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Should HR Look At Context When It Comes To Language That Makes People Uncomfortable In The Workplace?

How should HR enforce policies surrounding language in the workplace?
How should HR enforce policies surrounding language in the workplace?

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Walter Mosley, a critically acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, recently shared in a New York Times opinion piece why he decided to walk off a project he was recently involved in. Mosley had just wrapped for the season with the “Snowfall” writers’ room earlier this year ahead of taking a similar job with “Star Trek: Discovery.”

After someone complained to Human Resources about Mosley using the n-word, saying the use of the word made them feel uncomfortable, an HR representative reached out to Mosley to express the concern and to tell him he couldn’t say it. That’s when the writer walked off the project. As Mosley explains it, he didn’t call anyone the word. He used it while telling a story involving a conversation he had had with a cop. “There I was being chastised for criticizing the word that oppressed me and mine for centuries,” Mosley writes in his piece. “As far as I know, the word is in the dictionary. As far as I know, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence assure me of both the freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness.” Mosley says he decided to resign and move on, adding that “the worst thing you can do to citizens of a democratic nation is to silence them.”

Former professional basketball star and current Hollywood Reporter columnist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defended Mosley and says his op-ed should be required reading for every American. He also questions the HR department’s predictable response, saying language policies are a one-size-fits-all, zero tolerance approach, which he deems lazy. Should language policies be a one-size-fits-all approach, or should they consider context and historical implications? Larry sits down with Mosley to discuss the issue. 


Walter Mosley, a novelist and screenwriter, he’s an executive producer and writer on FX’s “Snowfall”