Bigotry Gets Subtle – Code Word Slurs in the Workplace

Do you know what a "reggin" is?

Tomeika Broussard didn’t either, but when her supervisor called her a "reggin", she suspected it was something bad. Later, she figured out what it was: the n-word spelled backward. Broussard filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was awarded $44,000 in 2007 for racial harassment after she was fired from her file clerk position.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, "Coded Prejudice Is Cloaked Dagger" , Bigots have gotten smarter – they know the obvious slurs will get them in trouble. So instead of the usual suspects, they’re turning to code words – slurs in disguise. "People are smart and know they cannot use blatant terms, so they get the message across in other ways," said Sanya Hill Maxion, an EEOC lawyer in San Francisco.

According to the article , federal officials say they have seen an increase in code word harassment complaints ever since the first racial code word complaint was filed with the EEOC in 1996.

Some examples:

in May 2006, the EEOC settled a case in Florida where a manager referred to African-Americans as "you people" and interracial couples as "Oreos" and "Zebras".

In November 2004, the EEOC settled a case where American Indians were referred to as being "on the warpath" and subjected to war whoops and talk of scalping, alcohol abuse and living in teepees.

On April 1, 2008, a federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a white basketball coach who was criticized for marrying an African-American woman. The college vice president referred to her as "Aunt Jemima".

Other EEOC complaints include: a black employee who was repeatedly called "Cornelius" in reference to the ape character from "Planet of the Apes"; a man of Chinese and Italian ancestry who was daily called "Bruce Lee" by his foreman; a credit manager who said black employees were referred to as "you people" and "that one in there"; a black woman who was called "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba".

There appears to be no end to the creativity with which people create new code worded slurs. New ones seem to appear on the Internet every day.

If you have been subjected to code word discrimination, you should contact an attorney right away to see what your rights are.

(Pictured: Tomeika Broussard – Handout Photo Dec. 2007)


  1. Pamela on July 18, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    3 years ago I was harassed, called the n..word, I reported to the union and my employer which non of them would help me we had a meeting the supervisor lied the whole time and then had the nerve too lie after the mean was over. The only person who lost their job was me.i also took it to the EEOC thank goodness she believed me .anyways I was the one who lost their job

  2. Duane Beach-Barrow on May 11, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    There are several employees where I work tht are of Hispanic/Latino descent. They speak in Spanish ALL THE TIME amonst themselves and rarely speak English especilly around “Anglos”. I do not speak Spanish, but know a few words. A co-worker that is Hispanic/Latino/Mexican has referred to me twice directly as “Maracon” which I thought was “American”. I found out that it means FAGGOT (I am an openly Gay White Male). I have told my Supervisor and a Manager about the first incident. What can I do now?

    • Ben Trollio on June 22, 2021 at 7:44 pm

      Call I.C.E ?

  3. Thiago on November 14, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Well, a lot of that didn’t strike me as particularly subtle. Really just Miss Broussard’s case, and that of the interracial couples. I know a racial harassment lawyer in Chicago who would have torn that manager apart.

  4. lauren on August 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Even better when it comes from the city’s mayor – this guy called all Staten Island guys gumbas or something to that effect.

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