"aww, that's racist." - david brent, the office

today a partner from another store covered a shift at my bux.
i'd never worked with the guy before, but bitter old dude gave me a cryptic warning about him.
"the less you say, the happier you will be," he told me before clocking out for the day.

when the shift-covering partner arrived, he seemed harmless enough. very bubbly, very flamboyant and very chatty. i quickly realized he must be his store's version of 'the talker', but i didn't realize he was also much, much more than that.

"hi brat!" shift-coverer introduced himself to me. "i'm the fatter, gayer augustus gloop!"
i kid you not - this is the first thing he said to me.

our shift together moved along pretty smoothly, even though he had one of the worst cases of verbal diarrhea i've ever seen. but things changed while i was conversing with a regular.
"so brat, they never give you a day off, do they?" mr. regular asked me good-naturedly.
"yeah, they have me slaving away over this hot bar!" i joked back.
mr. regular chatted a little longer with me before he left - that's when the fatter, gayer augustus gloop chastised me.

"i can't believe how insensitive you are," he shook his head at me.
"why, what happened?" i asked, curious as to what i did to offend whomever it was that was offended.
"you just said 'slaving away' while there was an african-american in the lobby!"

i was honestly taken aback.
was the customer really offended by my banter with mr. regular?
"did he say something to you about it?" i asked shift-coverer.
"did he look upset about it?"
"so how do you know it bothered him?" i asked.
"i don't think he even heard it - but that doesn't matter because I did. you have to watch what you say because it might offend someone and you have to be sensitive to the people around you - even if you think they aren't listening."

excuse me, but wtf?!?

shift-coverer explained to me that he was a self-appointed goodwill ambassador, spreading his ideology of tolerance and diversity wherever he went.
"i'm gay," he informed me again, "and i have to deal with verbal abuse every day of my life. sometimes it's intentional and other times it's people, like you, that are so programmed to be bigoted they don't even realize they're doing it."
"you're calling me a bigot?" i asked him, pissed that he was so concerned with my language and not his own.
"i'm just saying that you can re-program yourself to use less hate speech."

i had to walk away from him if i was going to stay sane.
later he picked up where he left off, imploring me to "think before i spoke".
"well, i don't agree that the expression 'slaving away' is hate speech."
"i know you don't - and that's the problem." he said smugly - as if i'd just proven his point for him.
"well, don't you think sometimes hate is in the eye of the beholder?"
"so now you're blaming the victim?" he asked, indignant.

thankfully we were pretty busy for the rest of the shift and he didn't have time to pull out his soapbox again. and hopefully i won't have to work with the 'word police' any time in the near future.

barista rant: don't get pissy with me because i didn't drop what i was doing to get you a cup of water. yeah, you're thirsty, but there are five PAYING customers that are waiting for their drinks. you don't get priority because your drink is 'easier'. in fact, i have to leave my station at the bar, grab a cup, walk over to the ice bin, then walk over to the water dispenser just to prepare your precious drink. sorry, but you have to wait until i'm done with the drinks i'm currently waiting before i run all over the store just to please you.


Marcus said...

i'm gay but i don't go around telling people that they're insensitive... what a tool... and the reason why he gets picked on is probably he puts being gay into people's faces and rubs it hard and that just annoys people...

he should really get over it. and hopefully he doesn't cover a shift in your store.

oh, and the water thing - a chain coffee place here called san francisco coffee (malaysian started and owned) puts out a water dispenser with cups to avoid customers asking for water from the counter... it's great!

Scott Jones said...

Wow...I agree with Marcus that guy is a tool. I really doubt that using the word "slave" as casually as that will offend anyone of any race. Also, the fact that he thinks a black person would be offended by it makes him a little racist, by assuming that all black people are descended from former slaves.

Glad you kept your cool brat!

Anonymous said...

*snort*. what a tool. awesome point made by scott jones. next time he's there i say you use the expression again just so you can bring up that point.
i have a button that has one of those "no" symbols (red circle with a line through it) that says "P.C." with the line through it. i never wear it for fear of public beatings and verbal lashings, but i secretly want to every day.

