So today at work, we had a harassment training workshop. Basically, Steve, came in to my company and talked about what constitutes harassment. And from his talk, there are two major categories. “Quid pro quo” which “you do something for me and I’ll do something for you” sort of deal, which is more obvious. The other is “hostile working environment.” Steve said that a majority of harassment cases fall into this latter category.
Now he was giving examples of the harassment cases he’d worked on and had to investigate as well as testify for throughout his career. There was one experience he shared that really stuck with me.
Steve had been working on a case where an older sales guy had something offensive. However, this sales guy was a great worker, all around nice guy, and hadn’t even said the offensive statement seriously. He had meant it all as a joke. And after Steve talked to witnesses during the investigation, he was convinced that the sales guy hadn’t done anything wrong.
But when Steve brought all of this evidence to a judge in court, the judge stopped him with the words (that stuck with him for decades): “Intention is irrelevant. What matters is impact.”
Another experience Steve shared, which actually involved himself and made me respect him a whole lot more, was when he talked about something that happened with his female coworker. He’s always called her “girlfriend” and greeted her with “Hey, girlfriend! How’s it going, girlfriend?” until the woman told him that it honestly made her uncomfortable when he called her that and asked him to stop.
And he did. Because even though Steve meant it all in jest and said it to show how friendly they were, his co-worker wasn’t comfortable being addressed that way. So he swallowed his pride, apologized, and changed his words. Steve said that alone is the reason why his coworker is still friends with him today because she saw that he wouldn’t just laugh off something like that.
Intention is irrelevant. All that matters is impact.
I couldn’t help but make the connection between privilege and oppression.
"Why are you so made this white author wrote about your culture? Sure, they made mistakes but at least they’re trying to diversify. Isn’t that what you want? The white authors tried."
And the answer to this is the quote above. Any white author can have the best of intentions trying to write outside their comfort zone. But what happens when their flawed work becomes famous and readers consume it thinking that’s how the culture should be represented? Even if it perpetuates stereotypes? How will that impact all the readers who are from that culture, seeing it bastardized for the sake of entertainment?
"Why can’t you just take a joke? Why are you so sensitive?"
Because while your racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/etc. “joke” may have the harmless of intention to make people laugh, there are people who’ve heard that joke said in malicious tones. Not just to them, but to their parents, and grandparents. Seen it in books and movies and tv shows. All for the sake of entertainment, their feelings and identity reduced to the butt of a joke. That’s the impact.
I know the people who need to understand this the most aren’t going to hear it. But I hope someday they do.
Also, the HR guy said this workshop would take 75 minutes and it only took an hour. And I was fully engaged and attentive for all 60 minutes because this guy was that great of a speaker.
Have a nice day.