my boss is sending everyone at my office racist memes

A reader writes:

I work at a branch office of a nonprofit institution (roughly 150 employees over 10 states). Today, my branch manager (vice president in the overall institution) sent this racially-charged political meme to all employees at our site.

I was shocked and disgusted, as were many of my front-line colleagues. My immediate supervisors, however, shrugged it off. They agree that it is distasteful, but not enough to confront the prickly branch manager about it.

I believe that this sort of communication (which has nothing to do with the purpose of our nonprofit) would be seriously frowned upon by the overall organization’s CEO, were he aware. If this email was leaked to the press, it would reflect very poorly on our organization.

I feel compelled to speak up about this – but how?

Confronting my branch manager directly – by myself – is pretty much guaranteed to go poorly for me. And organizing colleagues to action will no doubt be seen as troublemaking.

We have no HR to speak of. I’ve thought about forwarding the e-mail directly to our CEO, but that feels like tattling. I can’t take this to our communications officer (which would seem like the logical next person to talk to), because – surprise! – the branch manger in question also serves as the institution’s chief communications officer.

Please help me!

Wow.

Let us have a moment of silence to reflect on the stupidity and offensiveness of your manager, and our gratitude that the rest of us do not work with him.

The good news here is that you feel confident that your CEO would have a problem with this.

It’s not tattling to report this to him. Tattling would be reporting that a colleague is taking five extra minutes at lunch or annoying you by yodeling in the parking lot. This is about letting him know about something serious — a wildly inappropriate all-staff email (well, all-staff within your location) that’s racist and offensive and creates an unwelcoming environment for loads of people and — because he’s the head of your office — makes it appear that the company itself might condone his views. It’s not tattling to let him know about something that’s horrible for your organization in many ways.

I’d forward that email — right now, today — to your CEO with a note saying this:

“Would you take a look at the email below? Bob forwarded it today to all employees at our site. It reads as racially charged to me, and I’m frankly pretty taken aback by it. In addition to being personally dismayed and thinking it doesn’t represent the kind of environment we want here, I’m also concerned about how it would reflect on us if seen outside the organization.

However, I’m concerned about causing tension in my relationship with Bob, which I obviously need to remain strong. If you agree that this needs to be addressed, I’d be grateful if you’d do that without noting that I was the one to forward it to you.”

Now, is there some risk that your manager will end up finding out that you did this? There is. But if your CEO is a halfway decent manager, he’ll ensure that that won’t happen. If it does happen — well, it’s still very much the right thing to do.

Be the person who doesn’t shrug it off.

{ 579 comments… read them below }

  1. SouthernBelle

    Is this is the first time the branch manager has done or said something along these lines? If it’s not, I wonder if it would help your case to mention similar instances while reporting the email.

      1. IT Kat

        I somehow am completely at a loss on how someone could manage to ‘accidentally’ send racially charged emails from a work email address unless they are, indeed, racist and have no issues sharing that fact.

        Maybe I’m missing a context but even if it were accidental, I would think that it would be followed by a heartfelt apology to that same email list?

        1. NoPantsFridays

          Yeah, I’m not sure if they have separate work emails, since the organization doesn’t sound that large. But if they do, then this email is a problem even if it went to the wrong email list. I’m flabbergasted that this employee would be sending any type of controversial/charged material from their work email, even if it were intended for non-work recipients.

          But then I work in an office where the most controversial personal email that gets sent is “My child has girl scout cookies, do you want to order some?” sent to the entire department or once even the entire office building. Which is annoying at worst, and basically innocuous.

  2. OriginalEmma

    Wow, indeed. I would speak up about this. You don’t want to implicitly support racism in the workplace by remaining silent. There is power in numbers, though, so if you’re sure that many of your coworkers agree this is highly inappropriate, try to gain their support and go to the CEO together (in person or virtually-speaking by cc’ing them, perhaps).

    *Also worth noting that one of the highlights in the scathing DOJ condemnation of the Ferguson police department was the transmission of racist e-mails like this. It’s not tattling, it IS a big deal (imagine if you guys got FOIA’d?) and it’s insidious yet poisonous actions like this that implicitly and explicitly promote racism in the environment.

        1. BRR

          I mean to show how many are disgusted. CC with permission from the coworkers. In a perfect world the CEO would see this and take action. But just in case there is a difference if the CEO gets an email from one person in the branch or many.

          1. Colette

            Ccing others is similar to your boss addressing a performance problem in a staff meeting, IMO. feedback of this sort should. Not be a group conversation. If the coworkers are offended, they can raise that themselves.

            1. Cath in Canada

              In my office, a colleague asked my permission to add “I am copying Cath on this email as we have discussed this matter and she agrees with my request” to an email asking management to reconsider a decision. I thought that was a good way to approach things, although I think it’s probably a “know your office” kinda deal.

    1. Kelly L.

      I was thinking of the Ferguson emails too. Yes, please report it. This is gross, and needs to be stopped before it can grow.

  3. AndersonDarling

    Does the branch manager not watch the news? Does he have no concept of what forwarding racist emails can do to an organization?
    If the CEO is an open person, I’d be more inclined to call and explain what is happening. I’d be nervous about forwarding an email, the CEO getting it, then having it forwarded directly to the Branch Manager with the OP’s name on it. But if you have Outlook, you can prevent forwarding on emails that you send.

    1. TCO

      I’m also concerned about the OP’s vulnerability if she sends this complaint in writing. We’ve all seen how e-mails no one intended to get passed around do just that. But on the other hand, it’s also important to have written documentation of such an important civil-rights violation. This isn’t a typical complaint against a coworker; it’s a complaint that a high-ranking executive is potentially creating a hostile work environment through illegal racist actions (and yes, I know that the legal bar for this stuff is usually higher than one e-mailed meme). That needs to be documented; it wouldn’t be a bad idea for OP to also file this complaint away safely at home should it ever be needed.

        1. Hlyssande

          I’m trying to come up with an appropriate Xzibit meme for this, but I can’t wordsmith it because lack of caffeines.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius

    The people who are legit tattlers never worry about it, and people, like the op, who clearly aren’t always do. Why?!

    Tattlers are people who could work out minor conflicts out amongst themselves but they don’t because they want to get the other person in trouble publicly.

    This scenario is neither minor or something you could deal with on your own.

    Please send an update when you can!

    1. Exhausted

      The legit tattlers probably haven’t gotten in trouble for it and thus never learned their lesson. Meanwhile, folks like the OP know they could be bitten in the butt.

  5. Wacky Teapot

    OP–please write us back and tell us how it goes. I’ve prayed for you and your job. You’ll be okay. It’s time idiots get shown the door.

      1. Jazzy Red

        I’m a little late here, but I agree with you two completely.

        My neighborhood received flyers from the Ku Klux Klan the day before MLK day. The most disgusting thing on the flyer was their invitation to all white, CHRISTIAN people to join them. Their whole purpose is the antithesis of Christ.

  6. Us, Too

    (*jawdrop followed by dead silence*)

    Did this really come out of nowhere? This is such an egregious thing to have done, that I can’t imagine any person with a semblance of appropriate boundaries doing something like this. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t part of a pattern of behavior.

    1. OriginalEmma

      Excellent observation. This may have been the first e-mail transmission but I wonder if this person acts this way verbally and demonstrates behaviors that indicate his racist tendencies.

      1. K.

        You know that saying “for every rat you see, there’s ten you don’t?” That’s very true of racism. If this is what he’s saying in public AT WORK, he’s saying worse in private.

        I’m black, so I read stuff like this and immediately think “tattle formally, and quit and possibly lawyer up if nothing is done.” Full stop. I have my suspicions about similar things happening at my workplace (reason # 346 I’m looking for a new job) but no proof. If I had proof, I’d be very vocal.

        1. Hlyssande

          Ugh, for reals.

          If the branch manager is sending emails that are clearly racist like this, doesn’t that give pretty good heft to a case for discrimination against existing employees or in hiring practices?

          I hope you find a new job soon.

  7. Ben Around

    The branch manager shouldn’t have sent that meme, you should tell the CEO … and you should have your resume up to date, because I think when this runs its course, the branch manager will still have a job and you won’t.

    1. John

      If OP doesn’t, the organization will be exposing themselves to legal action and serious embarrassment.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I would absolutely not assume that. In more cases than not, this would be dealt with correctly.

      Moreover, as John points out, firing someone for making a good faith report of this kind of thing is illegal retaliation.

      1. Merry and Bright

        Good to know. Sounds like the whistleblowing laws in the UK (proper name Public Interest Disclosure).

      2. Not telling

        AAM, I felt like I was reading my own story when I read the letter. I wasn’t fired, but I’m essentially persona non grata. My boss found no objection to the racially charged event and told me if I wasn’t comfortable with it, then I should look for a place to work where I am comfortable.

        In sharing my experience, I only want to point out that the CEO’s reaction could run the gamut and OP should consider that before they approach the CEO. I absolutely don’t want to silence OP as you have suggested may happen by so many people warning them of possible termination. But it is only responsible to point out that being a ‘whistleblower’ is a lonely and hard path. Some people march straight forward like boudiccea on her chariot without a moment’s thought, while others suffer lifelong repercussions from the situation. That OP is equivocating and asking ‘what should I do?’ suggests they may not be willing to face being ostracized by coworkers or having their career derailed or sidelined because of this email.

        I lean more towards the Boudiccea end of the spectrum, and even I sometimes wish I hadn’t spoken to the CEO about my situation. In the end, I’m the only one harmed. The manager didn’t get in trouble. The CEO doesn’t think better of me or appreciate my concern for the company’s reputation. My coworkers resent me for being trouble maker. I was considering leaving in a year or two anyway, and if I’d kept my mouth shut I could have at least secured a positive job reference.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Again, I’m not saying that it’s not possible — but it’s not the most likely outcome. And in this case, the OP has said that she knows her CEO would have a problem with the email.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I disagree even with that — it’s highly unlikely to happen, particularly if she knows the CEO to be a reasonable person. Telling people they should be prepared for that is like saying you should be prepared to be fired when you ask for a raise — it’s possible but unlikely and it will discourage people from having normal conversations that they should be having.

        1. Ben Around

          I don’t think there’s enough information presented to say that it’s highly unlikely that the OP will pay a price for doing the right thing.

          I think telling the CEO is the way to go. But I’d have a box ready for the family photos if I were the OP.

            1. Tattooine

              And if they fire her, she should say, “I understand that I am being fired for reporting a potential EEO violation, correct?’ Because COME ON. Organizations that stupid should recognize that they are putting themselves at huge risk once they hear that.

            2. The Cosmic Avenger

              No, but it wouldn’t be that unusual for the powers that be to “take it seriously”, which generally translates to paying it lip service, and not to take any real action against the branch manager. Unless the branch manager is immediately shown the door, I’d make sure to have one foot out of it myself.

              1. cuppa

                This is important. I’d be more concerned about potentially working for an organization that sweeps this thing under the rug than being fired for reporting it.
                With that said, I would absolutely put my concerns in writing to be sure I had a way to cover my rear.
                Also, I feel it’s necessary to point out that I don’t think it is likely that either scenario would happen, and most likely it will be handled appropriately. However, better safe than sorry.

              2. fposte

                I think that’s overpolarizing the possibilities, though. The guy doesn’t have to be fired for serious action to have been taken, and I think it would be a mistake for the OP to assume she’s in trouble if he isn’t fired.

              3. SerfinUSA

                I’m sure this thread is long buried, but I concur with the ‘be prepared’ advice.
                I work for a state university with layer upon layer of policy & procedure & training that are supposed to prevent and deal with this kind of thing. Does it?

                Nope. I personally know of multiple people who did the right thing and ended up getting hazed out of their jobs. The perpetrators still have their jobs, some of which are upper admin and in power over people in ‘protected categories’ who have been given the clear message that TPTB (including unions and HR) will act to protect TPTB (or decline to act when they should).

                Document and be prepared to lawyer up. Ask your coworkers if they have experienced similar misconduct. It might help.

                1. Ben Around

                  I worked for a very large, “progressive,” publicly held company where managers colluded to harass a few targeted workers in horribly crude ways in an attempt to drive them out. A successful EEOC action was initiated (and if you know anything about EEOC, that means the harassment was BAD — the agency is hardly on a hair trigger).

                  The company paid more than a third of a million dollars in penalties. All of us grunt-level employees, in every department throughout a sprawling company, had to undergo yearly EEOC-mandated anti-harassment training for three years (even though we hadn’t perpetrated the harassment in any way). And — here’s the point — managers whose fingerprints were all over the harassment kept their high-level positions.

        2. JB

          I wasn’t thinking the CEO or branch manager would fire her for this. I doubt that would happen. But it’s possible there could be a constructive discharge situation–that the branch manager would make her miserable enough that she’d feel the need to leave.

          Maybe I’m reading too much into her letter, but I felt like if she had confidence that there wouldn’t be fallout for her in some form, she’d have already emailed the CEO. The fact that the CEO is not in her office means the branch manager has a lot more effect on her daily work life than the CEO does.

          And I disagree that being prepared for being fired discourages people from having normal conversations. I’m sure it does for some people, maybe even most. But there are some people who are like me–fear of what might happen in certain kinds of work situations makes me not speak out, but having an action plan for what I would do I were fired for it makes me feel more secure about it. I know it’s not reasonable to expect to be fired for speaking up or asking for a raise, but I’ve worked places where that would get you fired, and I’m someone who doesn’t have any easy time finding jobs. I don’t like being caught off-guard, and I find a lot of comfort in being prepared for if what I’m afraid will happen happens.