Ya Looblue said...

Augustus Gloop huh? so he's a self absorbed, gluttonous, greedy, good-for-nothing, disobedient, little bastard that gets his come-upins in the end?? nice.
i echo anon's SNORT!

The Wandering Author said...

bb, I agree with Scott on that. It sounds as if he's into stereotyping. How did he know the customer was an African-American? They could have been Afro-British, or just plain African...

Amusing speculation aside, he's just plain crazy. I'm a member of one of the groups the Nazis wanted to exterminate; I have no patience with hate speech. I've put up with enough in my life I have a pretty good nose for it. I read your blog regularly; the fact this is a supportive comment is a testament to the fact I'm absolutely sure you're no bigot.

Honestly, although the "thought police" at least haven't tried killing anyone yet, they are very much the opposite of "tolerant".

Andrew said...

You should have told him you were Jewish, and your people were enslaved as well, and by using the term, you were disempowering its hateful context. Then, kick him in the balls.

Anonymous said...

Total Dweeb!!! He probably didn't even have the brains to think this up on his own, as I recently heard this same discussion on "Good Morning America". Robin Roberts was saying that she had asked Diane Sawyer (they are good friends) to not use the saying "slaving away". It was a discussion on what comments might or might not bother people of a differnt race. Diane Sawyer said that she never thought about it being offensive to anyone until Robin explained how she perceived it. (It was much more detailed than I can explain here) My point is that I would be willing to guess that your dweeb of a co-worker is declaring himself to be 'standing' for something that he probably doesn't even understand!

incidental findings said...

This discussion reminds me of a very funny SNL sketch with Alec Baldwin.

Seriously though, beyond certain well known terms, censoring our words just in case someone might take offense is ludicrous. There's no way we can please everyone with our speech. That's why the freedom of speech is a constitutional right.

I would tell him that his entire sanctimonious tirade offends me, and he should shut up.

Calitri said...

Apparently, "african-american" isn't PC anymore. Black, it seems, is back in fashion. That dude's an asshat.

julieanne said...

White, Jewish, Black, Greek, you name it, it has been enslaved, either by themselves, or others. Almost anybody that brings that crap up today is just looking for attention. It's quite annoying.

OldSchool36 said...

The word slave in that context has nothing to do with African-Americans (and as has already been stated, we're not even sure the customer WAS African-American). Apparently the only belief system that is ALLOWED to be pushed upon other people is that of the widespread blindness inducing, history and culture erasing, laziness encouraging "tolerance".

Kiz said...

"African-American" isn't out of fashion, but it's just inaccurate. I know Egyptians and Moroccans who moved to the US and were told that they couldn't mark "African-American" on any forms under the race category. But if someone is black, was born in France, and moved to the US, then he could mark down "African-American" (even if he didn't have US residency!).

But anyway, off that tangent already. Calling out every innocuous comment as some kind of bigotry is not only stupid, but it cheapens opposition to -real- bigotry and racism. It irritates me because when I hear a -seriously- offensive comment then I'm gonna step up; but the usual response is that I'm only being politically correct. And the reason why folks feel entitled to use 'you're just being PC' as an excuse to be racist is because you have jackasses going around calling -everything- racist.

I wonder if your "Fatter Gloop" over there realizes that he's just exacerbating the entire problem of racism with his self-righteous overreactions? K

Eric said...

Oh..My..Gawd. What a self rightous putz. (With appologies to all you Putz Americans)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe someone can be that niggling over an innocuous word. Oops!

WhoKnew said...

oh my word...that cracks me up/annoys me...Augustus needs to...chill...

And, honestly, isn't it a little stereotypical for him to point out the African American person in reference to you "slaving away"? I mean, 1. That person (as someone above pointed out) easily could not be descended from slaves and 2. people with other skin tones can be treated as slaves as well.

Gosh, hypocritical people annoy me...

Neerav said...

