.

    I don’t think the racists and racist-defenders who are even moderately intelligent and articulate will fall for the idea that if they’re just willing to concede that there was racism, no further consequences will attach to them. It’s like telling a kid who stole from the cookie jar that if he just admits it, he won’t be punished. The kid knows he took a cookie from the jar, whether he’s willing to see it as “stealing” or not, but he’s not going to admit it so long as he has to fear punishment. On the other hand, how do you keep someone who doesn’t understand for himself that what he did was wrong, without there being sanctions of some sort for his actions?

  5. 5
    Sailorman says:

    but I think a lot of the resistance to calling out racism revolves around this idea that it’s the worst thing in the world to have to bear the label for longer than 5 seconds.

    Well, part of it is that the “racism as evidenced by mild intolerance” guy doesn’t want to be lumped in with the “puts n****r on his roadside sign” guy, and that guy doesn’t want to be lumped in with the KKK lynching guy, and that guy doesn’t want to be lumped in with some other worse-in-his-mind person, and so on.

    I mean, even in this very liberal blog:
    (1) how many of you can think of something which you did or said or thought in the last week, which was racist under one of the major racism theories? I certainly can.

    (2) How many of you would feel comfortable knowing that at a party where you weren’t there, one of your friends would announce, “Boy, _____ certainly did something racist last week!” I certainly wouldn’t.

    Even the people who are supposedly MOST supportive of the “just accept the word as a teaching tool!” argument don’t like getting the label. Why should anyone else like it?

    And the other part of it is that the people claiming not to understand why it’s a big deal are being a bit backhanded because they want it to be a big deal; that’s why they use words like “calling out.” They are trying to enforce social action by using a label as a threat. One can’t simultaneously use a label as an insult and also expect people to toe the line socially to avoid getting the label and also expect that people will accept the label willingly. It just doesn’t make sense.

  6. 6
    PG says:


    I see your overall point, but

    Even the people who are supposedly MOST supportive of the “just accept the word as a teaching tool!” argument don’t like getting the label. Why should anyone else like it?

    This isn’t a matter of whether one “likes” it. There’s a long-ass old post on this blog that frequently comes back up in the sidebar due to fresh comments and trackbacks, titled How Not To Be Insane When Accused Of Racism (A Guide For White People). The post fully acknowledges that no one “likes” being called out for racism. Its point is that if one actually cares about being not merely “not racist” but anti-racist, one’s embarrassment or hurt pride should take a backseat to examining honestly why one’s words or deeds were called racist.

    My go-to example for this in my own life is when someone called me trans-phobic for using the term “WBW” (woman born woman) to refer to myself. At the time, I didn’t know that WBW was offensive, and also didn’t know the word “cis-gender” to describe myself as “not trans-gender,” and I don’t think I had any trans-phobic intent. However, I did realize that if trans people were saying “Um, yeah, we wish you wouldn’t” (even if it was a non-trans person who was being really nasty rather than helpful about it), I should listen to them and change my vocabulary and also my behavior: first of all, by reading more basic 101 stuff instead of assuming that simply because I thought trans women belonged at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and anywhere else cis-gender women did, I clearly was a trans ally and should be out educating other people and not stressing much about educating myself.

    In other words, it’s possible to simultaneously say, “I said something that’s racist/sexist/transphobic and I apologize” AND “I don’t want to be racist/sexist/transphobic, and don’t believe I am, and will take action to live up to that aspiration and belief about myself, so that I don’t keep saying or doing stupid things that reasonably lead people who don’t know me to believe I’m bigoted.”

  7. 7
    Sailorman says:


    my post seemed on topic; my reply to your post isn’t, so it’ll be on the open thread once I finish writing it.

  8. 8
    Rosa says:

    I wonder if it’s even possible to get to the point where acting racist actually does endanger people’s jobs or relationships?

    Actually using the label *is* a low bar, especially for obvious stuff like this…but I sort of feel like, no matter what they say in public, these guys own the label in private…or say ridiculous shit like “I’m not racist, I just hate those people.”

  9. 9
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Imho, the simple problem is that for decades, media portrayed racist people as cartoonish supervillains – people who loved evil for it’s own sake… never as otherwise-decent people with a terrible character flaw that leads them to hurt others that they rationalize away. Same goes for abusers and every other villain du jour.