          1. fposte

            I’m like that myself, so I get it. But I think what can happen in comments here is that there’s so much warning and preparing that it ends up dauntingly suggesting that the bad outcome is much likelier than it is, and I think that risks being unhelpful rather than helpful. But it’s a cumulative effect, so it’s hard to control.

            1. JB

              That’s fair. And there’s no screening letter writers for “how do you react to fear of being fired?”

    3. BRR

      How low is the common sense bar now a days?

      Anyways, the two outcomes are the CEO will fire the branch manager (which with what we know seems to be the smartest option) or the CEO won’t fire the branch manager.

      If the CEO doesn’t fire the branch manager then you will either be fired or the environment will be hell for you and he will attempt to force you out.

      If it were me, I would get people together (I’m assuming there are many who are disgusted) and maybe pen a letter all together and send it to the CEO. If the CEO isn’t upset enough that this happened it might help that a large portion of the office is upset.

      I just don’t think I could let this go on principle. If I did lose my job over this I would feel proud of what I did (and might consider forwarding it to the local newspaper).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Wait, no, no, neither of those are the most likely outcome. What’s most likely is that the CEO will talk to the manager and make it abundantly clear that this was unacceptable and can’t happen again.

        It’s unlikely that he’ll be fired if it was a first offense, and it’s very unlikely that the environment will turn bad for the OP or that she’ll be forced out.

        Competent managers will handle this without invoking the OP at all. She is highly unlikely to lose her job over this (!) and it’s really important that people not imply that she’s likely to, because that will have a huge silencing effect on her and others, and it would be totally unwarranted.

        1. BRR

          I’m kind of surprised you don’t consider this a fireable offense. I’d be seriously concerned about this person running a branch of the company I was running.

          I also do think in general we are over assuming the OP will be named and fired. I’m a little blinded by rage and shock at the moment and got carried away.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I think it’s fireable and I’d probably fire the person, but I don’t think most companies fire on a first offense for this kind of thing.

            1. some1

              If you didn’t fire the manager, how would you handle the potential weirdness from your employee who reported it? Assure her that you’ll make sure the guy doesn’t find out she reported it, or ask her to come directly to you if it seems like he’s retaliating at all?

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yep, similarly to how most first incidents of, say, harassment are handled as long as they’re not totally egregious: serious talk, warning of consequences (generally firing) if it’s repeated, broader discussion of why they can’t do X or things like X in the workplace and the impact on those around them and their own career, and very serious explanation that there can be zero retaliation against the reporter or others, even subtly.

                1. Juli G.

                  This is a very easy situation for the OP to remain anonymous. Since the manager sent it all over, anyone could have reported it. This isn’t a situation where a conversation has to be reported and the parties are easily identified. As Allison said, if the CEO is half competent, there’s no reason to reveal the reporter.

          2. a black guy

            One-off stupidity that isn’t violent should generally not be fireable for a good employee. That guy would have to never due it again and should be kept under close watch to make sure he isn’t discriminating in other ways or showing very bad judgement in other ways, but I don’t think people should lose their jobs over stuff like that done once.

            On the other hand, if he’s a borderline performer, this could be the last straw to get rid of him.

            Plus the organization should make a statement like Cuppa said.

            1. Joey

              If you have to “make sure” or keep a close eye that the guy isn’t discriminating in other ways then he really needs to be fired.

              Employers have better things to do than to stand over the shoulder of an employee watching for racist behavior.

              1. A Cita

                Yes. Absolutely, in general.

                Specifically here, I would fire him. Because: 1. Racism (and no way to monitor how that may be playing out in other ways, as stated). 2. Serious lack of judgement at the management level. 3. Morale killer. Even if a one-off incident, it’s a huge one with probable short and long term consequences. I would worry about the message it sends to the branch employees. 4. Organizational reputation.

            2. Artemesia

              My facebook pages are full of crap like this from otherwise not insane people; rarely does anyone I know or their circle post clearly racist material i.e. of the order of the SAE chant or the watermelon patch on the WH lawn. But this kind of sly, Obama bashing stuff which is fundamentally racist without using the N word or other slurs is appallingly common. Our politics are largely driven by manipulation of racism which is a deep streak in the value structure of at least half the population. I suspect this guy swims in a religious and social group where this is so commonplace that it didn’t trigger his common sense.

                1. Jessa

                  I can’t even. I keep trying to parse a point about the group that swim in the political pool about the US Flag and the fact that those same people if they had been there when the first picture was taken would probably have said that the people in the picture had no right to have those flags…the same group of political people who have not renamed that [paragraphs of expletives deleted] bridge… My late grandmother was one of the Jewish people who went down there in solidarity to help register people to vote.

                  I just really can’t without saying things that would rightfully get me banned by Alison.

                  I would seriously have this guy on my to fire now list. He’s either too dense to realise the racist implications of the meme he forwarded, in which case I wouldn’t want him speaking for my company, or he gets it in which case it’s harassment and he’s out so fast his head would spin. I’d be worried I’d have missed all the microagressions he was directing towards various protected class employees.

            3. CEMgr

              I might agree in the case of a rank and file worker (after putting some boundaries on just how “stupid” the stupidity can get.) However, for a branch manager, the expectations are (or should be) higher. He is the face of company management for every employee at that site. He sets the tone, colors the experience, and provides the example they all would normally be expected to follow. His actions look like high-level corporate agency and would likely be treated as such, should these facts ever come as a piece of evidence to a court of law. Deliberate, explicit, inflammatory conduct with absolutely no shred of workplace justification would easily justify firing in my eyes. (Not certainly, but easily.)

              1. Merry and Bright

                + 1
                Part of the deal of being a senior person is being held to higher standards and one of the reasons they get paid more. The way managers etc behave can affect the whole atmosphere in the workplace.

          3. AnotherHRPro

            The reality is people make mistakes and sometimes demonstrate poor judgment that is out of character. If this situation was the very first time this leader showed such poor judgment then he might not be fired for the offense. If he has showed similar laps in judgment in the past or if he in a senior leadership position I would recommend termination. Otherwise, make it very clear how totally unacceptable this was, consider if this should impact his performance ratings/bonus payment/etc. and tell him that if anything like this every happens again his job will be in jeopardy.

            1. Joey

              Oh cmon isnt the bar higher for leaders. If racist behavior isn’t zero tolerance then what message does that send to his employees? That youve got 1 free racist behavior pass.

              People cant just turn off racist beliefs at the flick of a switch. ive never met anyone who did this type of crap who didn’t let it permeate the rest of their actions. Maybe it’s ignorance about race, but if it is its not going to be fixed with one finger wagging talk.

              1. Case of the Mondays

                That is where things get legally mucky though, especially in the workplace. There is no prohibition against someone being racist. There is a prohibition against that person acting on it to the detriment of others, making a hostile workplace (which can include saying and sending racist things) etc. As an example, take a state where you can’t discriminate against homosexuals. I can’t punish an employee for finding homosexuality immoral and against his/her religion. I just have to make sure said employee treats homosexuals equally in hiring, promoting etc and does not say negative things about homosexuals in the workplace.

                1. Joey

                  That’s not really the right question though. The question is do you want someone, especially a leader, who will be at the wrong end of the diversity spectrum?
                  Someone who has to stop themselves from discriminating.

                2. fposte

                  I’m not sure that’s true, though, if by “can’t punish” you mean “can’t take workplace action.” Being opposed to your co-workers’ rights isn’t a protected category; if that’s a public view of an employee, the fact that that view is religiously based doesn’t mean it requires a religious accommodation. People have indeed lost their jobs for such beliefs, and I’d bet people have also failed to obtain jobs because of holding those beliefs.

                3. Case of the Mondays

                  fposte – unless your state laws specifically say you can’t do certain things. We have had a lot of compromise laws in my state. Totally paraphrasing here but “okay, same sex marriage is now legal but no vendor shall be required to perform at any such marriage nor can any cause of action be brought against any that so refuses to perform.”

                  Or my favorite (sarcasm), medicinal marijuana is now decriminalized but your employer can still fire you for using it, even if you use it outside of work and never come to work under the influence. Oh, and your landlord can prohibit you from using it.

                4. fposte

                  @Case–yes, of course, if there are state protections in place that’s a different matter, same as there are state protections but not federal for being gay. I’m just pointing out that “it’s part of my religion!” isn’t an automatic job-saver.

                5. Case of the Mondays

                  I think the reason my mind went where it did is I am used to dealing with contract employees, unions, and public employees with “free speech rights” that are different from private sector at will employees. It gets complex.

                6. Hlyssande

                  Can you really, truly be sure that this person doesn’t allow that attitude to reflect hiring and promotion practices?

                  Not saying negative things doesn’t mean they’re not going to give that employee the worst work or treat them poorly in other ways that may be more subtle.

              2. AnotherHRPro

                I don’t believe I said a “finger wagging talk”. I said that if it was a senior person, I would recommend termination because we do expect more from leaders. Case of Mondays’ is right, you can not require someone to believe something, however you can require they behave appropriately. And when they don’t there need to be consequences. Those should be documented and even financial.

      2. AndersonDarling

        I don’t think the OP would be fired. But things may be uncomfortable for the OP.
        If the CEO has any sense at all, and he must have a smidgen of sense to be the CEO, he will take care of this by having a discussion with the branch manager. If he is extra smart, he will write up the Branch Manager to have documented proof that the organization does not share the racist views.
        Companies may not handle personnel issues the best way possible all the time, but open racism is a different matter. It should be obvious to a lay person that you can’t spread racist emails at work.

        1. AndersonDarling

          Oh, and when I say things may be uncomfortable for the OP, I mean that the situation is uncomfortable and she is likely to be anxious and wondering if something was done.

          1. cuppa

            I think a good CEO manager would address it with the entire staff, or perhaps the entire organization, especially if there is PR liability here. I’m not saying that he should say, “Joe sent out a racist e-mail and now he’s in trouble”, but there definitely should be a statement saying “It has come to my attention that something has happened, this is not appropriate and will not be accepted in this organization” — something to that effect.

            1. HR Generalist

              +1
              We would likely draft a memo reminding employees of the policies on internet use/email forwarding and that we became aware of a situation which we do not condone or support in any way. Reminder that we are an employer that supports diverse backgrounds and wanted employees to feel safe and comfortable working with us, etc.

    4. OP

      OP here. Thanks for your (and everyone else’s) concern. I understand that there could be consequences for my actions in reporting this.

      I’m quite confident that I won’t be fired over this. My supervisors think I’m fabulous, and they have the clout to shield me from the branch manager’s wrath. But more importantly, I’d already planned to leave this job in the next couple of months for other reasons. I trust my supervisor enough to give plenty advance notice, and I’ve already done so. I know this seems unusual, but in my line of work, doing this is common and expected. And regardless of that, I have the financial freedom to take this risk – getting fired wouldn’t be disastrous for me.

      Here are the three things that I AM afraid of:

      1. The district manager’s wrath on my entire department. As I’ve mentioned before, there is already a massive, unrelated storm brewing between the district manager and my department. It would be in character for the manager to take out any frustration with me on our entire department, standing in the way of the very good work that we are doing. This would harm my co-workers, my supervisors, and the population we serve.

      2. I’d been planning to ask the CEO for a personal favor. If I’m wrong and he actually isn’t horrified by this meme, he’s unlikely to think highly of me and do the favor. Petty, I know, but it’s true.

      3. Being wrong. I’ve wondered if I really am making a mountain out of a molehill. Because my supervisors and so many of the coworkers I respect are sitting idly by, it’s easy to wonder if I’m being unreasonable. You all have helped me to overcome this concern – thank you.

      I’m going to try to speak with the CEO about this. Updates to follow.

      1. Hlyssande

        You are absolutely not being unreasonable.

        This is as inappropriate as the memo we received from the Division Prez at the 2008 election encouraging us to vote McCain.

        I hope things work out well for you!

  8. AnonEMoose

    I agree with the others; this is a big deal, and the sort of thing that, if you don’t speak up, could potentially reflect badly on you if somehow it did go public or otherwise result in a scandal.

    I had a somewhat similar situation in 2001, although fortunately the person who sent the offensive email was not a co-worker, much less management. At this time, I was working at a company that, among other sort of HR consultant-type stuff, offered outplacement services. Shortly after 9/11, there was at least one email screed going around that basically blamed those events on the US “kicking God out of the public schools,” and other nonsensical and offensive stuff. Which was forwarded to me by a client.

    I took a couple of deep breaths, and then went to talk to the consultant who was working with him. I didn’t want to forward the dratted thing to her without warning, so I asked her to come to my desk and read it. Which she did. After the first paragraph, her eyes got wide. She was appalled and said that she would talk to him; I never heard anything more about it – but never received any similar emails from him, either.

    One of the things I mentioned to the consultant was that this client had only spoken to me maybe two or three times, and only about professional stuff. If he thought it was ok to forward that to me, what if he did that to someone he interviewed with, or something like that?

    I hope your CEO will take action on this, without bringing your name into it!

