Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sending Race-Based Emails Can Come Back to Haunt You

I lost my voice, yesterday, and still had to shovel my car out from the snow in NY. So, as I'm still recovering and thawing out, today’s post is just a bit of race-based news that’s been reported in the last few days surrounding the country’s first Black President, Barack Obama. No need to post a comment saying he’s biracial because we are all aware of that. Obama identifies himself as a Black man because that is how he is viewed.


On Monday, Los Alamitos (CA) Mayor, Dean Grose, resigned his position because he sent an email to folks from his personal email account—including to a Black businesswoman, which showed a picture of the White House lawn overgrown with watermelons. The caption read, “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year.”

Grose said that he didn’t mean to offend the businesswoman, Keyanus Price, and he insists that he did NOT know that there was a stereotype that Black people liked to eat watermelon.

However, if you believe he was unaware of the stereotype, then you have to ask yourself what he found funny about the picture and caption. There is no joke without the knowledge. So, he’s a blatant liar -- a liar who is no longer mayor of Los Alamitos.


In State Island, a political appointee to the Community Education Council, Salvatore Ballarino, sent a racist Obama email to 29 people. In the email, there are a series of “jokes” featuring John McCain and Obama. For instance, McCain tells Obama that there are Black people in his family tree and adds, “If I recall, they’re still hanging there.” In another “joke” McCain asks Obama the difference between a Black man and picnic table. The answer is…

A picnic table can support a family.

Mr. Ballarino says that he didn’t create the email, he just forwarded it and deleted it. That’s his defense. I didn’t write the “jokes.” He then defended it by trying to say that the cartoons were “political.”

That does not amount to a real apology. So, it would seem that he doesn’t believe he caused any offense and he doesn’t believe he behaved inappropriately.


It doesn’t matter that these two people are political appointees. People all around the country are sending and receiving emails such as these.

I think incidences like this should serve as a warning to all of us that sending race-based jokes from your workplace or to work-related acquaintances from a personal email account is completely inappropriate and could lead to a person losing their job or, at the very least, being put on display as a person that condones and tolerates racist dialogue and stereotyping.

It also goes to show that the election of Barack Obama as the President did not reflect some sort of kumbaya moment in American history. There are still many people who are resentful of having a Black man in the most powerful position in the land and there is this web of underground racist sentiment moving over the internet and via email.

The workplace is not the place for sharing personal race-based biases. Further, work-related acquaintances should not be in your distribution list for racist sentiments. A person sending these types of “jokes” only to other Whites doesn’t know if he/she will cause offense to the reader. Simply because a person is White doesn’t mean that they won’t be offended by these “jokes” and doesn’t mean that they won’t make a complaint about it. You can’t assume someone is like-minded simply based on skin color.

Black workers are no better, if they are the ones forwarding these sorts of “jokes.” It isn’t okay for anyone to be sending this stuff out at work. We should all behave like grown ups.

If you are the recipient of such an email, you are perfectly within your rights to inform the person if you are offended by the text and pictures. And, you would be within your rights to report the email to your supervisor, the person’s supervisor and/or Human Resources.

Even if the email is not sent to Black staff, but is shown to a Black worker by a White worker, for instance, it is still a reportable offense. Just because only whites received a racist email, even if it’s not about Obama, doesn’t make it okay. The workplace is not the place for the dissemination of race-based emails.

Save your racism and race-based humor for the dinner table or your tea parties with friends and family. When you are with like-minded people, in your personal time, you can say what you’d like.


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