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State tip: Don't ask Hispanic co-workers for help with your lawn

May 3, 2009 | 12:12 am

That's one of the pieces of blunt advice offered to Delaware state Transportation Department workers in a controversial recent handbook intended to sensitize employees and improve personal workplace relations.

The political trouble was, some of the minorities intended to be protected from insults and stereotyping, were insulted by the well-meaning handbook's specific stereotypical listings of bad things not to say.

Carolann Wicks secretary of the transportation department in Delaware

The politically incorrect predicament: How could the government department tell people the kinds of things they're not supposed to say without actually saying the kinds of things they're not supposed to say?

Among the things that were said not to be said were:

Don't tell older workers, They're hiring over at Wal-mart.

Don't tell homosexuals and lesbians they can get treatment.

Don't act amazed that Asians speak English well or assume they all work for the IT department.

Don't ask black co-workers, "Should we order fried chicken or watermelon for you?"

Don't say, "All you whites are alike." Or suggest all are racist.

Don't say, "You don't look handicapped."

Transportation Secretary Carolann Wicks wanted the diversity training newsletter to be bold, specific and in-your-face.It was.

"The general thought," she explained to a reporter, "is that you have to shock people to get their attention. The overwhelming response was 'Wow, this is saying what we've been feeling.' I needed to be painfully clear what's intolerable."

Media inquiries, prompted by some complaints, gave Wicks second thoughts.

And the secretary, who seems surprisingly intelligent for a government employee from the state that sent Joe Biden to the U.S. Senate all those years, has since removed the two-page advice from the website. She also sent an apology to all workers who might have been offended.

(UPDATE: Blogger Don Surber points out during the Democratic primary contests last year now POTUS Barack Obama said something about his typical white grandmother's views of blacks and now-VP Joe Biden commented with some surprise on how articulate Obama was. And Biden is from Delaware.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press (Wicks).