    1. some1

      I was working in city government for a pretty big city on 9/11 and and another employee sent that email to everyone in City address book. After a couple of hours, the director of the dept sent out another email to the whole city basically saying, “We know about it and we are dealing with it” because they received so many complaints.

      1. AnonEMoose

        I guess in a way it’s reassuring that so many people apparently complained. Wow…working for a government and sending that kind of thing out to everyone is just…you’d think people would know better. But apparently, too many people don’t.

        1. Snork Maiden

          There is a used-car-lot owner here who forwards racist/xenophobic emails to everyone in his address book. We did some work for him five years ago and I am still on his list, apparently. If he ever comes back I’ll direct him elsewhere. I do not understand people who do this.

  9. Adam

    Wow. There’s a moment of bad judgment, and then there’s straight up losing your head. What made this person think sending that to work colleagues was even remotely a good idea?

    1. AndersonDarling

      I wonder if it was an accident and was meant to be sent to a personal mailing list. But then I would assume an apology would follow.

      1. Adam

        It’s possible, but this is one of those situations where you can’t un-ring that bell. Even if he meant it to be a truly private exchange and apologized post-haste, now that it’s out there it’s OUT there.

      2. jag

        I was thinking the same thing – it might be a one-off thing.

        It might even be that his computer or the IT system has been hacked.

        1. A Non

          I work in IT. Hacked email results in spam and phishing attempts, not racist memes. It’s really, really unlikely that someone with the technical skill (or money to hire it) is out to get this guy and specifically hacked his email to cause problems for him. It’s far more likely that he’s a jackass who thought this was an okay email to send out. The CEO should be able to tell the difference quickly.

          1. fposte

            So many people are using the claim that they were hacked to avoid consequences for stupid stuff that I suspect people are starting to think such hacking is much likelier that it really is.

            1. A Non

              Yeah, the media’s portrayal of hacking doesn’t help either. It’s not really that great an excuse.

          2. Elsajeni

            It does happen — someone got into (I hesitate to say hacked, because I have no idea how exactly this happened) the email account of a high-level administrator at my college and sent out a weird email to all faculty and staff. But you’re right that that’s super rare, and I doubt it’s what happened here — if someone was trying to use this guy’s emails to make him look bad, I feel like they’d go for something more egregious and/or more personal (the one at my college threatened to fire specific people, by name, and cut specific programs), not just, like, forward the first inappropriate email they found in his inbox.

  10. esra

    BobTom is a dick. This is so over the line, I can’t believe your supervisors just shrugged it off.

  11. Bruce H.

    Would it make sense to print the picture and snail mail it to the CEO with a note about how it was in a company e-mail? Totally anonymous.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Not unless the CEO has given her reason to believe that kind of defensive posture is necessary, which doesn’t sound like the case here. Given that, this approach would cause more drama than is needed. She should just be straightforward: “this happened, it’s obviously a problem, I knew you’d want to know.”

    2. Dynamic Beige

      I was thinking that you could print out the e-mail and fax it either from the office or a location that offers fax services if it was absolutely necessary to CYA

  12. Observer

    Yes, I think you really need to go to the CEO with this. It is NOT “tattling.” It’s organizational defense.

    What I would point out to the CEO is that this could leak out without anyone meaning to do anyone any harm. On the on hand, people make mistakes, and forwarding an email to the wrong person by mistake is a classic error. On the other hand, obviously at least one person in the place thinks this thing is OK. I would worry that this person might send it outside of the organization or that someone else would agree enough to forward it on without stripping out the organizational information.

  13. Ann Furthermore

    Holy cow. I’d forward this right away to your CEO. And just to be on the safe side, I’d start updating my resume. In the perfect world, it should be the branch manager who is shown the door, but unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way that they should.

    But if your CEO has any sense at all, he’ll recognize the gravity of the situation and take care of it immediately.

  14. some1

    When I read something like this here, I thank God there’s one place on the internet where every other comment isn’t claiming the email is protected under Free Speech. [eyeroll]

    1. Stephanie

      Yes. You guys rock.

      And even then, I don’t think free speech would even apply since this is a private organization. Branch manager has a right to not “get disappeared” for his dissent, but not to a job.

      1. JB

        Sadly, that doesn’t stop people from saying it’s free speech! The internet is full of people who think that the constitutional right of free speech means a constitutional right to have absolutely no consequences for your speech.

        1. L McD

          It always reminds me of the disruptive customers at my ex’s old workplace who started yelling “THIS IS PUBLIC PROPERTY! I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT!” while they waited for the cops to show up. A) It’s not, and B) you can still be arrested for being violent and disruptive on public property…

          (Shocking absolutely no one, they both turned out to have outstanding bench warrants once they were booked.)

          I think my second-favorite legal misconception that pops up a lot is the idea that somehow, the fact that something is illegal means people literally can’t do it – as if the hand of God will suddenly appear in front of you and physically hold you back if you try to break the law. People break the law all the time, the fact that it’s illegal just means there are potentially consequences afterwards…I don’t know what’s difficult about that concept, but I feel like I’m explaining it a lot.

          1. JB

            Yes to both your examples. There are some really confusing laws out there, and so many of them, that I can understand people not being 100% up on the law, even though we’re basically required to be. But the really basic stuff, I don’t know where people are getting their information from. I guess tv and the movies.

        2. Allison

          I wonder if that’s because schools aren’t teaching it right. They sort of gloss over the Constitution and how important it is because “it protects our right to express ourselves” but they never get into what that First Amendment really means. My junior year history class kind of got into the intricacies of what was and wasn’t protected under the Bill of Rights, but it seems like we were in the minority. And even then, I wonder who really paid attention.

          1. JB

            That could be. My high school had exactly 1 semester of required government (what I think was called civics at one point), and we covered as much as we could, but we didn’t get into how the amendments work. Or if we did, we didn’t spend much time on it.

          2. Jill

            Yes! I used to work for an elected official and every time there’d be a new fee instituted for something we’d get the complaint calls about how it was “taxation without representation” from people who completely didn’t connect that it was their elected representatives who created the fee by voting on it during public meetings where public testimony was taken. Ugh.

            1. Stephanie

              I do love that DC license plates have “Taxation Without Representation” on them (but it’s actually true in that case!).

              1. SAF

                Those of us who live here in DC hold out hope that people think about what it means.

                We are pretty sure they don’t.

                1. Stephanie

                  Ha, no. I still have my plates and proudly displayed them. I was happy when I found out I didn’t have to mail them back to the DMV.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            So much of XKCD just perfectly sums up the world. (Or, sometimes, my life. The one where the guy is renting a house, can’t believe he’s enough of an adult that he’s responsible for a building now, and has no idea what the real estate agent just said because he was thinking about Batman…among many others.)

    2. Artemesia

      Yes there does seem to be this confusion between my ‘right to say something’ and whether it is ‘right to say this.’ There is a bunch of that on the SAE thing right now as if the legal right to say something means there are no consequences for appalling things one might say.

      1. NoPantsFridays

        And not just moral rightness, but technical correctness. It’s perfectly legal to say that 1+1=3, or that the moon is made of cheese, but neither is actually correct. “Free speech!11” is really the last-ditch attempt to defend an indefensible or wrong position, and of course, it is no defense at all.

    3. xxj

      Yes! I love the community and its norms here. Everyone’s generally calm, articulate, thoughtful and rational.

  15. Hotstreak

    I think some are overreacting to this. It’s usually not advised to make political statements in the office, but how is this racist? Just because it is a picture of people of color, does not mean it’s racist, and I doubt anyone would be calling it racist if it were a group of white folks in the picture.

    1. Mike

      I actually read it as anti-liberal more than racist. But I can understand the racial undertones people are getting.

      1. sunny-dee

        Yeah, actually, that’s how I read it, too. The charge (to me) seems to be that the present march wasn’t patriotic — which isn’t a racist accusation, it’s a political one.

        It’s still not work appropriate, but it’s not as serious a breach.

        1. Taco De Belle

          Exactly my thoughts. I read everyone above saying it’s racist and all I see is the lack of American flags in the present part of the phot. What am I missing?

        2. Artemesia

          There is a persistent attack on Obama from the GOP and the right wing that he is not a real American, that he is not patriotic, that he doesn’t ‘love America’, heck that he is not an American at all. The constant drown of ‘othering’ is clearly racist. Heck the GOP has opposed policies that they invented and have been pushing for years just because of their commitment to ‘othering’ Obama. The strong message here besides that Obama is unpatriotic is that black people who expect fundamental rights are not patriotic and not ‘real Americans.’

          1. hayling

            Thank you for articulating the issue with this “meme.” Not that I didn’t think it was racist, but I couldn’t explain it as concisely.

            1. Jessa

              And the specific location of the picture makes it worse. There’s a whole lot of history involved in that exact photographic location that any other place would not have. Considering the huge things involved in being able to be on that bridge on that day with a Black US President, and all the stuff mentioned above, boiling that down to “FLAG?” is really, really, really problematic.

    2. TCO

      It’s really offensive to (passive-aggressively) claim that people of color are less patriotic than they were 50 years ago. It’s a subtle call back to the “good old days” when people were horribly oppressed, but gosh darn it, at least they loved America. It’s claiming that people these days ought to be grateful to the nation that enslaved, lynched, and oppressed them for generations based on the color of their skin (and an oppression that we certainly haven’t entirely ended today). What’s innocuous about that? You just don’t turn historic civil-rights events into memes used to whine about the state of America today and claim that things were so much better 50 years ago.

      1. Adam

        Also I think not bringing American flags to a protest/demonstration is a pretty arbitrary nitpick. I’m not an expert on protesting, but I’m not aware of any standard social rule that states a minimum number of flags are required to legitimize the event.

        1. kdizzle

          And…a look at the actual 2015 picture shows that there are several American flags in attendance, just cropped out to make whatever point the creator is trying to make.

          1. Adam

            Fortunately some posters linked us to the original photo downthread. As it turned out the original photo did have some American flags in it around the edges. The person who created the meme “conveniently” cropped them out. Ahhh, people…

            1. Kelly L.

              Wasn’t there another one a few years ago where they tried to claim Obama put the wrong hand on his heart, but really it was just reversed? Argh!

              1. Adam

                I never knew there was a “right” hand to put on your heart. I just use my right hand because that’s what I always do and what everyone around me seems to do. Now my mind is jumping around. What if you’re missing that hand?

                1. sunny-dee

                  It’s always your right hand; that crosses over your heart. Otherwise, you’re just touching your shoulder.

                2. Mpls

                  Unless you have situs invertus where your internal organs are in the mirror image from the general population. Then your heart would be on the right, and you would need your left hand to cover it.

                  Or you’re a Time Lord and have 2 hearts.

        2. Rin

          I know people said that there were flags that were cropped out, but I think it would be powerful if they didn’t have flags on purpose, because what has America done for them, how little has America grown in 50 years, why should they be patriotic to a country that won’t give them equal rights?

          1. NoPantsFridays

            Yes, I’m not black, but this did occur to me. I would totally, 100% understand if a black person did not want to carry the flag, because, at least to me (and again I’m not black) the flag seems more like a symbol of oppression of black people than a symbol of empowerment. In general, I can completely understand why any non-white or LGBT person is not patriotic. Hell, I’m not patriotic myself and was thoroughly shocked when Michelle Obama said some years ago that she was proud to be an American for the first time in her life.

      2. Hotstreak

        Okay, I can see how you and others are going that direction after seeing the photo – it is definitely thought provoking. It’s also racial (being connected/related to race) but not racist (showing one racial group as superior to another). I can definitely see how people are reading that in the photo, but the overt message is that there are less American flags in the crown (for good or for bad).

        1. Oryx

          I think that is what is being covertly implied, though: if these were WHITE people marching, you can bet there would be flags because we’re smarter and better and know how to treat our country with the respect that it deserve.

        2. TCO

          I think it’s pretty pointedly racist, because it’s intended to point out that members of a particular racial group are less patriotic than other Americans. Yes, not everyone in the photo (nor everyone fighting for equal rights) is/was black, but this event is so tightly tied to the African-American civil rights movement that you can’t deny the racist undertones.

          1. Hotstreak

            To be fair, none of us know the intent of the creator of the meme, or of the manager who sent it out. All we have is a brief description of people’s mixed reactions to the email, and our own backgrounds and biases. To say you take it as racist based on your own feelings and culture is fair, but I don’t see any evidence that someone “intended to point out members of a particular racial group are less patriotic than other(s)”, only that people are interpreting it this way.

            1. alleycat

              You have to be pretty wilfully obtuse (or worryingly naive, I suppose) not to get the intention. It’s hardly subtle.

              1. JB

                Agreed. It’s a common theme among some that black Americans, particularly those who agitate for change and equality, are unpatriotic.

            2. Joey

              Most people don’t intend to illegally discriminate.

              Have you ever heard the average person say they intended to be racist?

              1. Artemesia

                I’m guessing not a single one of the frat boys on the SAE bus who were chanting about lynching Ns as well as overtly discriminating against their joining the fraternity ever said ‘I intend to discriminate against black people.’ And yet oddly it happens.

                Every single study ever done where black and white couples similarly dressed and with identical scripts have searched for an apartment have found the white couples being told much more often than the apartment is available and the black couples being told ‘it was just rented.’ The other day someone did a careful study of favors granted by bus drivers to riders who find their fare card empty — and yeah, white people got free rides much more often than identically dressed, aged, and behaving black people. Numerous studies of assessments of competence and of hiring have been done using identical resumes with ‘black’ and ‘white’ names and male and female names — guess what? And yet I am guessing none of the subjects of any of these studies has every said ‘I intentionally discriminate.’ But they do.

