Author Topic: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough  (Read 3958 times)

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unnalee

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Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« on: September 05, 2013, 02:14:22 PM »
I work in a small archive/museum/library, affiliated with a small private university.  The university was founded by a specific ethnic group from northern Europe, a group from which I and most of our visitors are descended.  I am the only full-time staffer in this department, and I'm the face visitors see when they come down here.  As much as I'd like to spend my days locked away in the back, cataloging in solitude, a big part of my job is to greet people, answer questions, take in donations, facilitate research - in other words, deal with people. 

Most of the time, I love my job.  However, due to the isolated geographic area in which we live, and the general demographics of visitors (tend to be middle-aged or older) I am often on the receiving end of conversations that somehow veer into, "I'm not a racist, but..." 

For example, an older man and his wife came to see me last week to see if I knew of a local place that would rebind their huge 80-year-old parlor Bible.  I made a few phone calls and found a place, gave them the directions and contact information, and thought that was that.  No such luck.

I have no idea how he got on the topic, but the next thing I know he was saying, "I'm not a racist, but...you know what's wrong with Blueland (general area in Europe from which our ancestors came to the U.S.)?  They're letting too many Purple people come there!  Purple people have their own country!  Pretty soon,  Bluelanders will be the minority in their own country.  I see it happening in this country too.  Too many Pink people allowed to come in and take jobs away from Whitey [yes, he actually used that term] because they'll work for so much less." 

It went on like this for about 10 minutes.  There was a volunteer here that day working with me, and neither of us could get a word in during his little denunciation.  He was calm, and spoke in a pleasant, almost conspiratorial tone, like he thought we just HAD to agree with him because we shared an ethnic heritage.   >:( ::)

I didn't say a word throughout the whole thing, just stared at him coldly with a raised eyebrow.  My volunteer made non-committal noises and found that the periodicals she was standing next to needed to be sorted.  Who talks like this to strangers in a public place?!?  He didn't seem to catch on that we did not endorse his particular way of thinking, and when he left, seemed to be under the impression that we agreed with him.  I hate thinking that someone might have been in the museum space outside my office door and taken my silence for agreement!  But I'm not sure what else I could have done without creating drama and shedding a bad light on my employer if I had picked apart his rant.  Plus, we never know who the next big donor to our facility or the university might be.  We're supposed to "keep everyone happy" according to the university president.

I really wanted to correct him and say, "Purple is a cultural group, not a nationality.  They don't all come from the same country." OR "You blame the Pink workers who come looking for jobs, no matter how low the pay.  What is your stance on the employers who hire them and only pay them a pittance?"  This is what I would do outside of work if I had a similar conversation with someone.  But do I have any other options while at work that won't offend the ranter, tick off my employer, or compromise my own morality?

Zizi-K

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2013, 02:22:07 PM »
This is a tricky situation, because you are a representative of an institution and not simply a private person in this instance, and the institution would probably prefer that you not alienate patrons or donors (even racist ones).

I wonder if you could hold up a hand and say, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to stop you there. The rules are such that I'm not able to participate in political discussions while on museum time. I hope you're able to get your book rebound satisfactorily. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

If you want to say something but not disagree outright, I wonder if something like this could work: "Well, the issue is complex and the conditions are problematic all around...I understand that change can be difficult." Or some-such?

cwm

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2013, 02:46:53 PM »
I wonder if you could hold up a hand and say, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to stop you there. The rules are such that I'm not able to participate in political discussions while on museum time. I hope you're able to get your book rebound satisfactorily. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

I really like this idea. You're not outright disagreeing with him, you're not supporting him, and you're not allowing him to continue. Plus if you pass it off as museum policy there's less chance of him disagreeing because it's obviously you and the rest of the Purples and Pinks against him.

BeagleMommy

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2013, 04:20:54 PM »
Sometimes the best response is to wait for the diatribe to end then say "Well, good luck getting your book rebound." Then turn away and go back to work (even if it is pretending to work).

veronaz

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2013, 04:57:24 PM »
Quote
"I'm not a racist, but..." 

 ::)

Hold up hand, smile politely, say "I'm glad to hear that.  Racism and other forms of bigotry are disgusting and ignorant.  Excuse me, but I have to get back to work now."

EllenS

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2013, 05:46:24 PM »
What about, "I'm certainly glad my immigrant ancestors from Blueland were welcomed here, or else this library would not exist!"

unnalee

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Re: Silence works, but seems like it's not enough
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2013, 08:39:31 AM »
Thanks to everyone.  You've added a lot more options to my arsenal.  I think the one below is my favorite.  Since I share a common ethnic IMMIGRANT ancestry with the vast majority of visitors and patrons, I think it makes a point without being too confrontational.

What about, "I'm certainly glad my immigrant ancestors from Blueland were welcomed here, or else this library would not exist!"