    Obviously there are real monsters like that (see the neo nazi thread above) but the fact that the stereotype existed to the near-exclusion of all others meant that a racist simply thinks “I’m not like that – I’m not a Hitler-loving Klansman, so I’m not racist – I’m just realistic”.

  10. 10
    PG says:

    I wonder if it’s even possible to get to the point where acting racist actually does endanger people’s jobs or relationships?

    Sure it does — including for people who are themselves non-white. Kiwi Camera seems to be quite brilliant, but it’s very difficult for him to get either a job in a large law firm or a tenure-track faculty position because of something he wrote when he was 16.

    (The racist remarks that the Washington Post does not specify are that Camera, when he wrote notes in class as a law student, occasionally used the word “nig” to refer to African Americans, e.g. “Nigs buy land w/ no nig covenant; Q: Enforceable?”)

    Obviously, it’s different depending on the social context. Law firms and law schools are going to care more about what comes up on a Google search of an employee’s name than Wal-Mart cares. And this is about right; it would be kind of horrifying if we treated people who had said something racist as being so persona non grata in our society that they couldn’t get even a minimum wage job to support themselves. Racist speech or even acts (so long as the acts are not criminal) shouldn’t disqualify people from doing work that doesn’t involve self expression or making judgments on others. But I would worry that someone who had expressed racist sentiments would not be capable of grading African American students fairly as a law professor. And of course someone who refuses to marry an interracial couple has no business being a justice of the peace in the first place.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    karnythia, you start this off by citing that this hotel manager tried to force his workers to Anglicize their names. I think that’s pretty outrageous myself. Upon reading the link, I note that he also requested that his workers speak only English in his presence. You didn’t comment on that; I was wondering what you thought about it.

    Unless you think that’s off topic ….

  12. I’m not sure I can accept racism (or other forms of bigotry) as a binary thing that a person either is or isn’t. Sometimes (though not in this instance) people will say or do things that can be taken as racist or not. These people should obviously not be given a pass, but is it better to lash out at them, even justifiably, than to attempt to educate them first, then lash out?

    Only in very limited circumstances — again, clearly someone who requires his Hispanic employees to do their best to pass can’t be fixed. But I think encouraging people to speak carefully is better than discouraging people from speaking at all, in most cases.

    1) how many of you can think of something which you did or said or thought in the last week, which was racist under one of the major racism theories? I certainly can.

    I can’t, offhand. But it is because I read this very liberal blog, and because of the beliefs and convictions that led me to this very liberal blog, that I take that as a sign of privilege and poor memory rather than a sign that I’m not racist. I suspect a lot of people who react to being called racist with kneejerk denial don’t have such convictions, so racism is in total opposition to their self-image.

    Which is a reason to call people out on it, in the hopes that they’ll learn, but it’s not without value to separate those who learn and thus can be fixed with those who don’t and needn’t be listened to or patronized.

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    The initial premise makes me think of something that I personally encounter quite often. I’m in IT, and I spend a fair amount of time talking to customer support for companies like Cisco, HP, etc. I have had a number of instances where I call up and get someone with a blatantly Indian access tell me their name is “Fred”. Did you all see Slumdog Millionaire? Did you happen to notice while the lead character was distributing tea in the call center that people had signs like “Your name is Charles” up in their cubicles? That’s no joke. That’s real. The guy’s real name may be Rajbhandary (sp?), but he’s “Fred” when he’s talking to you and me.

    Now, is that racist? Remember, too, that these fine folks are very likely NOT Cisco/HP/etc. employees, they work for Tata who contracts out to Cisco, etc.

  14. 14
    Jeff Fecke says:

    Now, is that racist?

    Yes. Period.

  15. 15
    PG says:


    The call center employees are trained to try to sound as American as possible. One of my sister’s friend worked for a summer in India as basically a “cultural trainer,” working to make the employees’ English sound American rather than Anglo-Indian, and teaching them cultural references. It was actually part of her job to watch DVDs of “Friends” with her trainees, pausing each time someone had a question about idiom or didn’t understand a joke in order to discuss that particular cultural difference.

