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Ask Amy: Worker wonders how to respond to slur

Amy Dickinson
Tribune Content Agency

Dear Amy: I am a Black man who works in a warehouse setting.

In the last three jobs I’ve had, a White co-worker has used the “N” word to me, while not specifically calling me the name.

I find even the mention of the word hurtful and I do not use it myself, even in description or when greeting a fellow Black person.

At my previous job, a co-worker used the word three times, and when I complained to HR, they really didn’t do anything, so I found another job.

At my current job, two co-workers have used the word, one to describe a movie he loves from the ‘70s. The other guy just thought it was OK to say it casually about nobody in particular.

This made me feel hurt and angry inside, but I didn’t say anything because honestly, I felt (and feel) powerless.

I’ve dealt with this kind of behavior since elementary school.

I realize I can’t control others’ thoughts or actions. I also believe that going to HR is useless; that office being in another part of the country, and they will do nothing.

I can’t believe how painful this is, and for how long in my life I have had to deal with it.

What can I do? — Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: I shared your question with Maurice Ruffin, a New Orleans attorney, professor of writing, and author of one of my favorite novels, the powerful “We Cast a Shadow” (2020, One World).

Here is his response: “I’m sorry for your pain. I know how it feels to have random acquaintances use the ‘N’ word. I’ve been called the ‘N’ word myself; most recently by a white woman who thought I was out of earshot. I let her know what I thought of that. She was ashamed to have been caught and called out.

“Toni Morrison said that racism is designed to distract you. And I believe it. I also think the work of racism is to silence you. I’m sure all the people you mentioned are aware that the word is a slur. No doubt, that’s why they used it in the first place. Maybe they think it’s cool or dangerous to use it. That’s not your problem.

“If you feel offended, you should speak up for yourself because if you hold it inside, you’ll feel even worse. You should tell your co-workers you don’t appreciate their comments. If you don’t feel safe telling them, go to your supervisor, because that’s the job of management: to resolve issues that affect your ability to do your job well. And if your supervisor is not helpful, report the issue to their superior, and so on up the chain.

“The work of racism is to distract and silence you. Don’t let these co-workers distract or silence you. My mama said, ‘Don’t ever let them run you off, because you’ll never stop running.’”

“YOU know who you are, but, clearly, they don’t.”

Show them.

Dear Amy: I have recently started (online) therapy.

After only a few sessions I feel comfortable with her and hope to establish a good relationship in order to work through some old traumas.

During our last session, she suggested I read a recent self-help book and follow the exercises.

The author of the book relates her beneficial experience with feeling energy fields, aura balancing, past lives, premonitions, and literally talking to your soul and hearing it answer you.

I consider this pseudoscience, or just plain nonsense. I think the modern term is “woo-woo.”

I don’t think I should try to fake “talking to my soul” in order to complete an exercise.

Do you think I should tell my therapist that I reject such hokum, or find another person to tell my troubles to? — No Crystals for Me

Dear No Crystals: Be honest! Tell her that you are resistant to this particular approach and ask if she has a different recommendation. She will likely ask you to talk about your reaction, and this conversation might lead to insight.

In my experience, there are occasionally nuggets of truth hidden in the “woo-woo,” but if that doesn’t work for you, you have no need to apologize.

Dear Amy: I have a suggestion for “About to Blow,” whose neighbor persists in asking personal financial questions.

I stop people with, “That’s a very personal question,” and then I stop. I can’t guarantee they won’t do it again, but they usually remember my response. — Calm and Cool

Dear Calm: I like it.