You’re so … articulate? Smart?
Different? While it is true that the
speaker may intend a compliment,
what may be meant as praise
instead comes across as being condescending. It implies the person
being complimented is an exception to the rule and is exhibiting
behavior atypical of others of his or
her ethnic background.
In her years in the industry,
former director of diversity at
Disney-ABC Television Group, has
heard it all. “I feel like education
and awareness is my mission, so I
try to be kind when I check people
to help them understand what they
just said,” she says.
2Is that your real hair?
director of diversity, talent and
organizational design at Diageo,
a wine, beer and spirits company,
said she was amazed when she got
this question from a colleague.
But instead of getting angry,
Robinson simply explained to
her coworker why that particular
question was inappropriate.
“There are a number of ways to
respond. But I told the person they
had no idea if they might be asking
that question to someone suffering
from a medical condition, [such as]
someone recovering from cancer
treatment,” she says. “I wound
up giving this one woman a little
lesson because you never know
what the situation might be of the
person you’re asking the question.”
“I’ve heard this one several
times,” Fontenot-Jamerson says.
Who exactly are “you people,” and
how do they differ from regular
people? Use this poorly chosen
phrase at your own risk.
4Do you eat a lot of …
(plug in the offending
Some stereotypes simply refuse to
disappear. There’s nothing wrong
with natural curiosity about the
ethnic eating habits of some of
your coworkers. The problem
lies in focusing on stereotypical
Black fare such as fried chicken
or watermelon. It reveals that the
speaker has a very limited and
narrow perception of Black culture
5Why are you so angry?
This one is more often directed at Black males, thanks in large
part to the media, which often
portrays Black men as being angry
6Why are you acting white?
Consider this a relative of
“You’re so articulate.” Why would
exhibiting proper behavior, manners or dialect be categorized as
acting white? If that’s the case,
what does it mean to act Black?
7You don’t sound Black
over the phone.
What does Black sound like?
8I don’t think of you
DiversityInc Partner and Cofounder
Luke Visconti received a letter
from a reader who was presented
with this particular compliment.
“What you are experiencing is the
first instance of a person accepting
another person who is outside of
their ‘tribe,’” Visconti responded.
“Although the words and the
sentiment are insulting, the person expressing them is (usually)
not consciously trying to insult
you. In their backward and ignorant way, they are actually trying
to give you a compliment,”
9You graduated from where?
This particular offense came to
our attention directly from one of
our readers, Beatriz Mallory, who
wrote: “In trying to recall the worst,
I’d have to nominate this one. It is
the unguarded question, ‘You went
to Cornell? Wow!’”
The ultimate faux pas. Just
because you’ve seen repeats of
“Chappelle’s Show,” where the word
is used liberally, that doesn’t give
you—or anyone—license to make
conversational use of the word.
To read more on the debate, read
“Double Standard: Can You Use the
N-Word?” in the Jan./Feb. 2008
issue of DiversityInc.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of
thinking that substituting an “a”
for the “er” at the end of the word
makes it acceptable.