    When I first heard about this, it sounded like a ridiculous waste of time and money (my sister’s friend was getting paid almost as much as her i-banking trainee classmates). Having occasionally become frustrated myself with call center employees, both local and overseas, I would have much preferred that all training focus on solving my bloody problems, not on ability to make culturally-adept jokes.

    However, the concern is that many American customers resent dealing with non-American service people — even when those service people are technically competent at their jobs — so they’re trying to “pass” the employees as American as much as possible. This is often ludicrous because Indians can’t sound American after watching “Friends,” any more than Madonna could sound British after being married to Guy Ritchie for a month. But it’s the goal.

  16. 16
    Sailorman says:

    Well, getting way OT here, but it’s an interesting thing to discuss.

    First, the desire to have a company use call centers in the U.S. can stem from a variety of things, including the fact that we’re in a serious recession and outsourcing is only contributing to that. I’m happier to talk to someone in Texas than Bangalore for that reason (half the call centers I use are in Bangalore), which has nothing to do with racism.

    Second, as a techie and frequent user of call centers, I have had a variety of INCREDIBLY frustrating comprehension-based or accent-based communication issues. Some of those have been with U.S. call centers, but frankly almost all of them have been with overseas call centers. This almost certainly has everything to do with “english as a first language” and “access to american conversational standards” which are both much more common in US-based call centers.

    I don’t think people care whether the call tech is American or not, unless they are worried about the economic effect. But pretty much everyone expects that the call tech will be able to understand them and communicate with them well, and (equally important) that they will be able to understand the tech. Many people describe issues in non-technical terms and foreign call centers are often not so good at dealing with it. that’s a pretty reasonable expectation, in my mind.

  17. 17
    RonF says:

    Training non-native English speakers to use a particular accent when talking to Americans and to recognize American slang and idioms facilitates communications and enables them to do their jobs better. I don’t see a problem with the objective, although I defer to others’ experience on how effective the training methods used were in achieving that objective. It’s a worthy goal, as I have had the same kinds of frustrating encounters that Sailorman has, generally at a time when my customer is screaming in my other ear that downtime is costing them $1,000,000 every half-hour (I’m not exaggerating …). It’s not racism if it directly affects their ability to do their job.

    It would be easy to accuse an American company (e.g., the man running that hotel) when they force their employees to change their names to something more “American”. I put that in quotes because there’s plenty of people in America, either resident aliens or citizens, who are Hindu and have such names, although few of them live outside urban areas I’d imagine. My presumption is that the person forcing the name changes is not of the same ethnicity as the people who they are forcing the change on.

    But in this case the people running these call centers are Hindu and Indians of perhaps even the same ethnicity as their employees. Are they then being racist against their own people? Against, in a way, themselves? That seems an odd concept and worthy of some discussion.

    I have a thought that other factors (while not eliminating racism on the part of the employer, mind you) might be involved:

    a) a belief that the customer might have a problem pronouncing the employee’s name. This would be a much larger factor for Rajbhandary than it would be for Miguel in America.

    b) a belief that the customer themselves might be racist and might make decisions on where to spend their money in part based on the race of the employees they have to deal with. I’m not clear how valid that is in the case of the hotel, though, as in a hotel you’re generally going to see the employee. In the call center, OTOH, you don’t.

    Jake, my reaction to this is the same as yours. But the fact that in the call center case the people forcing the name change generally have the same names as the people who they are forcing the change on gives me pause and makes me want to ask more questions.

  18. 18
    RonF says:

    karnythia, you may think I’m dragging this whole thing off topic. But I think there’s a tie-in here. I have heard people being accused of racism for saying that people should have to learn what I’ll call for lack of a better phrase “standard American English” if they expect to get a good-paying job, whether they are people who grew up in the ghetto or people who were born in Mexico City. But, depending on the job to a certain extent, the underlying logic is not excuses or false justifications or free passes but is based on legitimate reasons.

    OTOH, there are times – and I think that forcing a Hispanic worker in an American hotel to change the name they use is one of them – when there’s racism involved that trumps any other logic. My point being that you have to at least explore a bit the logic presented before making a judgement. I sense that there’s a perception that doing so can make others think “Oh, there he goes again, trying to justify racism.” In some cases or with some people I imagine that’s true. But if we want people not to look at accusations of racism as the equivalent of the boy who cried wolf there has to be at least some analysis.

