I work with a white guy I’ve known for years. We are somewhere in between good friends and casual acquaintances. He is a stand up guy and a raging liberal (he has all the symptoms of liberal overcompensation syndrome: he is from a small, lily white suburban town; his parents are super-conservative). We talk politics and race frequently, and we both employ sarcasm and humor when talking about these things.
So, this guy and I were in a meeting, and he wrote a bunch of things on the whiteboard. When we were finished, he smiled, tossed me the eraser, and said, “Here you go, clean this up for me” (I’ve made similar jokes to him in the past). I shot back “Oh, so the black man has to clean up after you?” We both laughed.
As I stood up to leave the room, I saw the black janitor emptying the trash. I’m fairly positive that he heard us even though he gave no indication that he did. As I’m one of the few men in our office, the janitor and I end up talking a lot every afternoon. He’s never mentioned anything about this, and there’s been no change in the tone of our discussions.
I feel terrible, even though I don’t think the joke is really offensive. Should I feel bad about the joke? Should I apologize to the janitor?