              2. Katie the Fed

                Right? Even those horrible kids at the Oklahoma frat said they weren’t meaning to be racist. Um.

                1. Cordelia Naismith

                  Yeah, my mind boggled at that. How can you possibly chant about lynching and how black people will never be allowed into your frat without racism?

            3. Just Another Techie

              Yes, sure, just like none of us know the intent when we see a commercial filled with shot after shot of beautiful sexy women, and then the final frame shows a bottle of Jack Daniels. And if you believe that in either case the message isn’t carefully crafted to elicit a very specific desired response in the viewer, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell ya.

              Or, less snarkily, humans are fabulously complex creatures who are capable of understanding implied and meta messages in a text. We don’t need everything spelled out for us; if we did we couldn’t possibly have created modern civilization. Saying that just because a message isn’t spelled out in excruciatingly obvious detail that you can’t comprehend the message is at best naive and at worst deliberate malfeasance.

            4. Artemesia

              It isn’t even slightly subtle and it is just one among hundreds of similar attempts to denigrate Obama and black people as not real Americans. There really is no interpretation required here.

            5. A Cita

              You can tell the intent also because of the particular march it’s showing. If it was just about flags and patriotism in general, why use this particular march?

              Besides, as others have pointed out, this is a very popular national imaginary that certain groups are advocating that is specifically racist and tied to Obama. How do you think the “Thanks, Obama” meme got started? Have you ever noticed on just about any comment thread on any news story that people will blame Obama for the most completely unrelated things? It’s becoming it’s own internet law. Don’t agree that Pepsi is better than Coke? “Thanks, Obama!” Don’t like the latest variety of organic kale sold at Whole Foods? “Thanks, Obama!” ad nausium.

              1. NoPantsFridays

                I’m no fan of Obama’s and even I find this pathetic. Last weekend, my father blamed Pan Am’s bankruptcy on Obama.

                And I have to admit I didn’t see this level of pure hatred with Bush. It wasn’t the seething, senseless hate I see now. It has actually made me consider how much racism is still present. When I ask “Why do you hate Obama?” I get comments like “he has black lips” or “he’s a half-breed” (to mean biracial, I guess). There are plenty of criticisms one can make of his actual policies — personally, I think there’s plenty of room for that — and yet, most of the criticisms of Obama that I hear on a regular basis are about his race or his name etc.

            6. Observer

              You know what? We do not NEED to “know” what anyone was thinking. We DO know that someone did crop out the flags, in a picture of BLACK civil rights protesters, and explicitly complained that black civil rights protesters have changed for the worse over 50 years. It’s hard to claim that this meme is not racist, no matter what anyone thought when they made it or sent it.

            7. Theguvnah

              I think you need to spend some time reflecting on why you feel so invested in believing that this meme isn’t racist.

      3. Kelly L.

        Nor is it even true. The photo is cropped deceptively. I’ll put a link in a separate comment. There are also some other photos from the event showing assorted individuals with flags.

        During the original march, the marchers carried the flags themselves, while at this event, the largest flags appear to have been displayed on poles along the route. It could be as simple as, people didn’t need to carry their own because we now recognize the march as a historic event to be commemorated, while the original march was considered “subversive” by the establishment, thus they wouldn’t have decorated for it.

        1. Jessa

          There is also another critical crop of the bottom picture, if you take a look at a wider view of the exact same photo you will see former President Bush in the front row of marchers, a handful of people to the right of the crop. This however would have made it harder for the person creating the meme to make their point. It’s not only cropped to remove the flags hung around the procession route, it’s cropped to remove one of the most famous participating White men because the idea was to show President Obama as being unpatriotic, which you could not do if President Bush was also in the picture. Many of the people of the political type to invent/post such a meme consider President Bush to be the epitome of Patriotism. They could not have made their point if they left him in the picture.

        2. Not So NewReader

          Nice job on the explanation! The flags are lining the street, this frees everyone up to hold each other’s hand or arm. As it should be.

      4. hayling

        Thank you for articulating the issue with this “meme.” Not that I didn’t think it was racist, but I couldn’t explain it as concisely.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      The photos are of civil rights marches. The first one is the Selma to Montgomery march. The second one is the one on the 50th anniversary of the first. The implication is that black people asking for civil rights today aren’t sufficiently patriotic anymore. It’s racist and offensively diminishing of what the marches were about.

      1. Stephanie

        Plus, it ties in the ongoing criticism that Obama is a Kenyan Socialist who hates America because he didn’t stage bald eagles flying overhead carrying American flags for this photo.

        1. Ben Around

          Perfect, Stephanie. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read your comment, because it would have been coming out my nose.

          Readers whose jaws are dropping at this meme might not have many Midwesterners or Southerners among their Facebook friends. I see posts in my feed every day that are FAR more offensive than this.

          1. the gold digger

            might not have many Midwesterners or Southerners among their Facebook friends

            Really? Because everyone on the coasts is so enlightened and it’s only the people in flyover country who are racist?

            1. Ben Around

              I grew up in the Midwest and lived in the South twice. Just reporting the source of the hateful stuff that shows up on my screen.

                1. fposte

                  No shortage of racism on the coasts in my experience. It’s true that the targets of racism shift proportion a little in different parts of the country, but I don’t think, say, California is less racist for engaging in more anti-Asian bigotry.

              1. Squirrel!

                I grew up in the Midwest and have family in the South (ad currently live here now), and I am offended that you would cast us all as racists, and then hide under the “Oh well it was my personal experience” excuse. Racists are everywhere so please stop maligning certain parts of the country to seem cosmopolitan or something. All your experience tells us is that you are friends with racists.

                1. Ben Around

                  I just don’t cut people out of my lives for being snowed by the Big Hate Machine. And it’s not an excuse to say, truthfully, that it’s my personal experience. Where I live now I really, truly, don’t hear that kind of stuff.

                2. Blue Anne

                  Ben Around, I lived in New York and heard racist stuff there, my family lived in Ohio, Virginia and Upstate NY – and I only ever heard racist stuff from the family upstate, not the midwest or South. My personal experience is different from yours. Neither of these give insight into the dispositions of the huge numbers of people living in these regions.

              2. LMW

                This is the same type of stereotyping that reinforces racism and sexism though. You’re just applying it to geography.

                1. Ben Around

                  I see where you’re coming from, but again, with friends from all over the country, the views I hear definitely mirror regional voting patterns.

              3. VintageLydia USA

                The most racist person I know is from New York City. Nearly all of my openly racist family members are from the Northeast, though my Southern family members aren’t all innocent, either. I hate that people attribute racism only to the South and Midwest and that’s just not true. It’s everywhere. Remember, Sundown Towns were almost all in the North. We ain’t perfect down here but it’s not all sunshine and roses up there, either.

            2. Stephanie

              Yeah, I wouldn’t go that far. I will say, IME, there is way more a culture of overt patriotism in the South (I’ll also throw in the part of the Southwest where I currently reside). Like I remember being at a HS football game in Texas and hearing “God Bless the USA” blasted over the speakers (the song that starts “And I’m proud to be an American…”)

              1. Blue Anne

                Oh god I hate that song. It used to be played in a huge Rite-Aid I went to in New Jersey.

                “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!”

                Ungrammatical, overly sentimental, weirdly cynical and also kind of wrong.

                You should go look up the music video on youtube. It has tractors, flannel shirts, generations of a farming family in modest country clothing gathering around a dining table to eat apple pie and look at photo albums of all their esteemed veteran ancestors. All in a nice old sepia wash.

                I’m pretty proud to be an American, have to say, but good Lord, lee Greenwood music makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

                (end of rant)

                1. Stephanie

                  I’m with you 100%. It pushes that there’s one (white) idea of patriotism and America (which is what this meme is getting at). It makes me roll my eyes so hard.

          2. HM in Atlanta

            I’m in and from Atlanta. I don’t see any of this kind of stuff in my Facebook feed – because I don’t stay connected with people/pages that will post stuff like this. It’s not about where you are geographically, it’s about racism.

            1. Jessa

              I saw it but only from one of my political Black friends commenting on someone else who posted it. He was calling out someone on his list (he has a lot of followers because he’s a really amazing artist,) for posting that garbage.

          3. Connie-Lynne

            For all that San Francisco and LA are supposed to be bastions of liberal wonderfulness, I have an entire section of my family, that lives in California, blocked on Facebook for regularly posting this kind of junk.

            Out of my Southern family, only one person posts this junk, and he can occasionally be talked off the ledge.

            Anecdotes are not data; the world is a very big place.

            1. einahpets

              Yeah. I am a Pacific Northwest transplant to Southern California, so YMMV, but I will say it is waaaaay more conservative here than it was the year I lived in the Midwest.

          4. einahpets

            And this is why I liberally use the unfollow feature on Facebook (when I am on it — I’m actually taking a break for Lent). Everyone gets a freebie political / stupid statement every so often, I can ignore the momentary social media stupidity… but more than that? Unfollow.

          5. I'm a Little Teapot

            Sadly, I used to see more offensive posts from my relatives from New York and New Jersey back when I actually checked Facebook.

        2. Elizabeth West

          I had to live with this at Exjob–one person just would not shut up about Obama. He was a manager, so I couldn’t say, “Get over it, you racist jackhole!” But every time he’d start up, I’d think it. I’d think it.

        3. Turanga Leela

          From now on, whenever I see President Obama, I will picture birds orbiting his head, like on Looney Tunes—but they will be bald eagles carrying American flags. Thanks for the image. :)

            1. Jessa

              Luckily I have one of those silicone key cover things because I just spit Pepsi all over my laptop.

      2. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady

        To be honest, that wasn’t my first impression. I thought it was pointing out that there is still racism and that all the work that we think has been accomplished hasn’t been. That we’re still, really, in the same position we were 50 years ago–just with no flags. Like, there’s been no substantial change! And I assumed the meme writer thought that was a bad thing. I thought it was pointing out how far we still have to go.

        I had to work to figure out why it was racist. I think, if it was sent by someone who I already thought had poor judgment, I would have assumed racist or inappropriate, but otherwise, I would have assumed the above.

        That said, I would stop this sort of thing in the office because it’s a. political and b. no one should be sending memes of any kind to everyone.

        1. Whippers

          That’s interesting that your interpretation of the meme is so different. I wonder if Alison’s advice would be any different taking this into account.

            1. A Cita

              Yes. Also, it’s a privilege, no, to not immediately see the racist implications because one doesn’t have to because they don’t experience it in their day to day lives. Not bashing (I’m privileged, myself), just pointing out that for those who haven’t dealt with being on the receiving end of racism, both systemic and through micro aggressions, in their daily lives since childhood may unintentionally erase those experiences by viewing something like this as racially neutral.

        2. What She Said

          I agree with other posters who didn’t immediately see racism as much as political content. Inappropriate for political content, okay — but on-the-surface racist? Not what I took away from it.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’m honestly shocked by that. It seems clearly, overtly racist to me. Maybe you have to have had the misfortune of being exposed to a lot of this stuff to see how very clearly it lines up with the rest.

            1. Hotstreak

              I think you’re right that this has a lot to do with our individual preconceptions about what the creator of the meme or manager must have been thinking when they made it. I’ve been exposed to people who I’m sure would have meant it racially (although they would have been much more direct) and folks who would have meant it strictly politically. I’ve met enough of each group to know both possibilities exist, but have been exposed to more of the latter so tend to assume that was the intended message (and also that was the overt message).

              1. Kelly L.

                So then do you think that sending this out “strictly politically” is an appropriate thing to do in the workplace?

                1. LJL

                  Nothing strictly political or religious should EVER go out to the whole workplace. On either side.

                2. Hotstreak

                  No, I agree with the posters directly above. Unless you’re, I don’t know, analyzing meme’s for work .. this is the kind of thing that should be kept private.

              2. Observer

                I really think the who bit about “knowing what someone thought” is a red herring. No one is talking about being in someone’s head. We are talking about looking at something and drawing the obvious conclusions. Maybe the people involved really are that oblivious, but the message is still there.

            2. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady

              I have lived outside the US for the past 6 years, so my recent experiences are definitely different and colored by that.

              We see stuff like this: http://www.theartofslowtravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/svp2007-black-sheep-poster1.jpg (Sicherheit schaffen means create safety, but schaf also means sheep, so that’s why the visual)

              And this: http://www.loonwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/swiss-shawarma-stopp-copy.jpg

              So, I’m not really used to subtle racism. It’s very much in the open here. Which is a huge problem here.

              1. Adam

                I’ve heard many a theory that America is no less racist now than it was in the 50’s. Maybe even worse. The thing is even though people’s attitudes still might be racist, “most” people know that being overt about it is more likely to get them in trouble than not, so it’s often pretty subtle and potentially even subjective as many an internet forum will go pages deep arguing whether something is actually racist or not.

                Unintentional racism is becoming more common now too, like the story last year about the white actress who for Halloween went out dressed as her favorite character from Orange is the New Black, which included full black-face. She didn’t understand why so many people were upset at first, probably since that unfair racist practice has been out of practice for so long people either forgot or never knew it was such a problem at one point.