    I just want the minimum cost for engaging in racist actions to be acknowledgment that the action is racist. Yes, there is no way to peek inside someone’s heart and know for sure that their motivation was conscious racism, but it’s not about the intent, it’s about the impact.

    If you want to get to that point – and it’s a very worthy point – then remember something that’s been pointed out in almost every discussion of how to discuss racism; people have a visceral reaction when accused of racism. So when you talk about a racist action, make the distinction at that time you just made above. Make it clear that you are discussing an action, not an intent or belief, and (in cases where it’s appropriate) make no accusation on the motivations of the person or group executing the action. I’m not saying that because of any moral obligation I think you may have. I’m saying that this is what you need to do to be effective, which I equate to getting people to agree with you. People are a lot more willing to agree that they’ve unintentionally made a mistake or that they didn’t fully evaluate the impact of their act before they did it than they will be to say that they are racists and acted on that basis.

  19. 19
    RonF says:

    How to deal with overt racism is a very personal issue for me. My late father-in-law was as racist as the day is long. Yet I had to maintain a relationship with him for obvious reasons. It was a struggle.

  20. 20
    Simple Truth says:

    While I don’t condone it, the part of me that almost finished an MBA recognizes the hotel owner’s tactics as “branding” – making the hotel more comfortable for people who might be put-off by a foreign-sounding name, same as the call center examples above. Like I said, I believe it’s racist, but it does have a logical motivation in a business sense. At this point, however, it’s probably made a negative impact on the hotel’s business from all the press coverage.

  21. 21
    Karnythia says:


    I thought his demand that they only speak English in his presence was problematic, but my own upbringing included being admonished not to exclude people from a conversation by using a language they did not speak. I am conflicted, because I would never converse in German with someone while say my husband (who does not speak German) is sitting next to me.

  22. 22
    RonF says:

    Recently my wife and I attended a wedding for someone she works with. We got there late and the table that all her co-workers sat at was filled, so we ended up at a table with a number of people who spoke Polish. They spoke solely Polish throughout the entire wedding reception and my wife, whose father was Polish and who was brought up around Polish speakers, thought it quite rude of them.

    I didn’t get raised in a bi-lingual family, but I’ve always thought that it’s rude to speak a foreign language in what in this context I’ll call mixed company unless the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand English. I do wonder in this case whether all the employees have facility in English? But for those who do I think that they should, in fact, speak English in front of the customers and their boss, and I don’t think that’s racist. I think it’s a reasonable requirement of employment.

  23. 23
    Rosa says:

    Ridiculous. The workers were/are bilingual. The man in question told his employees that they had to speak English in front of HIM because he was afraid they were saying bad things about him. It was his own paranoia and insecurity (a symptom of his racism perhaps) motivating his actions, not his business sense–of which he appears to have very little. His only regret seems to be that he might lose revenue from his acts of racism being made public.

    I am New Mexican, a native, and I visit Taos (where this is happening) many times each year. Taos is known for its unique mix of cultures; That is why people come here. We are proud that we have such a mixture of cultures that leans heavily on Spanish/Mexican/Native American traditions. We don’t want to be Disneyfied, made sanitary for white people’s consumption, and we want to hold fast to our traditions, our cultures, our languages. This is not something that racists understand.

    “Gentle racists” seem to innocently wonder what harm there is in being asked to speak only English, or why it’s such a big deal if our our names are mispronouned and/or Anglicized at work. The less gentle racists demand that we speak English and change our names in response to “reasonable demands of employment.” (Hint: My culture, traditions, and language is worth more than $8 an hour. YMMV.) The openly racist individuals simply hate us for who we are, without knowing us.

    I’d rather, in any situation, deal with an openly racist individual. At the very least, they either don’t deny their racism–or they deny their racism in less shifty ways than other types of racists.

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    Rosa, if I was walking down the street in Taos and two people were speaking Spanish – or French or Polish or whatever – in front of me it would be none of my concern whatsoever, and were I to complain you’d accurate in labelling such a complaint racist.

