Crew Advice

Ask Captain Kelly: How Do I Handle Witnessing Racism?

17 November 2022 By Staff Report

Have a tricky onboard situation you’d like an outsider’s perspective on? Have a burning career question? We can help!

Welcome to Dockwalk’s Ask Captain Kelly advice column, where we post your questions and get insight from a current captain, Capt. Kelly J. Gordon. Capt. Kelly currently works aboard M/Y Freddy but grew up in a small town in Indiana. Her path into yachting began in Beaufort, North Carolina, where she now claims as home base. She’s a former chemistry professor and loves to teach — while she takes pride in her ability as a motor yacht captain, she has a soft spot for young adults, especially those that come with questions.

This week‘s question deals with a situation it’s likely some of you have dealt with before — witnessing a racist incident.

Q: I witnessed someone making a racist comment to my crew mate. I was very taken aback and I didn’t say anything at the time and now I feel like a terrible person. I just don’t know what the appropriate response should be. Should I have confronted the person? What do I say, if anything, to my crew mate?

A: Racism shouldn’t be tolerated: This is a tough one and unfortunately an all-too-common one in this industry, which is largely white. (That’s a whole other can of worms I’ll open later.) I have a fairly diverse crew, intentionally so, on a U.S.-flagged vessel, which is somewhat difficult due to hiring restrictions, but I feel that it is important for me to do so. I have one very dark Hispanic crewmember on my boat who has been called African American, Hispanic, and Iraqi. These comments are all based on his skin. What they don’t know is that he is Cuban American, born and raised in Florida.  

So, let me answer this question based on a recent and true interaction regarding a racist comment towards him just the other day. He walked into the boat laughing that one of the contractors just called him Mexican. He was laughing because he is easygoing and he gets a chuckle out of people not knowing what his nationality or race is. 

But I didn’t laugh and I had had enough of this contractor’s comments that day. I called my manager and told him what was going on and told him I was going to address this. So, I simply walked out the door and asked the contractor if he had a minute to talk. I kindly and firmly told him that his comments were inappropriate, I didn’t appreciate them, and if he addressed any of my crew in a disrespectful manner again, he would be asked to leave.  

So, in a situation like this you should most certainly bring it to the captain’s attention and also ask the crewmember if he/she is okay and how he/she felt about it. This can be an awkward situation, for sure, so don’t beat yourself up for not doing anything at the time. Sometimes we need to experience these situations so that we can reflect and know how to handle them in the future. And if your captain wasn’t available at the time, there is never anything wrong with sticking up for another crewmember, but do so respectfully and professionally. So, check on your fellow crewmember to make sure they’re okay and then kindly and firmly let the offending person know that what they said is not okay and will not be tolerated.

If you want to get her advice, please email and you could see your questions and her answers featured here. All personal information will remain anonymous.

More related content:
Ask Captain Kelly: How Do I Best Get Started in the Industry?
Ask Captain Kelly: How Should I Deal With Guests That Cross the Line?
Ask Captain Kelly: How Should I Deal with Conflict in the Crew?
Ask Captain Kelly: Advice for Handling Crew Dating
Capt. Kelly Gordon: From Chemistry Professor to Superyacht Captain


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