Everyday Ethics

Recently, I put out a call amongst my acquaintance for their everyday ethical dilemmas. A friend brought me a great one–What do you do when someone at work is a racist?

The gist of her email (which she asked me not to share both to protect the parties’ privacy and her position at the medical school she attends), is summed up below:
My friend is participating in a rotation at a hospital as an alternative medical practitioner, and her position (and that of holistic medical practitioners in general) is tenuous. They must remain on good terms with hospital staff to
maintain their hospital privileges.

Apparently, the liaison with whom my friend works at this hospital has been overheard making shocking racist statements about a certain ethnic group. So far, it’s just derogatory slurs, not actions, but it’s been disturbing my friend and making her uncomfortable. Yet she doesn’t feel she can say anything to the woman directly without jeopardizing both her own position and her entire school’s curriculum. She tried voicing her concerns to her supervisor, but the supervisor took no action. Now she’s wondering if she has a moral imperative to take action on her own. Says my friend:

“I’m in a quandary…If someone said something like that I would
usually say something, but what do you do say if a boss, or someone, let’s say
your mother-in-law, says a very off-color racist statement….
 I haven’t said anything
to this liaison yet…but I think I will if she continues to say it…I’m
annoyed by the whole thing. Would I be right if I just STFU and kept up my role
as worker bee and not compromise our relationship with the hospital?
tell me.”

Wow, that’s a tough one, my friend. It’d be such an easier call if the liaison were doing something demonstrably to the detriment of the patients, rather than just saying horrid, bigoted things about them on the sly. But you’re in the tough position of having to weigh the needs of your school against the opinions of this woman, plus the good your school’s presence at the hospital does against the hate-mongering that–as far as you know–exists only in the liaison’s mental prejudices. It’d be another thing if you caught her pushing people of one ethnic background to the bottom of the care list, or keeping them off the clinic schedule, wouldn’t it?

Still, it hurts our sense of justice and fair play when we see someone spreading such ignorance and hate around, and feel compelled for political or practical reasons to say nothing. Do you think there might be a way you could bring the subject up, ex parte, and have a discussion with her? Maybe even invite the woman out for coffee, then explain that you don’t speak for your school, but you’ve noticed her ‘frustration’ with a certain ethnic group, and you wondered about it, and would like to invite her into a gentle dialogue…?
You know the woman. Do you think this sort of open but delicate confrontation might succeed?
What about others out there? Have you experienced a workplace racist? If so, what did you do?

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