              2. A Non

                Holy crap! Yeah, racism in the US comes with a veneer of plausible deniability, but it’s still right there under the surface. There are multiple ways to read the meme this post is about if you don’t have any background info, but from living here, I can tell you with 99.9% certainty that it’s a racist jab and that people trying to defend it as something else (and it just conveniently targets black people) are pretty darn likely to be racists too. Just, y’know, trying to hide it because it’s not socially acceptable here. (I give people on this forum the benefit of the doubt. The general public, not so much.)

                1. Katie the Fed

                  There’s a really good article on Vox right now about the language journalists have used for years to describe Serena Williams’s body – it’s really eye-opening.

                1. Suzanne Lucas

                  It’s not accepted by everyone or even most people. The political party that ran those ads is relatively small, but they are insanely good at creating campaign ads. Their visuals are always brilliantly done.

                  For the most part, people a good. Just like in America. It’s just that those that aren’t are much louder and have better pr. Almost all major changes are done by referendum, so it’s hard to get crazy things passed because you can’t pay off politicians with campaign donations the way you can in America.

            3. a black guy

              It’s blatantly racist, but wasn’t quite as offensive as I expected. On an intellectual level it’s very very offensive (black people are less patriotic/American), but I expected monkeys or fried chicken or images of dead bodies or something more viscerally gross.

              One guy sending this one time is bad and he should be reported and talked to. I don’t think this should be a firing offense if he never does it again.

              1. Joey

                I think the meme is the perfect illustration of the race issues today. If it doesn’t affect you you might not notice it. But to those that have seen it up close or experienced it its perfectly clear.

                1. tiana

                  I am of different national origin and I am extremely sensitive when people making mistakes on my country of origin or joke about it. But sometimes its so subtle that I don’t notice unless somebody else points at it. For example, one of the customer did not like something about the new rates for the service, and I’ve talked to him on the phone. It was all nice, and then he sends a letter to the company to tell them how frustrated he is with the higher rates (nothing about me or bad service or anything like that), with the greeting like this ‘dear comrades’. Well, that did not mean anything to me, I thought sometimes that’s how people greed each other, but then my coworkers pointed that the customer was pointing at me speaking with the accent and thinking that I was probably from one of the communists countries or so. You know after my coworkers said it, it was extremely offensive and painful and embarrassing and and you name it…. I wished sometimes people were not looking everywhere for subtle issues or at least did not start discussing it among themselves cause that was really humiliating to me, not that the guy wrote that ‘comrades’ word.

                2. Melissa

                  +1. And there’s some research suggesting that this kind of covert, plausibly deniable racism is actually more stressful to ethnic/racial minorities than overt stuff, because we spend a lot of mental resources trying to figure it out and how to minimize the impact.

                3. Lamb

                  @tiana
                  I’m sorry that happened to you. I don’t know your coworker who explained that in the U.S. the term “comrad” is not commonly used and is associated with communism, but it may not have been their intent to humiliate you. They may have wanted to help you recognize this as xenophobic so if you come across it again you know the person is not being friendly. The person definitely being mean was the man who wrote the letter. (It is also possible that your coworkers were not being kind, and you would have a better idea of that based on how they usually treat you)
                  A parallel situation would be if someone told you the name for a phone headset was an obscene word you didn’t know, and a coworker heard you saying that and explained the word you were using. The coworker could be kind about it or they could ridicule you, but that person who told you the wrong word to begin with was definitely trying to do something bad to you.

              2. Turanga Leela

                Me too! I was bracing myself for something uglier than this. Still racist, just a little subtler than I was expecting.

              3. Stephanie

                Yeah, same. I was prepared for worse, but it’s especially bad when you start thinking about all the layers to it. Racist stuff isn’t zero sum where it’s either David Duke listserv digest or not racist. Plus, the OP wants to nip this in the bud before it gets that bad.

              4. The IT Manager

                I agree. I was expecting some much more overt rather than the more subtle but still obvious implication that 50 years later the black Americans in the photo including the President are not patriotic. But totally inappropriate to be sending to a work mailing list.

                OTOH I believe a lot of Obama hate is spewed by racist because of racism/fear of other, but the political parties have gotten so nasty with each other that I am not entirely sure that a cacausian President wouldn’t be hated with equal fervor. Lately US politics has been embaressing.

            4. fposte

              I think that’s an interesting point–it reminds me a little bit of the “thug” conversation here (from last year, maybe?), in that if you’re not familiar with popular implications, you’re not reading the word the way people are using it (and I speak as somebody who hadn’t picked up on the racialized use). Familiarity with a discourse that uses images like this means an understanding of a cultural point that goes beyond a literal reading–which of course is why they’re sent around. Probably not subtle enough to be dog-whistle, but certainly a shortcut.

            5. ZSD

              All these comments are really helpful to me because, like Suzanne and others, I had to work to figure out why someone would think that was racist rather than just a lament that people (in general) aren’t as patriotic anymore. (I was initially hesitant to even click on the link to the meme because i was expecting something much, much more offensive.)
              I think the different interpretations that people have of this show that it’s possible the boss himself didn’t get the racial overtones. Maybe he thought he was just sending out something political, not something related to race. It’s still inappropriate to send it out in the workplace, but maybe he was trying to send a very different message than the one he inadvertently sent.

              1. fposte

                I doubt it, in that the people who want to send stuff like this around are the people who swim in that context. But the thing is, that doesn’t matter much anyway. Even if he was blind to the racial implications, he’s still sending around divisive political memes at his workplace, and you’ve still got people who’ve been sent a racist meme at their workplace. And the people who got stuck seeing this at their workplace matter more than the idiot who thought it was a great plan to send it, whether he was somehow a non-racist idiot or not.

                1. A Cita

                  Agreed. Even if he’s ignorant to the message (doubtful), he’s still contributing to a racist discourse and giving it power through circulation. That has real consequences.

        3. CAinUK

          I could see this…but in this case I’d be the one stretching to NOT see it as racist, but I do get your point.

          In your hypothetical, I would have suggested a reply-all email to the guy that just says “I don’t get it?” He’d either explain that he just meant nothing has changed etc. as you suggest OR he’d get sheepish and stop forwarding things like this when asked to actually explain his racism rather than letting the meme do his dirty work.

          BUT, since OP says down thread that there is already underlying racism causing tension in the org, I think the original interpretation as racist and the advice to go to the CEO is more applicable.

          1. C Average

            I’d be really tempted to handle it that way if something like this happened at my workplace: hit reply-all and say something like, “Not sure whom this was meant for . . . ? I am confused. If you meant to send this to me, can you let me know why?” and bcc the CEO.

            Sometimes willful obtuseness with a dash of passive aggression really IS the right approach.

            1. Blue_eyes

              I actually really like this approach. It makes it awkward for the sender and will hopefully prevent a recurrence. Or, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that your email might have been hacked – the whole team got a really weird email from your account this morning.”

            2. Anonsie

              Willful obtuseness is like my go-to for stuff like this.

              “I don’t get it?”
              “Well, uh, you know, x people, do this…”
              “What? No they don’t.”
              “I mean, I don’t REALLY think that, it’s just a joke…”
              “Then… If you don’t really think that, why say it?”

            3. Katie the Fed

              My uncle used to send out these kinds of emails and put me on them.

              I replied all to one about Obama cancelling a national day of prayer so he could host Muslim prayers (seriously?) with an exhaustive list of things wrong with it (like the Muslim prayers being a picture of him visit Turkey), there not actually being a national day of prayer, etc.

              I’m sure he still sends them out but I’m not on the distro list anymore.

            1. Alma

              “Underlying racism in the organization already” – it is incumbent on the CEO to act immediately and decisively. I agree with Alison that the OP should address this with the CEO on her own. She runs the risk of engendering lots of the kind of second- and third- guessing in the office staff, and discussion like we’ve seen here if she opens it for discussion with others.

              Speaking up for yourself is sufficient, OP.

        4. Elizabeth West

          I thought it was both. Either way, it’s not the kind of thing a manager should be emailing around the office. It sets a bad precedent and is bad for the company if it got out.

        5. AlterMeh

          Thanks, Suzanne. I was really feeling stupid for wondering why this was racist? And I’m going to ask a REALLY dumb question – is something racist if it’s true?

          I looked at the link someone provided of the original photo (and looked at the rest of them as well), and frankly, there weren’t a lot of American flags present, edges of the photo or not.

          If anything, I would have assumed this meme was illustrating the point that there has been a collective decrease in patriotism over the past 50 years, even with the civil right progress that has been made. Contrasting the positive and negative, calling it . . . ?? Not a wash, but . . . something . . .

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            The absence or presence of flags is not what denotes patriotism. Working to make your country a better place most certainly does.

            Moreover, questioning the patriotism of minorities — especially black people who are working for civil rights, or white people who are working for black people’s civil rights — is a time-honored racist tactic.

            1. Us, Too

              I’m not sure at what point “patriotism” became synonymous with flag-waving social conformity, but I’m pretty sure the revolutionaries who founded the US would be disappointed.

            2. JB

              Yes, I don’t know where you are getting the “if it’s true” question from. I suppose you could be looking at the image very literally and conclude “but it’s true there are fewer flags.” But that’s not the meaning of the image. Even you picked up on it when you said you were assume the meme was illustrating a decrease in patriotism.

              But stopping at a collective decrease in patriotism ignores what Alison pointed out–that the presence of flags is not a measure of patriotism, and questioning the patriotism of minorities is a long-standing racist tactic. This may be something that you were unaware of, but if you spend some time looking into it, you’ll see that it’s unquestionably true. Saying “we matter, too,” is equated with hating America by the people who already have the rights that American minorities want.

            3. A Cita

              I would also add that idea of “patriotism” is a cultural construct that has been used as a tool by power brokers to define and control the terms of debate around rights, legitimacy, and access to resources. It’s a particularly strong cultural construction in the U.S. You don’t see this idea having the same kind of cultural capital in many other places around the globe. And it’s never deployed neutrally or used strictly to imply love for one’s country.

              I just want to point that out, as any conversation about “patriotism” should at least not be predicated on taking that term for granted.

            4. Jessa

              Especially when if it was just a patriotism thing, they would not have cropped out President Bush. That’s a significant crop of the picture and not including him makes the statement very different.

                1. blackcat

                  Because of you leave him in, you can’t really see faces on a 6-8 in wide version. The cropped one is a much better photograph for print purposes. And I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that John Lewis deserves to be in the center.

          2. C Average

            I am speaking only for myself here, but I am overall less inclined to display a flag for patriotic purposes than I would have been a couple decades ago.

            When I was growing up, my family (who voted purple) always flew a flag in front of the house. My father is a veteran, we all like our country, the flag looks nice in front of the house . . . nothing more complicated than that.

            In the wake of 9/11, flying a flag came to feel tantamount to endorsing our foreign policy at the time, which I didn’t, and to endorsing our government at the time, which I didn’t. To me, now, the flag will always carry conservative and hawkish connotations.

            I enjoy living in this country and I respect our higher offices, but for many years that flag has not felt like my flag anymore. I would not carry it in a march. I would not fly it in front of my house. It has unpleasant connotations for me. Also, I feel that seeing a flag in front of my house would lead people to believe I hold political beliefs that I don’t.

            1. Cath in Canada

              Kinda like how the Union Jack in the UK was associated with far-right groups for so long that others stopped displaying it. When the association started weakening*, the flag started showing up on t-shirts and at festivals a lot more. (We don’t tend to hang flags on buildings very much at all, compared to North Americans).

              *it might be strengthening again now, unfortunately.

              1. Snork Maiden

                Oh dear. I have a vintage Union Jack shirt that I like wearing, as a Canadian. It might have to go back in the closet again.

                1. Cath in Canada

                  Nah, you’re good. The re-strengthening relationship seems to be pretty recent, and the adoption of the Union flag by the (totally mainstream) “no” campaign in the recent Scottish independence referendum probably diluted a lot of it out, for now. Just don’t wear it at a Rangers-Celtic game or anything like that ;)

              2. Elfie

                Nope, not the Union Jack, the English flag (the red cross on the white background). Displaying that tends to mean supporting the BNP (an organisation that definitely doesn’t deserve the oxygen of publicity), anti-muslim sentiment, and football hooliganism. It’s sad that it’s been hijacked, but divide and conquer is such a universal political tool.

            2. JB

              I feel the same way for similar but slightly different reasons. I feel like it’s used the way the person who created the meme uses it–almost like the badge that North Koreans have to wear to show their loyalty to Kim Jong Un. If you want to put it in a less heated context, it’s like people who think working 8 to 5, never being late or leaving early, automatically makes you a good employee, and people who don’t do that are automatically bad employees. It’s become something you have to do or you don’t love this country and are probably a secret communist hoping to overthrow the government.

              I’d put a flag in front of my house on July 4 and Memorial Day, but that’s it.

            3. Alternative

              I feel exactly the same way. Displaying a flag, to me, now evokes the horrible “bring back our country” and “real Americans” rhetoric that has been spouted for the last 9 years or so.

              1. Sans

                I think it’s a lot longer than 9 years. I remember after 9/11, when everyone was flying their flags, and it seemed (at first, anyway) to be a genuine, heartfelt expression of love of country, not a weapon to make you look more patriotic than the next guy – and I was grateful for that – that I could fly a flag without the hate attached.