Brat...interesting situation. Here in Berkeley everything can be construed as some kind of -ist (racist, sexist, ageist, etc.). I've heard the argument against slaving away, slave driving, etc. I had a friend tell me that she wouldn't use the word gyp (sp?) as in "to rip off" b/c it was a derivative of gypsy and the presumption that gypsies rip people off.

Moxie said...

As Wayne Dyer says, "Some people just live to be offended." Sheesh.

Otana said...

Ugh, that guy really needs to get over himself. I agree with Andrew about setting him straight and kicking him in the balls. He sounds like a self-righteous dick.

Anonymous said...

Something similar happened to my brother at my wedding. He greeted another family member he hadn't seen in a long time with the phrase, "I haven't seen you in a coon's age." My aunt later told him that he shouldn't be using racist language and that she hoped and of the African Americans in attendance weren't offended. To my knowledge, none of them noticed.

p said...

Sorry, brat, but I don't think it's a bad idea to think about what we say before we say it. Your co-worker sounds like a pain in the ass, but he probably has heard carelessly thoughtless language that did hurt him before--how many people casually drop the "f" bomb without thinking about it? I can think of a lot. So he's hyper-conscious of language--I can't say I don't understand where he's coming from. Sounds like he's exploiting the considerate core of pc-ness to make himself feel superior... but shoot the messenger, not the message.

"Slaving away" in my opinion is a gray area. I haven't heard any "real live" minorities say it's offensive, but it is a loaded term.

However "a coon's age" is less gray--like it or not, a "coon" is an old derogatory word for black people, like "jigaboo" or "pickaninny." Is it really that hard not to use it? Or does it seem like egregious self-censorship to you?

goodness gracious! said...

now that you've brought it up, i guess i can see how that may be be the best term to use, but until i read this post, i'd never heard any criticism of it before. he's got to know that most people wouldn't use slaving away in a racist sense,and by calling you a bigot he alienates you rather then enlightening you. he should be more sensitive about his language!

you'dneverguess said...

I love the people who have appointed themselves the offesive language consultants of the world. How about this, shut up unless I have said something to specifically offend you. Everyone else is totally capable of handling their own offendedness.

Nate said...

Just because "coon" has been used as a derogatory term for black people doesn't mean that the phrase "in a coon's age" is in any way offensive. The expression's origin lies in American folk beliefs about raccoons, and dates from decades before the word was ever used to refer to blacks. People who can't handle hearing homophones of offensive words (or even partial homophones, cf. The Great DC "Niggardly" Incident) need to get the hell over themselves and join the real world.

Anonymous said...

Great post, and great comments! I was going to say a few things but they've all been covered. If you ever have to work with Augustus again, and the issue comes up again (which it might, as it seems he's quite self-righteous), you can say:

1. Almost every ethnicity on the planet has been enslaved at one time or another, so the term does not and cannot refer to American slavery. To immediately equate slavery with blacks is a little racist in and of itself.

2. It's a little racist to assume every black person you see is a descent of slaves

BTW, I google the term to see if there were any articles/blogs/new reports about the term as offensive, and came up with zilch.

Anonymous said...

He's the racist, equating slavery with blacks. Like they're the only ones ever to have been enslaved...

Tell him that next time you see him, then interrupt his defenses by telling him racists of his ilk never think they are. Then tell him he's offending you with his anti-hetero self-identification.

Palette said...

tolerance is just another word for unspoken repression

he sucks a**

tolerate that

mellowlee said...

Holy Crap! Your patience never ceases to amaze me!!! I was clenching my teeth just reading it!!!

Allan said...