    But a manager’s job is to manage, to contol the environment that he or she is in charge of – which is necessary, as the manager is responsible for the outcomes in that place and has to account to upper management and the owners for them. On that basis it seems legitimate to me for him to require that any communications in front of him be made in a language he understands.

  25. 25
    PG says:


    I have to say that I agree with those who think it is bad manners (and good manners are a reasonable condition of employment) to speak a language in front of a known third party (not a stranger) that you know he doesn’t understand, when you could communicate in a language that he does understand and thereby include him.

    My little sister was very embarrassed one time when she brought a white friend home and the two of them were trying on some of her fancier Indian dresses. My mom and aunt, both of whom speak English, came up to look and started talking about how the girls looked, but they weren’t talking in English. The white friend understandable felt awkward because she didn’t know what was being said, even though it was clearly about her in some way. In one sense, she needn’t have worried (my mom and aunt were being complimentary about how pretty she looked in the dress), but it also was rude to her because she couldn’t know that until my sister translated for her. My sister scolded them about doing it after her friend left, and they’ve tried not to repeat such behavior.

    (Although I’m now going through some of this again with my husband, who is white and sometimes feels frustrated when at family gatherings where the “aunties” are chattering about him — he can make out his name and mine — but he doesn’t know what’s being said. Again, it’s not so much the concern that they’re being insulting, because actually my family was surprised that I found a tall, reasonably good looking guy; it’s just that sense of being excluded.)

    I don’t understand why someone who can speak a shared language would choose to exclude others who are present unless she is saying something she doesn’t want them to understand.* It’s an unpleasant way to behave, and people who don’t behave pleasantly are poor employees in the hospitality industry.

    * My mother used to scold us in her native language when we were in public, but that was because white people get concerned when they hear parents telling their kids that if they don’t stop misbehaving right now, they’re getting left at the store.

  26. 26
    Rosa says:

    Do you only travel to English speaking countries? Stay in hotels where only English is spoken? (I’m guessing: Probably Yes!) Get over thinking that you are the subject of non-English speakers conversations. How self-centered and immature is that? Sometimes you are, of course, but so what? You’ll get over it. If you’re paranoid about being in the company of non-native speakers of English, you might be a racist! (At the very least, check your insecurity at the door.)

    And: If you don’t like bilingual people speaking one of their native languages in the workplace, then stay out of New Mexico, clearly. Don’t travel here. Don’t buy a business here. Don’t try to do business here. Our mix of languages and cultures and traditions are an asset and guess what, white folks! We’re not changing it to suit your racist business practices. Don’t think for a minute that if the owner/racist in this case had a businessman from Spain on the phone trying to rent out a block of rooms that he wouldn’t be calling on Mark–er, Marcos–to take the call in Spanish, a language he had been previously forbidden to speak.

    Get real about how racism works, folks.

    One of the men who was fired made the point in the local paper that he can speak Spanish, be called by his non-White name and *still be professional*! Imagine that! But:

    Racists will never trust minorities, so clearly: Racist managers will never trust minority employees.

    (And as far as managers having the right to sanitize the workplace for white consumption: The managers at the airline who fired the black woman who wore braids was also clearly trying to be a good manager and was not being racist, right? Riiiiight.)

  27. 27
    Phil says:

    But in this case the people running these call centers are Hindu and Indians of perhaps even the same ethnicity as their employees. Are they then being racist against their own people?

    Well, it’s certainly possible to be racist against your own people, or to take actions based on others’ racist attitudes about your own people.

    I think that asking employees to use different names is racist–if your reason is: I want your names to sound more like white people. There might be non-racist reasons to ask employees to use different names. These could be security reasons. They might be practical–both strip clubs and hair salons may require that no two employees have the same name, and thus ask some employees to use different names. I think that can be legitimate. So, the act of asking an employee to use a different name isn’t inherently racist, it’s the reasoning behind it.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon to blame racism on an audience, too. If you take racist action because “our customers” are racist, then it’s someone else’s fault. The customers would want to talk to people with Anglo names. The customers want to see women in skirts. The customers want women to wear make-up. The customers trust white folks in management positions. And so forth.