                I think politicians (and others) have been wrapping themselves in the flag for a long time. Ever hear this quote from Sinclair Lewis? “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” That was said in the 30s.

            4. Pennalynn Lott

              My very liberal father emails me the day before any national, patriotic day (Veterans Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, etc.) to remind me to hang my US flag in front of my house, because he doesn’t want the religious right to own the symbol. I make sure everyone knows that my US flag doesn’t symbolize close-minded bigotry by flying it alongside a Flying Spaghetti Monster flag and a rainbow flag.

          3. fposte

            It’s also not simply true or not true–it’s about the meaning imposed by choosing these images, rather than a million other images, to make your point and by making the decision to send this around in your workplace.

          4. alma

            “is something racist if it’s true?”

            I mean, it’s kind of like when people say “oh, those Jews are so good with money” or “Mexicans are so good at farm labor” — like even if you can technically point to examples of Jewish bankers or Mexican laborers, you have to willfully ignore all cultural and historical context not to understand why those statements are offensive. Likewise, a “patriotism” meme that singles out a major black civil rights event is… a problem.

          5. Anonsie

            Something can be factual and still be presented entirely for racist purposes. Or whatever bigoted purposes.

            For example, one I keep seeing over and over recently, it’s possible to discuss the relationship between crime and policing and incarceration in two very very distinctly different ways while both parties have facts at the cores of their arguments. It’s the extrapolations and what that information is used to justify or dismiss that is problematic, and the use of that information to defend racially charged policies or decisions without examining the social ecology that causes those things to be true.

          6. Observer

            In theory, you ask a good question. But, the comment is NOT true. The meme person writes “Not a single American flag” while there actually WERE flags. You don’t think there were enough? ay so. Don’t lie about it. That alone is enough to make it clear this is not an honest comment about a potentially uncomfortable truth.

            And Alison is correct about the historical context as well.

          7. southern commentator

            AlterMeh – thank you for asking the question and thanks to the other commentators who have kindly replied. One thing lets me work through my own biases is having folks open up about how they view a particular issue. It can be hard to find a safe place to discuss issues surrounding race and I think that is perhaps a reason why we’re still seeing so many issues.

        6. HSP INFP

          Yep, Suzanne, this was my exact interpretation of it as well. I had to really beat myself up to get to the interpretation that the majority is having and I’m still not totally on board. But yes, at the very least it’s politically charged and it’s a meme. Not ok to send around the office.

        7. JB

          This is shocking to me. The idea that black Americans aren’t patriotic and don’t love this country is a pervasive, persistent theme from some groups. Sometimes it’s overt, but often is not spelled out but only implied, like in this picture. I think you’d have a hard time finding a black American adult who didn’t see this as racism because they’ve been hearing this their whole lives.

        8. Elsajeni

          That’s an interesting point — I certainly have seen similar memes juxtaposing photos from Jim Crow-era civil rights marches with photos of recent protests and captioning them along the lines of “Nothing has changed” or “The only change is [minor detail],” and in those cases I interpreted the meaning the way you did: the power structure hasn’t changed, we’re still fighting the same fight, can’t we do better than this by now. I do read this one the way Alison described, though. I think the difference is partly what you said about the source (the similarly-structured memes I’ve interpreted as intended to convey something like “our culture is still racist and we need to do better” were posted by people who I knew held that opinion; if they’d been posted by someone I knew held racist opinions, I might have interpreted them as intended to convey something more like “I can’t believe black people are still complaining about so-called racism”), and partly what other people have said about the frequent association between the suggestion that President Obama is unpatriotic or anti-American and overtly racist criticisms of him.

        9. Anonsie

          That’s an interesting perspective, to the point that now I’m actually unsure of what the creator’s actual intentions were.

      3. Connie-Lynne

        I swear, I almost want someone to send me this meme so I can be all “who needs to display *flags* when you’ve got the goldanged PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES walking in your march? “

        1. fposte

          That’s a really good point. If we’re talking about flags as identifying commitment to the country, surely the commander-in-chief is about the biggest commitment you can have.

        1. nona

          The photos are from civil rights marches, and seem to indicate less flags in one photo out of two, not showing less patriotism.

    4. Gobrightbrand

      I don’t think it’s actually racist, I just think it’s inflammatory and shows a serious lack of judgement on the part of the manager who sent this image.

      There is racist and there is racially insensitive and then just in poor taste. I feel like this image is somewhere between racially insensitive and in poor taste, but not racist.

      1. Cat

        I think it’s a mistake to get hung up on the word “racist.” That’s a complicated word that has a lot of different meanings and connotations depending on the context, only one of which is explicitly stating someone is inferior because of their race. It’s also used to talk about the institutional structures that serve to perpetuate misconceptions, discrimination, and injustice against people because of their race. Claims that people of one race don’t love their country as much as people of another race or aren’t generally patriotic is definitely one of those structures.

    5. Liz

      It’s completely inappropriate to send in a work email because it’s so politically divisive, but I suspect the goal of the meme is to comment on the President’s patriotism (or supposed lack thereof). That said, I can see how it could be viewed as racially charged and it’s incredibly tasteless no matter how you look at it.

      Even if the CEO doesn’t interpret it the way the OP does, common sense says he should understand that others may interpret it differently than he does.

    6. Oryx

      What everyone else said regarding the historic oppression represented + the 2015 picture has the *gasp* Black president at the front who was recently getting flack for apparently not being patriotic enough (WTH that means)

      1. some1

        I don’t think it’s recent that Obama’s been getting flack for not being patriotic enough for some people.

      2. BritCred

        I’ll take this to an extreme I don’t believe but someone who does want to cause problems could – They were outwardly patriotic when they were given less rights and now they have enough rights to have one of them as a President they don’t care about America any more… (Do you know how bad I feel typing that? ick)

        So much mileage there for the wrong people to catch on to and OP’s company is suddenly in a media storm of hell!

        1. A Non

          That only works if you define ‘patriotic’ as ‘carrying these external markers that I like’. Which is nonsense, but still gets a lot of mileage in some places.

    7. Sans

      Yeah, it’s not blatantly racist but it certainly skirts the edges of that. And it is offensive and simplistic to ignore the huge significance of Selma and the whole civil rights struggle – the people who worked for years, decades, and some who lost their lives – and just focus on a superficial lack of flags. As though you have to wave a flag to be patriotic. To me, working to make your country better and celebrating the progress we’ve made is certainly patriotic.

      And of course, this meme is heavily political – looking for any little thing that can be thrown around as a reason Obama is not patriotic or doesn’t love this country. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with his politics – anyone with half a brain should find this meme ridiculous and offensive. The fact that Bob seemingly assumed everyone would be okay with this just blows my mind.

      1. TCO

        “To me, working to make your country better and celebrating the progress we’ve made is certainly patriotic.”

        Exactly this. Obama’s speech from the anniversary march really does a wonderful job of extrapolating on this, on why and how dissenters, protestors, and people on the fringes of society are deeply patriotic in their work to make America better. It’s a really moving read.

      2. Stephanie

        Yeah, your point about the simplification is a good one–it’s ignoring that the 2015 march was commemorative and that there there was a *ton* of strategic planning that went into Civil Rights movement (especially this event).

      3. some1

        But when people have a problem with people not being patriotic enough, ime, they have a very narrow form of what patriotism is.

          1. Andy

            it’s jingoistic and divisive, and usually used to distinguish me (speaker & patriotic) with them (the other & not patriotic)

    8. danr

      It’s ‘racist’ by implying that the marchers are un-American because there are no US Flags in the picture and all of the people shown are not white. The picture has been carefully chosen not to show flags or was adjusted to remove them. If you look at pictures of the modern march there are US Flags.

    9. C Average

      I actually think this kind of racism can be more harmful than blatant racism, because it’s more insidious and tougher to define. It’s like the subtly racist joke that’s actually kind of funny, or the racist generalization that seems to have some actual statistics to back it up.

      If you think this picture is offensive but not racist, imagine being an African American and seeing this picture on the wall of the office of your boss. What does it say to you? It says to me, “I’m comfortable making a shallow and not very funny observation about a historically significant event involving a minority group of which you’re a member and of which I’m not.” It also implies to me, “I visit political websites that distribute racially inflammatory content, and I enjoy that type of content and share it with others.”

      It would make me uncomfortable as hell.

      I think a decent description of racism is “speech or behavior intended to marginalize or diminish a racial minority,” and this picture is a country mile over that line. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

      1. Stephanie

        Yup. Nailed it.

        Because if this is what Bob shows outwardly, who knows what he’s saying behind closed doors or how this thinking impacts his judgement (this is doubly worse if this nonprofit serves minorities or other disadvantaged groups).

      2. BRR

        I’d also be wondering what the boss thought about me if I was in that minority group. Does this influence the boss’ decisions that involve me?

      3. sam

        also, not that this necessarily proves anything one way or another, but this meme is one of the items that gets posted by my facebook “acquaintances” (not friends) from high school/college that have taken a disturbingly rightward* bent as we’ve gotten older, and whose feeds I’ve had to largely hide (and some of whom I’ve had to finally de-friend altogether), because they’re constantly posting “Obama’s a secret muslim”, and similar racist garbage.

        *I’ve also got plenty of friends who are decidedly more conservative/republican than my liberal self, but who manage to somehow not be racist conspiracy theorists.

      4. Katie the Fed

        There’s also been this horrible trend of people outright saying Obama hates america, he doesn’t love America the way he should, because he’s not REALLY American, if you get what I’m saying (wink wink). You know, because he’s KENYAN and BLACK and probably MUSLIM. He not a true (white) American.

        1. JB

          Exactly. He gets accused of being unpatriotic to a degree that previous Democratic presidents (at least while I’ve been alive) have not. It’s really, really hard not to conclude that it’s because of his race. Considering that some of his policies are not that far from things that presidents like Nixon suggested, he’s not even that liberal.

        2. Blue_eyes

          If you listen to certain people Obama also clearly hates America because he wants to change it and you shouldn’t want to change something you love. Um, what?

          1. Katie the Fed

            “you shouldn’t want to change something you love”

            My husband thinks the same thing, the poor dear.

            (I kid, I kid)

            1. Blue_eyes

              Haha. Although, that’s actually one of the comparisons I’ve heard from right-wingers (I think it was in a clip on a recent Daily Show).

        3. NoPantsFridays

          Yeah, I feel like black people are constantly told that the flag is not theirs to carry because they are not “real” Americans … and then they’re expected to carry the flag? The one you just told them they dare not carry? I think people like the meme-creator and the sender want to have it both ways.

        1. Nashira

          Absolutely. Many people don’t intend to act like any sort of bigot, and think of themselves as being good people. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes act in bigoted ways, though. Thankfully, the good’uns work hard at doing better, not at making excuses.

      5. A Teacher

        Agreed! We had a discussion in the section of sociology I teach today on white privilege in the American Justice System and I had to explain to a bunch of kids that there is a lot of subtle racism that exists; a lot of efforts have been made to “fix it” starting with the Civil Rights Movement but the justice system is still not fair to many and it undeniably is a class system.

        When the Ferguason, MO report came out from the DOJ, I had some in my news thread that were trying to justify the blatant targeting and actions that have happened for years. Subtle and not-s0-subtle racism are not okay and need to be dealt with.

    10. OP

      OP here. I’ve given this some serious thought about exactly why I think this is racist. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

      Years ago, when MLK was advocating for civil rights, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Rather than engaging with his arguments, they resorted to mudslinging. All sorts of accusations swirled around – that he was a communist, that he had an affair, that he wasn’t a good Baptist – in an attempt to discredit him. It’s an ad hominem attack, a logical fallacy.

      I see this same attack as the undertone of this meme. It attacks the patriotism of today’s marchers rather than engaging with the real message of their march. In so doing, it gives us permission to ignore what they have to say about injustice and racism. Because they aren’t patriotic, we can sweep their concerns under the rug.

      Of course, I hope that everyone who has spread this meme – my superior included – hasn’t thought things through this clearly. But I think that this is a reasonable interpretation of the meme, and it makes it problematic regardless of the sender’s original intent.

      I’m hesitant to make statements that could lead you to the identity of my organization (this one loon doesn’t represent us all, I promise!!!), so please take my word for it when I tell you that there are significant undercurrents of racism in my organization – this leader included.

      1. Sans

        “It attacks the patriotism of today’s marchers rather than engaging with the real message of their march. In so doing, it gives us permission to ignore what they have to say about injustice and racism. Because they aren’t patriotic, we can sweep their concerns under the rug”

        Well said! Exactly.

      2. Another Ellie

        You’re exactly right. Also, there is no reason that we can’t assume that anything isn’t polyvalent — that is that it has multiple, simultaneous meanings.

        There’s a reason that the first marchers carried American flags so prominently — their very rights as American citizens and their American-ness was being denied. Carrying the flags was a way to symbolically claim citizenship and membership in the nation. “Liberalism [including the civil rights movement] is anti-American” is a common trope among some conservatives. By pointing out the lack of flags at an event meant to commemorate an important moment in civil rights history, the meme is simultaneously arguing that the people there (mostly African-American, including the president) are less patriotic and therefore less American and also playing up an old stereotype that the kinds of African Americans involved in the civil rights movement have made the country less American. It’s an invidious form of racism that disenfranchises black citizens and casts them and their rights as dangerous to the country, hidden behind “politics”.

