Today, for my XXth birthday, I took myself to the casino to play some poker, which I've mentioned I have a fondness for. The table I was playing at was pretty friendly, and as we all got to talking the guy next to me said he wanted to tell me and the guy on the other side of me a joke. The other guy said "oh no", and I didn't say anything and awaited the joke; I like a good joke.

Well, this is the joke about a zebra he told. I was stunned; the guy on the other side didn't laugh either; he was also black. I said to the guy that it's a good thing he told us this joke instead of many other people, because their reaction might not have been as nice as ours was.

He was seriously taken aback. He asked if I thought the joke was racist; I said it was fairly inappropriate (I tend to talk this way sometimes, believe it or not), and asked him if he'd ever met any black people who actually talked like that. He said no, and I said that's kind of a stereotype joke that, if told to the wrong people, could cause some problems, especially in the workplace. He really didn't get it and he apologized, and he was a very nice guy, so I took some time to tell him why jokes like that, in the wrong company could be a really bad thing.

He said he understood after a while, and said his wife was a trainer of sorts at a company, and usually had to teach things like this on the back end. He then talked about being in other offices where he'd hear what he considered inappropriate comments being directed as women, and how it made him uncomfortable even though the women seemed to play along.

I usually go into business interactions like this figuring that people actually know that they said something inappropriate, but thought that their relationship with the other person was different than what it turned out to be. Sometimes, men will see women as one of the guys after awhile and begin to think that they can say certain things around them, and then learn that they've misjudged the entire thing. The same happens with minorities, where people tend to think they've gotten to know someone so well that "they couldn't possibly take offense at a racial joke".

Anyway, after today, I might have to take a different look at the issue of race, or sex, when it comes to inappropriate behavior. Very well meaning people can say some pretty stupid and insensitive things, and not have an understanding of why it's wrong. Their lives haven't given them the appropriate tools to know why it's wrong, and that's a much different issue than blatant racism. It's still not excusable, but it's something that must be considered in a much different way.