Did you just say that?

Updated: Mar 18

There is a lot of talk in New Zealand about having individual responsibility to call out racist language - I think we are all smart enough to realise we should be taking an inter-sectional approach and call out ALL forms of discriminatory language.

Workplaces are in a unique position to build a culture of zero tolerance to discriminatory language which will then flow into our employees homes and into our communities.

Before the current events that occurred in New Zealand, calling out racist, sexist or biased remarks have been considered by some as just being a bit too politically correct. We want to explain why it isn’t, and why calling out discriminatory language will lessen the likelihood of life threatening acts of discrimination.

'The Pyramid of Hate' was developed by Anti-Defamation League for its A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute and is used to explain how biased behaviors grow and develop within our community.

Although behaviors at the bottom of the pyramid might not seem ‘that bad’, as groups and individuals move up the pyramid, the consequences become more and more life threatening.

The pyramid reflects that the upper levels are influenced by the lower levels. If people and organisations accept or consider the factors in the lower levels to be ‘normal’, the higher levels of the pyramid also become more accepted. Discrimination is built upon the acceptance of behaviors in the lower levels.

Attitudes & Bias

Stereotypes, prejudice, non inclusive language, attitudes & beliefs about certain factors (gender, sexuality, race, religion age, ability), not challenging discriminatory comments

This section refers to the beliefs, attitudes and bias that one has around race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability. People who express these beliefs and attitudes tend to surround themselves with people who strengthen these views and build the belief that ‘some types of people are not equal’. The reinforcement and acceptance of these views increases the likelihood that they will move up the pyramid.

Acting on Attitude

Name calling, ethnic slurs, jokes relating to race, sex, religion, ability or age, microaggressions, avoiding people from certain groups.

Eg. sexual based jokes, racist remarks, bullying someone with a disability

Jokes and comments made by people relating to race, gender, sexuality, ability or age might just be laughed off by others. But expressing prejudice beliefs within society continues to reinforce that certain groups of people are not equal, and differences are something to be laughed at. It continues to strengthen views of discrimination and build self entitlement.

Acceptance of these acts can continue to push people up the pyramid as they begin to dehumanise the groups of people they have built a negative belief toward. This increases the probability that life threatening consequences will occur as a result of discriminatory beliefs.

Physical Expression

Assault, sexual harassment, rape, threats, standing over, hate crimes 

This is where we can visually see the impact of negative stereotypes, prejudice and bias in action. Before this level, we could not see the harsh impact of biased attitudes very easily. People who have moved this far up the pyramid feel a powerful sense of entitlement, and they believe it is within their right and power to physically hurt another person based on a physical characteristics - gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age etc.


People that have moved so far up the pyramid deliberately commit acts of genocide or murder against an individual or group based on another person’s beliefs, gender, sexuality or race.

Alternatively, people commit suicide as a result of the hate they have received by others that has related to factors about themselves gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability or age.

How to stop the pyramid

The one thing that we can all do to contribute to the reduction of hate crimes is by making it unacceptable to even enter the pyramid at the base layer. By understanding our own biases and calling out the biases of others, we will create a societal culture shift that does not consider these views and beliefs normal.

A great place to start is not laughing at or sharing racist, sexist, and other discriminatory jokes. By laughing at these jokes we continue to normalise that it’s okay to laugh at other’s differences. If we don’t want people in our communities to move up the pyramid, we need to call out discriminatory behavior and statements.

We can start this in our workplaces. Just as we have created a culture around wellness and health & safety, we can create a culture of zero tolerance to discriminatory language. We can educate our staff on its importance and build a team culture where it is appropriate to challenge biased opinions, and it’s normal to call out discriminatory language.

At The Awareness Project, we have built a resources and education to support businesses in starting conversations about discriminatory language with employees - because with courageous conversations comes change.

If you want to know more flick me us email - we would absolutely love to continue this conversation!