        1. fposte

          I really like this analysis–I was thinking myself about the important prominence of the flags at the march and what they were signifying.

      3. Oryx

        “I see this same attack as the undertone of this meme. It attacks the patriotism of today’s marchers rather than engaging with the real message of their march. In so doing, it gives us permission to ignore what they have to say about injustice and racism. Because they aren’t patriotic, we can sweep their concerns under the rug.”

        YES. Exactly. Well said.

      4. Snoskred

        OP, I’m curious to know – does this manager send out emails of a “forward” nature on a regular basis? EG jokes, inspiring photos, news articles,

        Because it is super weird in my experience for someone to suddenly start sending non work related stuff out via email. So I’m thinking this person may have a history of sending random non work related things out to everyone?

        If not, I think this is a troubling beginning to sending non work related emails out. Most people start off with an innocent cute cat photo.

        1. OP

          Yes, he does this somewhat regularly (monthly?). They are usually annoying but banal. One or two have been edgy enough to raise an eyebrow, but this is the first one that could be interpreted as patently offensive. There is not a culture of sending out funny stuff to everyone – he’s the only person who does this.

    11. Steve G

      I think the cartoon is about Obama, not race.

      People are assuming it is racist but there is a 75% chance it could just be an anti-Obama flyer. Lots of people are not happy with Obama, for reasons like being fined for not having health insurance they can’t afford. This could be a dig about how Obama isn’t doing what is right for America, subtly pointing out that he may not be American-born (or else he would care more about the flag).

      There aren’t many race issues going on now (except Ferguson) but there are lots and lots of economic and political issues that many feel Obama isn’t doing enough to handle, so if I had to pick race or Obama as the impetus to get someone mad today, I’d pick the President.

      I think that if someone was just a plain old bigot, they would have sent something out like a clip from Jerry Springer or of Bunifa from MadTV….

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        There are … a ton of race issues going on right now! I’d say it’s actually at the forefront of our cultural conversation in a way that it hasn’t been for a while.

        Plus, a lot of anti-Obama rhetoric is racially tinged and always has been.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            That’s really not true and I’m really not down for hosting that assertion here. There’s loads out there on the topic that you can read if it’s one that interests you.

                1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

                  Can I just say, Alison, that your willingness to respond like this, and in effect manage the culture and content of this blog so effectively, has really inspired me as a manager. I mean, sometimes I feel hopeless about managing the several dozen people who are directly around me and getting them going in the direction I want. But dude, you are managing the INTERNET here. More than once I have thought about this and not given up on something important.

            1. Grey

              I’m sorry, but this reads to me as, “If you don’t like Obama, you must be racist”. Could you explain what you really meant?

              There are plenty of people who disagree with his policies and couldn’t care less about color. Yes, some of the rhetoric is racist, but it’s not fair to claim that all of it is.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                There are plenty of legitimate reasons to disagree with Obama’s policies that have nothing to do with race. Of course.

                I was responding to this statement: “No, the anti Obama rhetoric is not racially tinged.” And that’s not correct. Plenty of anti-Obama rhetoric is racially tinged, which has been well-documented. Not all of it, of course, but quite a bit. Simply asserting that it’s not, not at all, is wrong.

          2. nona

            You and I have heard very different rhetoric, then. What I heard started before he was elected, too.

          3. alma

            So all those news stories where people got caught forwarding watermelon, fried chicken and monkey memes about the Obama family were insightful policy critiques? Who knew.

            1. Steve G

              We aren’t talking about watermelon pictures, we are talking about this one picture the OP sent in.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          I find that statement so bizarre– there are race issues every day, in many, many places in the world.

          And yes, I firmly, fully believe that the vitriol directed at Obama has quite a bit to do with the fact that he is not white.

      2. Stephanie

        Ehhh, but I don’t think you can say that criticism of Obama is independent of his race. I’d wager that Obama has received so much criticism (in comparison to other presidents) and attacks because of his race (and to a lesser extent, his expat background, foreign father, and elite education).

        1. BRR

          I agree that some of the criticism is about that he’s black or that people think he’s Muslim and have a problem with that. It’s semi-similar to when I hear that people don’t have a problem with gay people but just don’t want them to be able to get married or be considering a legally protected class.

          I think part of it too is that before he was elected people were hurting financially and people love money. Having a president who’s platform consists of raising taxes when peoples’ net worth plummeted is going to incite some anger and turn into bitch eating cracker status because people don’t process more than a single statement and will then form their own ideas behind it.

        2. JB

          Yes, I said this above, too. I didn’t want to believe this when he was first elected, but considering that he’s not really that liberal–really!–and considering the degree of hatred that some quarters have for him that they did not have for prior democratic presidents (hatred, yes, but not this level of it), I had to conclude that it was because of his race.

      3. LBK

        I’m not sure what you mean by “race issues” exactly – I mean, we aren’t actively fighting legal segregation, I guess – but I don’t know how you can say race isn’t a huge topic of discussion in the US recently. I don’t consider an “issue” to just be a discussion about one specific event.

      4. alma

        “Subtly pointing out that he may not be American-born” is a meme with some serious racist baggage of its own, just FYI.

        1. some1

          I don’t even get how this Birther argument is still around. When it gets brought up, I feel like it’s the one thing that makes me discount whatever larger point is being made.

          1. BRR

            I don’t either. At this point he has less than two years in office with a republican congress, is it worth trying to fight for impeachment on a procedural issue that hasn’t been proven?

            This is way off topic but I kind of find it weird that as a country of immigrants we forbid people born in other countries from being president.

        2. Steve G

          Not exactly, what if the theories were that he was born in a European country, not Indonesia?

          The issue surrounding his birthplace is that people have concerns that someone not born/raised on the mainland of the USA will not understand all of the issues they need to from first-hand experience in order to preside over the country.

          1. some1

            John McCain was born in Panama while his father was stationed there. I don’t remember one person voicing concerns about it.

              1. Kelly L.

                And pre-scandals, some folks wanted to change this law for The Governator.

                The real issue surrounding Obama’s birthplace is that he was born in the US freaking state of freaking Hawaii and some people refuse to believe it because racism.

          2. alma

            The thing is, journalists actually have tracked down people in Ireland to whom Barack Obama is distantly related, but I don’t see that ever being used against him. Because for Americans, the Irish are (mostly) considered “good” foreigners while Kenyans and Indonesians are the “wrong” kind of foreigners. That’s where the racist part is.

            1. Steve G

              I didn’t know about his Irish relatives:-).

              I’m not trying to make an argument out of this, but I really don’t see how the “Obama was born elsewhere” thing is a racist thing. I mean, how is it racist? Saying someone is from Indonesia isn’t racist.

              I think the big concern about the “where was he born thing” was that the president was hiding something, which makes people think that if he is going to hide facts about his family, that he is not going to disclose other information the public finds pertinent, and that is scary…

              1. Kelly L.

                But to say he was born in another country when he wasn’t is a dogwhistle to bigots even though it’s not true.

                Can I make the observation that in one comment, you say the “real issue” is that he supposedly doesn’t understand US issues, and in another comment, the “real issue” is that he supposedly is hiding something? Which is it?

                Oh, right, it’s neither, because he was born in the US.

                1. Steve G

                  That is because I used the term “real” issue talking about two separate things, in the first case, I was referring to the general concern about presidents being raised outside of the USA, in the latter, I am referring specifically to Obama.

                  Also your comment below about “trying to cleverly dance around promoting the theory himself” is inappropriate for the way discussions play out on this blog. We tend to keep it friendly………..

              2. some1

                He wasn’t hiding anything — he was born in Hawaii but the Birthers refuse to believe that.

          3. Adam

            I’m not an expert historian but I’ll be honest: the rule that you had to be a natural born citizen to be elected president may have had some merit when it was enacted. But nowadays I think it’s outdated, dumb, and if you want to make the argument could fly in the face of what America is supposed to be about.

      5. nona

        “There aren’t many race issues going on now (except Ferguson) but there are lots and lots of economic and political issues that many feel Obama isn’t doing enough to handle, so if I had to pick race or Obama as the impetus to get someone mad today, I’d pick the President.”

        Maybe this is because I live in the south, but I really can’t agree with any statement that there aren’t many race issues in the US right now.

        1. nona

          Actually, this isn’t just because I live in the south. What I said didn’t need to be qualified or softened with a reference to personal experience.

        1. JB

          Yeah, it’s so not true that I actually stared at my computer screen for a minute, totally speechless. But that comment is an excellent indication of the uphill battle that people fighting for civil rights have.

        2. OriginalEmma

          Totally. There are many, you’re just not hearing about them because they don’t raise the level of interest (or ability to spin) that attracts the media.

          1. Newsie

            You are hearing about them. It makes me sick every time I have to hear the bleeped out OU SAE chant (or rather, SAE chant – new reporting is saying it’s more widespread than just that campus). Or read the Ferguson report. Or see what people say to the Eric Garner protesters.

            If people aren’t hearing about them, it’s because they aren’t choosing to listen.

            1. JB

              “If people aren’t hearing about them, it’s because they aren’t choosing to listen.” exactly this

      6. KerryOwl

        There aren’t many race issues going on now (except Ferguson)

        You’ve got to be kidding me.

      7. Sleepyhead

        “There aren’t many race issues going on now (except Ferguson) but there are lots and lots of economic and political issues that many feel Obama isn’t doing enough to handle, so if I had to pick race or Obama as the impetus to get someone mad today, I’d pick the President.”

        Wow. I wish I could live in your bubble. Must be quite blissful.

        1. Steve G

          I don’t live in a bubble, thank you. I live in a middle class mixed-race area of Brooklyn. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they “live in a bubble.”

          Perhaps precisely because I am always surrounded by about 60% non-white people, I don’t see everything in the news labelled as racist as having to do with race. One of our main newspapers the (NY) Daily News spins 1/2 of the stories in the news that have little to do with race as being primarily race-related, instead of focusing on the other, core issue. It numbs you pretty quick to the use of the word “racist.” But that is a topic for another time.

          What I wanted to add was that all I meant above was that if I was sitting in my office and got this message, I would think it was Obama bashing and would close it and probably move along. Yes, bad choice to use Selma pictures. That’s just my impression of this, different people react to things in different ways. I’m not wrong because I didn’t interpret it the same way as other people. I’m just saying that different people view the pictures differently, especially if you just look at them quickly at work amidst doing a bunch of other things….

          I read everyone’s comments above and acknowledge them, but didn’t respond to them because I don’t have anything meaningful to add to them, I just don’t like being told by someone on the internet that I “live in a bubble” because I didn’t say anything to warrant essentially calling me a complete ignoramus.

          1. fposte

            But Steve, you didn’t say “I don’t see many race issues where I’m living”; you flat out said “There aren’t many race issues going on now.” And that’s so easily disprovable, with reported race issues in every state in the country, that it does suggest you’re insulated.

            1. JB

              +1
              Living in a bubble doesn’t mean you’re a totally ignorant person, it means you are insulated. And if you think “there aren’t many race issues going on now,” it’s certainly not because they aren’t there. So people are going to assume you said it because you don’t know about them because you live in a world that’s protecting you or keeping you from exposure to them.

              1. fposte

                And I think it’s realistic to realize that many of us are insulated, and most of us are, as discussed upthread, underexposed to problems that are encountered by groups we’re not in. Going back again to the “thug” discussion–I was insulated from that by race and age, so I didn’t know. It doesn’t mean I committed a major crime, but it did mean that my understanding was impaired because of its narrowness.

          2. MW

            “I am always surrounded by about 60% non-white people” is the new “I have a black friend.”

            1. Stephanie

              As someone who’s used to being in the extreme minority in school, professional, and social circles, I’ve been tempted to make shirts saying “I’m that black friend you hear so much about.” (I’m sure someone’s beat me to this idea.)

            2. Steve G

              I don’t understand your point, but it sounds negative.

              What I meant, if you even care, is that if more than 1/2 of the people you know/deal with every day are non-white, race becomes a non-issue when there is a conflict. When you have a noisy neighbor, it is an annoying noisy neighbor – it’s not that they are (insert non-white race). If someone cheats on their girlfriend, it has nothing to do with them being (non-white race). Etc. etc. Instead of seeing this as a negative and posting things like “I have a black friend” you should see it as a positive.

              1. Anonsie

                Out of curiosity, if you posed this to any of the non-white people who live around you that you’re referring to, do you think they’d see it that way? It’s a lot harder to see the way the undercurrent moves when you’re not the one caught in it.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                I think you’re getting that reaction because you originally said, “Perhaps precisely because I am always surrounded by about 60% non-white people, I don’t see everything in the news labelled as racist as having to do with race.”

                That … doesn’t really make any sense. Plenty of things are clearly connected to race regardless of what people you’re surrounded by. Racial justice issues have been massively in the news in the last year. Not subtly, not in a way where you’d have to interpret them as being about race, but clearly, on-their-face about race. Look at the Black Lives Matter movement, as one example.

              3. MW

                What Allison said.

                I’d also like to add out that while I wish it weren’t this way, the fact is, if you have a noisy neighbor and call the cops… and the neighbor is a person of color… they may get treated differently than an annoying neighbor who is white. So while you may not be a racist and while calling the cops isn’t a racist thing to do, race may still play into the interaction and the outcome may be different based on race.

