Action needed to enforce workplace respect for others

by Dinita L. James

Defiant public displays of racism and bigotry have been reported around Arizona. I haven’t witnessed such brazenness since my youth in rural North Carolina in the 1960s and early 1970s. I’m not saying that hearts and minds were changed, but the racists learned to whisper among themselves to avoid overwhelming public condemnation. The coarse culture at large makes it imperative that you communicate with and train your employees on the behavior you demand of them when they’re dealing with others on your behalf.  Businessman and businesswoman handshaking in conference room

Slurs in the stands

Several recent Arizona high-school sporting events have been marred by racial slurs and taunts. In February, fans at Mesa Red Mountain reportedly made monkey sounds whenever a visiting Glendale Mountain Ridge player, who is black, touched the basketball.

In January, a lone fan reportedly first shouted out of the crowd at Mesa Mountain View to a Hispanic player (an American citizen) on crosstown rival Mesa High’s team, “Go back home, border hopper.” A few minutes later, fans unfurled a big “Trump for President” banner and yelled, “Trump is going to come after your family and kick you out,” among other taunts.

Mesa Mountain View coach Gary Ernst was quoted as saying, “Sometimes it feels like a green light has been given to that kind of behavior and treatment of other people.” I’m getting that feeling, too.

Antisocial media

The Modern Language Association (MLA) publishes a style guide that is used by academics nationwide. A Northern Arizona University professor assigned a paper to her undergraduate English class on literature and the human condition and told the students that they would be graded on how the paper conformed to the MLA guide. One of the guide’s style rules states the term “humankind” should be used instead of “mankind,” a point covered in class.

When a student deliberately used the word “mankind,” her grade was reduced by 1 out of 50 points. The student then posted about the demerit on a conservative website, whose readers launched a vile attack on the professor on social media and by e-mail. And I mean vile, including “only in Arizona” harassment referring to rape and a cactus.

No care for Native Americans’ sensibilities

Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak is named for Lori Piestewa, a Hopi and the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the Iraq war. The mountain peak has an older ugly name, one that was first given to Native American women taken as slaves. It is considered the “s” word by many indigenous people. Some of the old name remains, including on the road into the mountain preserve. Piestewa’s cousin has publicly asserted that she feels “really dirty” every time she drives up to the mountain honoring her late relative.

Phoenix’s city government is now studying the renaming of the street, and tensions are high. A woman appeared before the city council in February to present a petition against the renaming signed by 16 fellow homeowners on the street. When asked about the people who find the street name offensive, and knowing her name would appear with the quote in the newspaper, she stated: “I don’t care what they think about it.”

That is the Phoenix petitioner’s right. But if she’s working for your business, you have the right to insist that she must care about the sensibilities of your other employees, your customers and vendors, and everyone else she interacts with on your behalf. Have you told her?

Dinita L. James is an attorney with Gonzalez Law, LLC, practicing in the firm’s Tempe, Arizona, office. She may be contacted at

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