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Subtle forms of racial discrimination in the workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace is not always obvious. Outright racial slurs and violence are often extreme forms. Most of the time, the behaviors are less noticeable or provable. Some employers and coworkers use tactics that they think will keep them out of trouble. Other times, they are unaware that their words and actions are not only wrong but also illegal.

Either way, racial discrimination and harassment are unacceptable, and they can make an employer the subject of legal action. These are just a few of the subtle ways in which you may experience racial mistreatment in the workplace.

Inappropriate interview questions

You may not even be an employee yet when discrimination or harassment occurs. The hiring manager in a job interview may ask an invasive question or make an inappropriate comment. Examples include:

  • "How long has your family lived in America?" 
  • "What is your native language?"
  • "Have you ever been arrested or used drugs?"
  • "Do you own a home or rent?"

These questions may be based on racial stereotypes and assumptions. The only information potential employers have a right to is your ability to work in the U.S. and a criminal background check.

Inconsistent employee treatment

You may have noticed that your employer treats you differently than your colleagues. You may experience harsher discipline than does someone else for committing the same infraction. You may receive trivial assignments that are not your responsibility and that others in your position do not ever have to take on.

Or you may have to follow stricter rules on your dress code, including hair care, than do your co-workers. You may hear rude and insensitive comments or jokes about your personality, appearance or cultural traditions. These actions are sometimes known as microaggressions.

Lack of growth or advancement

Have you been with the company for years but never been eligible for a promotion or pay raise that you deserved? Do you notice others moving up in the company despite your superior performance and qualifications? If the only difference between you and them is your race, then you may be a victim of racial discrimination.

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