Monday, November 27, 2006

Sensitivity Training

Referring to woman as Monthly challenged is not politically correct, nor is it funny. I realize this now, after one harassment suit, a broken thumb, and two black eyes. Some lessons are learned the hard way. However, the part that I have the most trouble with is misplaced humor. Humor that was intended to mean something entirely different than the way it was received.

Take for instance the line, "why that is mighty white of you". It was a great non-confrontational humor line from the 50's. However, when it was spoken to
Vernice Wolfdances of the Choctaw tribe at the office Christmas party, it was received in a different way. She slammed down her drink and stormed off. I told her later, in an apology, that I meant it as harmless expression. I had no thought as to the connotation of what it meant to her heritage. It just happened to come out. Afterwards, she shared a story of how hard it was to leave her reservation and go to college. How was I supposed to know it was a "painful" topic to her? After convincing her that I was not a racist, I asked her if she wanted me to get her drink. Vernice, once again, was enraged. Maybe it was due to the fact that I didn't actually refer to her drink as a "drink", per se, but instead called it “firewater”. I thought a little joke could help break the racial divide and ease the tension. Evidently not!

As she stormed away, I put my hand on her shoulder, and maybe this is where I made the mistake, and said "Are you monthly challenged right now, or what?"
I cannot recall what happened next, but through the grace of a security camera, I relived the experience in front of a Federal mediator. Vernice grabbed my hand twisted the wrist under, breaking my thumb, and proceeded to punch me in both eyes, and once in the nose.

After losing my job, and spending 6 weeks in a court ordered sensitivity course, I can now see the errors of my ways. Don't let a single word, however insignificant, slip through your lips without prior reflection.