  28. 28
    Sewere says:

    Do you have to be bilingual to understand that even if you are the manager, sometimes people working for you are not talking about you all the time? Could they be talking about something entirely different, like say matters of personal concern, things that have nothing to do with you as a manager? I mean it’s a work place but it isn’t ALL about YOU. What if they have to interact with customers who prefer speaking spanish (like it could happen in a bilingual community)? Is that one of the get-out-of-speaking-language-other-than-english moments?

    Second given that a community (both geographically and culturally) is in fact bilingual, how completely ridiculous it is to insist that people in an environment that as Rosa says as been bilingual in all facets, suddenly decides one language is the standard and the other not?

    Third, and this is stating the obvious, both situations occurred together, like the way -isms intersect. This guy not only told them they couldn’t speak another language in front of him, he asked told them to change their names. How far folks are willing to argue the case that is pretty fucking clear that the way this event intersects is by definition racist, is telling. To argue that somehow not speaking english is some sort of affront without understanding the context or that the vast majority of bilingual speakers (including the boogey undocumented workers) do speak english because it is a vastly important skill if you want to survive.

    (sidenote: if you’re at a wedding or other culturally infused event were people are speaking the language reflecting that culture and speaking in way that is comfortable them and you’re not a focal part of the conversation, maybe, just maybe, it’s not about you.)

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    I agree entirely that the name thing is pretty darn racist, and trying to put the blame on the customers (“its not me who objects to being served by Maria, it’s our customers! who think everyone in New Mexico is from Scandinavia originally!”) is weak, seriously weak.

    If you’re going to hire a lot of Spanish-speaking people, then you pretty much need to learn Spanish. It doesn’t take any huge effort to get to the level of “please find Tony” or “did you clean room 201”.

    That said, it is not racist to require people to speak a standard language, particularly the language spoken by management. It isn’t even unreasonable. My response to “my heritage is worth more than $8/hr!!!” is “ok fine and dandy – don’t take the job, then.” As Ron points out, management is responsible for the operation – you have to have a lingua franca and the nature of employment is that it’s not the boss who will be making the accommodation, it’s the worker.

    In this case, it does seem like the owner is a jerk and he’s insisting on English because of his personal insecurities; ok, so he’s a jerk. It’s still well within reason for him to ask the people working for him to speak his language, or work somewhere else.

    The “bilingual community” argument is inoperative. If the “community” wants to build a hotel and run it, more power to ’em. This is a private business run by an individual who ISN’T bilingual. As I note above, it’d be smart of him to fix that – but he isn’t obliged to do so. The reason he gets to come in and decide that one of the two major local languages will be the preferred one, is that it’s his hotel. He can decide that everybody has to speak in Algonquin while standing on their heads if he wants to. It might be stupid, but it’d be within his rights.

  30. 30
    Sewere says:

    That said, it is not racist to require people to speak a standard language, particularly the language spoken by management.

    Where did you gather that people weren’t speaking the language spoken by management? Because it seems to me that people speak other languages as well as english. The matter isn’t that people are not communicating effectively in “the language spoken by management” but that they are can also communicate in other ways. Once again, I ask, did anyone demand to speak spanish only?

  31. It’s rude to deliberately exclude people who should be excluded (either by using an unknown-to-them language or by whispering) but it’s also rude to eavesdrop. That’s in social situations. If I’m checking into a hotel, the clerk will need to have conversations with other staff members in furtherance of that, and I’m not intended to be part of those (directly), and so there’s no reason to make them have it in English. Further, it’s classist to say that people working in customer service jobs aren’t entitled to have conversations with one another and not with customers as long as it doesn’t diminish doing their jobs.

    So after all that, is it, as Robert proposes, within the hosteler’s right to insist staff speak English, even to one another, even if it hampers communication? Sure is. And we’re all allowed to call him racist. And the fact that Robert is trying to make him not racist strikes me as precisely Karnythia’s point.

  32. 32
    Robert says:

    Let’s get our facts straight. The only language requirement the new owner put in was that in his presence, people were to speak English, the language he understands.

    Nobody demanded to speak Spanish or English only; nobody demanded that their private conversations be in any language. The owner requires that everyone who’s talking around him do it in a language he understands. Insecure, maybe. Unreasonable, not really.

    Hershele, I explicitly said that the guy’s behavior was racist in one area. What exactly is my motivation for finding his behavior non-racist in another area?