Natalie Holder-Winfield

Natalie Holder-Winfield
Natalie Holder-Winfield is an employment lawyer and diversity consultant whose work has been featured in the New York Times, the New York Law Journal, Good Morning Connecticut, and Diversity Executive magazine. She creates customized leadership programs and training videos, integrated with diversity, for Fortune 500 corporations, law firms, government agencies and not-for-profit organizations, such as Time Warner, Deloitte, Proskauer Rose and the New York Mission Society. Natalie Holder-Winfield wrote, Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce: New Rules for a New Generation, after receiving program attendees’ requests for her training materials. New Rules provides human resource managers, diversity officers, managers, employees and students with practical advice and ideas for creating inclusive cultures. The book has been used to facilitate discussions at orientations, meetings, roundtable discussions, recruitment events and diversity training sessions. Natalie graduated from New York University, Tulane Law School, and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth’s Executive Education program. She is the Chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor & Employment’s Diversity Committee, a member of New York University’s Young Alumni Leadership Circle, and the United Way of Greater New Haven.

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AUGUST 18, 2009 2:00PM

When Comedy Meets Workplace Diversity

Rate: 4 Flag

Last week, as I was piecing together a diversity training presentation, I came across my “Two Wongs Don’t Make a White” slide.  This corny play on words was used as a t-shirt graphic by the clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch in the earlier part of this decade. Thank goodness those t-shirts didn’t get much play and were dragged off of the market, along with Abercrombie’s image as an equal opportunity employer.  (The retailer has also faced failure to hire and promote discrimination lawsuits.)  Although the retailer, today, is making an effort to redeem itself, I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking when they exposed the market to those t-shirts.  Have the lines of culturally insensitive jokes been so drastically moved that even a large retailer doesn’t know the difference between wrong and right?


With the advent of diversity and multi-culturalism, many of the invisible racial barriers in society are slowly fading away thanks, in part, to entertainment. With Justin Timberlake and Amy Winehouse producing some of the best R&B music, it’s hard to have white radio stations and black radio stations. Reality television shows openly parade mixed race-couples, making them less of a taboo or head turner.


Comedians, especially, have been the greatest catalysts for making other cultures less mysterious by lifting the lid off of what were once private inside jokes.  You have Rex Navarrette openly joking about Filipino time (that is, being 20 minutes late to everything).  George Lopez pokes fun at his Latino brothers and sisters on HBO specials and his network television show.  Larry the Cable Guy gives Northern urbanites comedic insight to redneck life. 


What happens when people at work decide to re-tell a joke they heard from Navarrette, Lopez, or Larry? Is it ok to laugh at or make a joke about another race, culture, or religion? These were the questions underlying my reasons for not watching the Dave Chappelle show. 


Now, I never started a mass boycott against the show, but I was vocal about why I didn’t tune in. While I never judged anyone for watching the show, I just couldn’t support a show that profusely overuses the “N” word on national television.  I felt that his show, which was written by a multi-racial staff, could be used to defend the use of the “N” word. I knew that some would argue that the word had evolved to the point where it was no longer an offensive racial epithet to denigrate black people and could be used by any and everyone.  I was not ready for that level of evolution.


Comedy is tricky.  The same slurs, epithets, and offensive language that comics use to get laughs, can create disrespect in the workplace, school and in other social settings.  I’m sure that some snarky designer at Abercrombie & Fitch probably thought he or she was appealing to the public’s sense of humor about Asians with the hideous “Wong” t-shirts.  As Abercrombie reminds us, context matters.  Material that works in a nightclub often falls flat in the office.

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I don't have any stats, but young people today just don't have our hard coded ideas about race. They could be considering all jokes "their jokes", whether ethnic or not. If it's funny, they will laugh. The "N" word, for them, is where it should be in the grammar lineup with the "F" word. I actually looked forward to the day when it would become meaningless.

I've gotten into it with a couple of people who used the "N" word in titles. That's where I draw a big line, since I don't want to have to look at the word when I'm trolling for great posts.

Abercranky and Filth, however, cultivated an image and a culture of overt racism and reveled in it. I hope that that firm suffers the consequences as the lawsuits progress.

Please let us know how those cases are doing!

Comedy has always pushed the envelope of acceptability and good taste. Even though I own a copy of Richard Pryor’s “That N*gg*r’s Crazy”, I am still uncomfortable any time I hear the N word. Perhaps it’s because I have also heard it uttered on more than a few occasions in a condescending manner, or with deep seated hatred and intense personal dislike. As a baby boomer, I have a different set of first hand experiences that influence my perceptions. Maybe, future generations will create an environment that purges the toxicity from this word. For now, I’m glad its use remains generally unacceptable within the workplace as well as mainstream society.
just listen to the speech around you, the common everyday/everyman speech. it is enough to appall the senses, if you have them. our world gets more and more crude. we need to train ourselves and our children the difference between what is right and what is wrong. we need to show them the love that covers all sin. and forgive.