I am a white, queer, cis woman who has recently moved from a temporary, contract-based position to becoming a full employee in my office. A new contract employee has been brought on to take over my projects, and I am responsible for training him regarding the process. He is also new to the area and trying very hard to befriend me. I do not want to be friends with this man. He is a younger, straight, cis white man who is very “nice” but has also internalized a lot of racist, sexist, and toxically masculine ideas and gives me the impression that he has never been challenged on any of them (or challenged on anything? Ever?) in his life. I’ve seen the engagement photos he had taken at a plantation. He told a black female co-worker she reminded him of Wanda Sykes (she looks and sounds nothing like Wanda Sykes) and asked what I would consider to be a rude question about her hair. I’ve had to stare blankly in response to “jokes” about co-workers with “funny-sounding” names and teenage girls who “had no business” driving large trucks.
How do I maintain a professional relationship with this guy I have to work so closely with, who periodically leaves me dumbstruck with the casual way he says and does racist things? And what is my responsibility to challenge him when this happens, particularly on behalf of our nonwhite co-workers? But he’s very nice, you see, everyone in my fully white department likes him, and my frustrations aren’t exactly something I could take to HR or articulate easily in an office environment. What should I do?
—Not So “Nice”