On Sticks and Stones

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker (whom I will call Suzy) yesterday about one of our managers.

Before I begin, I need to introduce you to the manager in question. I’ll call her Jane. Jane is a cantankerous, negro (piss off, I don’t do politically correct) female in her late 50’s, who is nearly universally despised. She comes across as abrasive, bossy, demanding, demeaning, racist, or some combination thereof, depending on who you ask.

Personally, I get along with her. In fact, I can honestly say that I like her on some level. I do what she asks, and will even make a special effort to take care of something for her if the request is reasonable and presented in a respectful manner. She leaves me alone and lets me do my job without interference.

We’ve had many frank and honest conversations, and although we disagree on plenty, there’s a fair amount of common ground. I guess a couple of grumpy old farts will identify with each other, despite massive differences in backgrounds. She knows I give her what I have to give when it comes to my job, and on the rare occasions when she forgets who she’s talking to, I won’t hesitate to tell her that rushing me will not result in improved performance. I guess you could say that we have come to an understanding.

Anyway, back to the conversation. Suzy had expressed a negative opinion of Jane, and told me that she has requested a different job assignment specifically to get away from Jane. I said that I get along OK with her. During the brief conversation, Suzy told me how annoying it was when Jane called her “little girl” when encouraging her to be more productive. I jokingly suggested that the next time Jane called her a little girl, to tell her to take her old, black ass somewhere else.

“Yeah, well, I’d probably lose my job if I did.” was Suzy’s response, which I believe to be an accurate statement. I’m pretty sure I could get away with it, though. I shared a comment that Jane made to me one day with Suzy.

I had just pulled a case of cereal out of the back room, and was taking it to the sales floor, although I knew that it wouldn’t fit on the shelf. I had pulled it the previous night, and Jane personally brought it back to me and told me that it wouldn’t go up. However, it was on the list of cases that I was assigned to pull, so I pulled it. It had been re-boxed, and not very well, which explains how Jane recognized and remembered it. She knew that I was just doing my job, but when she saw me pick it, she told me that I was a stubborn white man.

Suzy was shocked at my lack of a reaction. “What did you say? I bet you wanted to say something.”

I thought about it for a while. I really didn’t have any desire to respond, either at the time or in hindsight. I was being stubborn by insisting that I do my job by the book. I am Caucasian, also commonly referred to as white. And I do possess male-specific body parts, making me a man. Therefore, the statement was completely true. Why should I have reacted?

How do you react when someone says something that could be taken as mean, insulting or otherwise hurtful? If the statement is true, even if it does point out a less-than-positive fact, how can you get mad about the truth? If the statement is false, why should you put any value on the opinion of someone who would think such a thing about you? Normally, insults are made to elicit a response. Why give the satisfaction of a response? Ignore them, or even better, respond with:

“Yeah, I know.”

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