“How Do I Tell My Co-Worker to Stop Using the N-Word Around Me?”

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Dear Pam,

During a conversation at work my co-worker recounted an incident in which her husband used the n-word when describing a certain area of the city.  I stopped my co-worker and told her “I don’t like that word” and she seemed to not hear me and continuing on with her story saying the word again.
Both I and my co-worker are white, but work with different races including African Americans.  Even though the conversation is over how do I approach my co-worker and let her know that that is an offensive word and that she should not use it?”


Icon_Pams_Answer_90x90Dear “Offended,”

Teachable moments often occur during the actual moment, but all is not lost.  The fact that your co-worker felt comfortable enough to utter such a horrendous word speaks volumes. Either she is that oblivious to your outrage or she is that ignorant.  Either way you can still impart a little wisdom.

Your co-worker must know that in the wrong (or right depending on your position) place, she could find herself in a sticky, albeit violent situation.

I would start off by bringing to her remembrance the conversation.  Let your co-worker know that she used a derogatory term that offended you.  Explain to her that in mixed company she would not be received well for such word usage and just educate her a bit on the history of that word.  Regardless of the fact that her husband used the word, something should have clicked and sent a warning signal to her brain that using this word is not cool no matter the setting.


I don’t care how many black people she hears use it or how many times she hears it in a Quentin Tarrentino film, it will never be cool or lose its sting.  It will never be a term of endearment no matter how many rappers say it in their songs.  The thought that my ancestors were raped, beaten and burned all while hearing this word makes me wonder how anyone can justify using this word.

Hopefully your co-worker will be receptive to your little talk and refrain from ever using that word again.

If she isn’t and uses the word again, you should head down to Human Resources and file a grievance.   In light of the recent controversy with Paula Deen and this word, the conversation needs to be ever flowing about the inappropriateness of this.


Icon_Sensible-Homework_220x220bSensible Homework:

  • Start a conversation with your co-worker about words you hate.  Start off with light, almost comical words that make your blood boil.  Something like “nom nom nom.” (I absolutely hate that word by the way.)  Then add to the list building to the N-word.

Have you ever been faced with a similar situation? 

How did you handle it?  Let me know in the comments section.

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