Hi Brat,
Seems like you made a typo. I fixed it below:

"hi brat!" shit-coverer introduced himself to me. "i'm the fatter, gayer augustus gloop!"
i kid you not - this is the first thing he said to me."

mish said...

i am going to ask every "black" person i know if that term offends them. unfortunatly, most of them are employees of the bldg where i live, but i am better friends w/ them than any of the residents. that just means i dont make friends well unless i see them everyday... i am not even "white" - i am cuban - though i have never been there; yet all cubans insist that b/c of my parents i am cuban. Really bugs me and i dont look cuban, so living in miami and richmond i got to hear what some people really think of cubans. i understand spanish perfectly but have no accent. that also helps you know peoples true thoughts :) I must say that my only cuban friend is my dad's godson though. Hey, maybe I am rasict against cubans?

angsty cola said...

it isn't really about whether or not 'slaving away' is a racist term.

it's about him knowing more than you. even though he doesn't. hate speech is purposeful-- something said with the intent to hurt and insult someone based on a minority group they're in.

even if you'd said something that was genuinely insulting, it would have been more of a naive faux pas than hate speech. then he would have had cause to correct you, though even then, i would hope he'd find a more tactful way to do it. self-righteousness never made anyone more endearing.

i honestly want to know if he expects people to sit there and ponder whether or not every little thing they say offends people. can't say "i'd kill for a hamburger," that person might have lot a relative to murder! "i don't like chocolate," could CLEARLY be racist! and oh, the implication of "i like white rice better than brown rice!" it's flipping ridiculous. being kind and inoffensive is important in a job where you work with people so directly, but there's being considerate and not-racist and then there's just being paranoid and over-apologetic.

Anonymous said...

at the risk of sounding creepy, i request more frequent updates please. :)

barockstar said...

i think it's terribly offensive when a person dictates what would insult a person of a different race - as though the insulted had no voice...

it's terribly patronizing to presume to speak for others, and how they should feel about their own histories.

i've often been shocked into not defending myself to the fullest when faced with absurdity like this; and wish for a time machine...either to put them in their place, or break their teeth - either would be fine. :)

word police equals thought police, equals bad bad juju.

christopher said...


I thought you might appreciate this.

668 aka neighbour of the beast said...

i admire the fact that you did not hurt him. and i will add (i think this has been mentioned), if he really was offended by something you said, there are way better ways to mention it.

it's funny, i wasn't offended by the slave/african american connection until i remembered. hey wait a minute, i'm descended from slaves and i'm not black/african american/etc etc! :)

Peggy Archer said...

Well, if we go back far enough, we're all descended from slaves.

Sounds like that guy's just offensensitive.

slskenyon said...

Oh, yeah, gotta love the water people--in fact, it's usually the people who buy the cheap stuff that are so intent you "do it right." I had a guy give me about five directions for making tea for him--and there are two steps to making tea--one: put hot water in up, and two: add teabag.

Aaron said...

braaaaaaaat....where AARRRRRRRRE you?? :)

Language Arts Lady said...

Responding to P...

When you say, "How many people drop the f-bomb..." that's easy... people who enjoy using words that they perceive as having power, or people who have gotten into the habit. It's easy to NOT use that word in the 'wrong place' if you never use it, ever... I have never used that word, nor felt called to use that word.

Give me a break about a "coon's age." A word that was used in a derrogatory way ages ago, so long ago most people don't even KNOW it was used that way has only the power that people like you give it... people unwilling to let go. It's not hard to remember coon is short for raccoon. Plus, coon's age is only based on an old English phrase, crow's age, which the newbie Americans made up when they saw raccoon's here that lived a long time.

So no, "P," it's really not that hard to stop using it, but I don't see the point... especially when it doesn't mean what you apparently think it does!

Brat, I think you were fine. As terrible as having slaves was in America, it wasn't the first time or last time that a group of people were enslaved. The Romans enjoyed slaves, too, remember... British slaves.

Your expression "slaving away" simply means working like a slave, which no one can argue is working hard.

It reminds me of when this person told me not to say that I was starving, because I was so obviously NOT starving, and people all over the world really are. It's called hyperbole, look it up.


We have enough honest hate and things in this world that we don't need to go and find more.

(sorry this is long; it made me mad!)

Not Perfect said...

Good thing FGAG is from another store, eh? Oh, and if the partner in quesiton is reading this, FGAG isn't a veiled epithet, it's the abbreviation of "fatter gayer agustus gloop".