How to Stand Up to Workplace Racism

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

When you experience workplace racism, it can be difficult to know when or how to stand up to it. The fear of speaking out against a colleague or a superior makes the situation even more complicated. However, standing up for yourself and others is essential for creating an inclusive and respectful work environment. In this article, I will discuss how to effectively stand up to workplace racism as an observer.

First, it is important to understand what workplace racism is. According to the National Council on Interracial and Interethnic Relations (NCIIR), workplace racism “occurs when a person of color is discriminated against in any aspect of employment” (Makishi & O’Donnell, 2019). Although I would say racism can apply to anybody, irrespective of their skin color. This discrimination can take many forms, including microaggressions, exclusion from opportunities and decision-making processes, unequal pay and promotions, and unfair disciplinary action. It is important to be aware of these different types of racism so that you can identify them when they occur.

Once you have identified an instance of workplace racism, it is important to address it immediately in order to stop the behavior from escalating further. The way in which you approach the situation will depend on your relationship with the person who has committed the offense. If it is a colleague or subordinate, then you may wish to directly confront them about their behavior and explain why it is unacceptable. For example, if they make a racially insensitive joke, you could say something like “That isn’t funny and I find it offensive” (NCIIR). This should be done in a calm yet firm manner so that the individual understands that their behavior is not acceptable.

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If the perpetrator is your superior or someone with significant power within the organization then it may be necessary to take a less direct approach. You may wish to speak privately with HR about the incident in order for them to take appropriate action (Makishi & O’Donnell, 2019). Alternatively, if this feels too intimidating then you could consider speaking with another senior staff member who might be more sympathetic towards your concerns. You might have to go outside of the chain of command.

It is also important that you provide support for those who have been affected by workplace racism. This could involve listening without judgement and offering emotional support if needed (Makishi & O’Donnell, 2019). You could also signpost them towards resources such as counseling services or legal advice if appropriate.

Finally, it is beneficial for organizations to create policies that encourage open discussion about issues related to race and ethnicity (Khan et al., 2020). These policies should ensure that everyone feels safe enough to voice their concerns without fear of retribution from superiors or colleagues. Additionally, organizations should also promote diversity training initiatives which help staff learn how to recognize and address instances of racism in their workplaces (Khan et al., 2020).

In conclusion, while standing up against workplace racism can be intimidating as an observer, witnessing such behavior without taking action can be just as damaging. It is therefore important that we all strive towards creating safer working environments by recognizing instances of racism and responding appropriately when necessary.


Khan , M., Mohamud , A., Abdi , A., & Mohamed , A.(2020). Diversity Training Initiative: A Policy Intervention Towards Promoting Workplace Inclusion For Somali Immigrant Women In Canada.

Makish , T., & O’Donnell , K.(2019) Responding To Workplace Racism. National Council on Interracial and Interethnic Relations.

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