DEAR HARRIETTE: I work for an educational technology company in a small department on a secluded floor. We have an IT guy who regularly visits us to just hang out and talk to the people there. One day, he came down to talk to an independent contractor who had been recently hired. Their conversation started fine, but it took a turn when they started discussing race and current events.
Several racist statements were made from both parties, and the IT guy even said he wished he could cause harm to protesters because he thinks they are attacking cops. I was floored. I wanted to go to human resources, but I'm not sure if they could do anything, and I wouldn't want it to backfire. What should I do? Should I go to HR? Should I let it go? It's always shocking to learn the co-worker who smiles in your face is a raging racist. -- Alarmed, Cincinnati
DEAR ALARMED: A popular education tool in schools these days has students look at the effect that various roles in relationships have on the parties involved. It's focused on bullying and observes bystanders, bullies and more. The problem with being a silent bystander is that it suggests that you are co-signing the bad behavior.
Apparently, you did not have the wherewithal to speak up on behalf of those who were being verbally attacked, but you don't have to stay silent. If you have the courage, speak directly to your IT guy to let him know how disturbed you were by his conversation and comments. But you can and should report the conversation to HR. Racism is unacceptable -- even when only a few people hear it.