                People of color (I am one; I’m half white but have brown skin that causes people to identify me as black) never know what will happen. For us, every day is full of “race issues,” contrary to your assertion that there aren’t many going on. That’s not a negative, it’s not a positive. It’s just a fact.

          3. Observer

            You live in Brooklyn and haven’t noticed anything racial? Wow. How did you miss the whole Eric Garner / cop killing / Bill Lynch and PBA vs Mayor DeBlasio and Bratton vs the black Policemen’s organizations? Or the arguments around gentrification of many previously heavily minority neighborhoods, some of them in brooklyn. Rightly or wrongly, doesn’t make a difference – these arguments are racially charged, often explicitly so. And, you also must have not been listening to a lot of the education funding and reform arguments going on in New York right now. Again, rightly or wrongly is not the point, a good chunk of the arguments are heavily racial.

            There are genuine issues at play that have nothing to do with race, of course. But, that doesn’t change the fact that race still plays a huge role in how many of these issues play out, and in some cases race is probably the biggest part of the picture.

          4. Observer

            The Daily News is a rag. And, sure they use the lazy way out a lot. But, they get away with it, because as often as not, there is a good deal of truth to a lot of what they are saying. It’s like most clishes – they get that way for a reason.

            Take the education reform mess we are dealing with here in New York. Common Core, teacher evaluations, school management, funding formulas, access to pre-k, sharter schools, etc. None of these are inherently racial issues. But, if you pay attention to the conversations, a huge percentage ARE racial, sometimes legitimately so and other times not so legitimately so.

            1. Steve G

              Tiz true, but the Daily News is the only paper small enough to read on the subway, the only time I have time for the paper (ever tried opening a NY Times on the subway during rush how?!!!)?

              You get to what I was trying to say. Of course I followed Eric Gardner’s case, and the race concerns there were totally warranted. But there are a whole lot of other not-so-high-profile stories in the paper about supposed wrongful firings, supposed harassment, claimed profiling – all supposedly because of race, and it just doesn’t make sense in a city where white is the minority in a lot of neighborhoods that they’re still labeling so many stories as race-related. There have to be other things at play.

              Someone above(or below) mention DeBlasio vs. NYPD…that’s another example of something labelled as a race issue, when it wasn’t at all until recently, and still is only partially so. Before the stop-n-frisk debates this summer, a lot of people already didn’t like DeBlasio for the simple fact that he showed up late or didn’t go to important events, and it came across as disrespectful. Also, people didn’t like that his wife, a non-elected official, had a $170K assistant Rachel Neordlinger who is shacked up w/ someone who pleaded guilty of manslaughter – and the mayor sees no problem w/ her being invited to high-level NYPD meetings. Also, the mayor has been accused of politicizing the St. Pat’s Day parade by not marching in it because they “don’t allow” gays to march (which is impossible to enforce anyway, but that’s besides the point). There are 3 good reasons not to support the mayor, none having to do with race.

              1. Observer

                Oh, sure there are lots of issues. But, that doesn’t mean that rrace is not also an issue. In the whole NYPD vs DeBlasio it played a MAJOR role and cliaming that it wasn’t consequential is disingenous, at best. And, just FYI, even before that race was a thing, whether you choose to ignore it or not. Some of the comments were in your face offensive (eg one columnist who wrote about how “average Americans” are generally “nauseated” by mixed race couples.) Most of it wasn’t like that, of course, but it clearly race was a big issue. Yes, people kind of tap danced around it,but the reality is that there was an incredible amount of attention paid to the racial composition of his family.

                You say that there are just too many stories of racial bias to be true in a city with such a high percentage of minorities. However, that doesn’t necessarily make things less racially charged. And when the power and control stuctures are primarily white (which is the case to a large extent in NY), then even in primarily minority neighborhoods, discrimination or perception of discrimination is going to happen.

                I’ll use Ferguson as an example of what can happen, simply because some of the issues are, at this point, clear and well documented. The town is primarily black but the police, courts and government is primarily white. And, the primarily white power structure targets blacks over whites, and levies disproportionate punishments on blacks. The fact that blacks are the majority hasn’t helped much.

      8. Observer

        If you look at it clearly, it’s pretty obvious that the main reason people don’t believe that Obama is American born is because he’s black, and blacks REALLY shouldn’t get “above themselves”, so we have to believe that there is a “real” legal reason that he can’t be president. And making him a Kenyan is about the only way to accomplish that. So, if it’s an anti-Obama flyer, it’s built on racims.

        This simple fact is that, the best one can say about this meme is that it’s very racially charged, even if that wasn’t the main intention. Thus, it’s utterly and completely inappropriate to send out at work.

    12. alma

      It’s a false cheap shot at the anniversary of the Selma march. Selma was a key event in the black civil rights movement. It’s kind of like if you take a cheap shot at an Auschwitz memorial, people are going to reasonably infer anti-Semitism. (I know some people are going to call Godwin’s Law on this, but I think it’s a valid comparison given the rampant murder and oppression of black Americans the civil rights movement was fighting against.)

      1. RVA Cat

        Yes. It is belittling to activists in both marchers.

        Note that the biggest difference in flags in the 50 years is that back then, people like your branch manager would be openly waving around the Confederate flag.. Now he hides behind the American one…

        1. alma

          Ah yes, the “patriots” who wave the flag of the Confederacy, an organization that fought an actual war to leave the country… gotta love that cognitive dissonance.

    13. Elder Dog

      I can see this being sent out as an anti-liberal meme by a birther or tea-party type who doesn’t realize this is also racist. That’s part of racism – people who aren’t subject to it often don’t see it when it happens.

      I can also see a disgruntled person gaining access to the manager’s email and sending this to get him into trouble, but I think it’s unlikely.

      If this is a one-time situation, the manager will probably be spoken to, and not fired. If the OP is concerned about his finding out who sent it to the CEO, yes, she could certainly print out the entire email and then FAX or snail-mail it, or put it in an envelope and slip it under the CEO’s door.

      But it needs to be addressed, and the CEO should be told.

    14. Observer

      I haven’t read the replies to this one yet – you’ve provoked what appears to be a heated discussion.

      I would say that you are almost certainly right that this is primarily an anti-liberal rant.

      HOWEVER

      This is a picture of an almost completely black crowd, taken in a way that seems to be highlighting that fact. And, both pictures a specifically about the black struggle for civil rights. It would have been quite easy to make a similar point without highlighting the black struggle for civil rights. That makes this racially charged, whether or not it was intended.

      And, that makes this an incredibly stupid thing for the manager to have done.

    1. TCO

      This is not the same. Viagra e-mails are frequent spam/hacking subjects, but racist memes are not.

      1. Elder Dog

        Political barking is what the original worms found “in the wild” sent through email. It was meant to be embarrassing to the purported senders.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot

        Possibly because XKCD was mentioned upthread, my first thought was that such a thing would be worthy of Black Hat Guy.

    2. A Non

      I’m in IT – hacked email results in spam or phishing attempts (trying to trick more people out of their email passwords), not racist memes.

  16. Allison

    Holy Hanukkah balls, what was your manager thinking? Unless you’re working for a political nonprofit, it’s not cool to send around political e-mails like that – and even if you are working in such a place, controversial e-mails that have nothing to do with the company’s mission are still a bad idea. If you have to share something like that, you should do it very privately, and only to close friends and family. I mean, company reputation aside, that’s something that can easily kill a person’s career. Very few people will hire someone who’s known to send that garbage around.

    1. Stephanie

      Eh. This is so over-the-top, though. Even a political organization (at least a mainstream one) isn’t going to tolerate this.

  17. CAinUK

    Holy cow.

    I’d add one more point to your email to the CEO – the consequences of this leaking to the public (bad PR) and also DONORS (direct financial consequences).

    The donor argument might add yet another element to your CEO’s hopeful outrage at what this bafoon is jeapordising with his racism.

    1. Not So NewReader

      If they receive Fed or State monies racism would be problematic on that front also.

  18. squids

    This is one of the sorts of things that’s officially not cool under our Computer Use Policy.
    Not every organization has got something like that in writing, but if you do, it backs you up (helps switch the situation from “something many of us find inappropriate” to “something this organization explicitly finds inappropriate”)

    1. PEBCAK

      It’s funny, because most large orgs say you can’t use the computer for personal email, fantasy football, etc., but really, nobody cares about any of that stuff. It’s when you are racist or downloading porn that the policy comes out. How stupid do you have to be?

    2. cuppa

      My company also has an anti-harassment policy that goes beyond the letter of the law, and this would be unacceptable under that.

  19. OP

    Oh my goodness. Thank you, everyone, for your supportive comments.

    There has been some recent, significant tension between the branch manager and my supervisors. I think this unrelated tension is the real reason behind my supervisors’ unwillingness to address this issue. There is a huge storm brewing on a different front, so I can understand why they are tempted to push this one under the rug.

    When it comes to contacting the CEO – his e-mails are read by his secretary and accessible to two other higher-ups at the company. So anything I send to him “in confidence” really isn’t… at least four other people will have eyes on it. If I call him, I’m afraid that his secretary won’t let me get though without me explaining to her the whole story – and while I trust the CEO to handle my report confidentially, I don’t have that same confidence in his assistant. Ugh.

    I have two options here:
    1. Make another pass at getting my supervisors to address this. I haven’t yet spoken in person with the branch office’s second-in-command. He likes me and will be sympathetic to my cause, but he has a history of wimpiness when it comes to our branch manager.

    2. Try to call the CEO and see if I can get through. Make up a serious-but-vague reason for calling that will get around the secretary.

    I feel that these two are mutually exclusive. If I take this to the second-in-command and he tells me to let it go, then it will be pretty obvious who called the CEO to complain. Advice?

      1. OP

        Ok. Got any ideas for a sufficiently serious-but-vague reason that can get around a overly protective admin?

          1. Dynamic Beige

            And if the gatekeeper pushes, mention something about there being a potential problem with donors or funding issues… which someone already pointed out could be an issue if this goes public.

          2. TCO

            I think this will still let the assistant know that you’re probably the person reporting this e-mail… but I think it’s still the best route forward. At least they won’t have written proof of your actions. If the CEO wants to see the e-mail, maybe you can request to send it to his personal e-mail or something else more confidential.

            By the way, OP, bravo for taking the risk to stand up against this. It takes courage. So many people would just let this go, and this form of “subtle” racism persists precisely because people would rather ignore it than have an uncomfortable confrontation.

        1. Swarley

          Why not something like: I have a confidential concern about my work that I don’t feel comfortable discussing with anyone but (insert CEO name). It’s imperative that I speak with him. Is it possible to put me through?

        2. UKAnon

          Alison’s is good – if you still get stonewalled, I’d throw in “personal reasons” too.

      1. RVA Cat

        Good luck OP!

        I hate to join the paranoia but you may want to blind copy your home email if you do forward the email to the CEO (after discussing). That way if there is retaliation, you have records. Worst case, if you get fired over this, you should take it to your local chapter of the NAACP.

    1. A. D. Kay

      OP, I had a couple of thoughts as I read the post and the comments.
      1) I would be willing to be that you won’t be the only employee in your branch office who will contact the CEO about this.

      2) You described the branch manager as “prickly.” Sounds like it would be even more accurate to drop the -ly suffix.

    2. Malissa

      Would his secretary (or the other two who could see it) find the image offensive as well? If you think so, then email it. I’m sure somebody would make sure he saw it.
      As for confidentiality, there’s no guarantee of that no matter how you escalate this. I know as much as well all want to be that person who stands up for what’s right, regardless of the consequences it’s not always easy. A person can’t feed themselves or pay rent with doing what’s right.
      It’s a hard decision. I know what I would do. But my circumstances are not yours.

      1. Alma

        Alison, is it correct to assume there is an “umbrella of confidentiality” covering anyone who has access to the CEO’s correspondence, both written and electronic? ”

        My experience has been that anyone with that level of trust from the CEO would have earned that trust and would not disclose information unless it was in a conversation initiated by the CEO.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          There certainly should be. In most offices, not being discreet with confidential matters that you only know about because you work for the CEO would be a huge, fireable deal.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Unless she has reason to feel she needs to do this (and it doesn’t sound like that), I would discourage that. Deal with it straightforwardly!

        1. Snoskred

          I would suggest the fact that 4 other people besides the CEO seeing the emails sent to the CEO would be a good reason to do this, no matter how discreet those people might seem to be.

          Some of those people might be friends with the emailer. :(

  20. Jared

    How is it racist to point out that there are no American flags present at this event? I don’t understand why this is a thing.

    It’s not like this person called all those photographed a racial slur. That would be a problem.

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      The meme has been constructed to push a certain agenda it’s contrived, there were almost certainly flags at the event. If I pull a bucket of water out of the sea with no fish in it, that doesn’t prove there are no fish in the sea.

      Owing to the misrepresentation that is fairly obvious, you have to wonder what the true intention is, what are the creator and distributors actually trying to say with the meme?

  21. Katie the Fed

    Wow, I had no idea my uncle had finally gotten a management position!

    In all seriousness though – please do report it. I guarantee it made many people uncomfortable this NEEDS to be called out. You’re doing the right thing.

    1. a black guy

      “Wow, I had no idea my uncle had finally gotten a management position!”

      LOL also :-( for your family.

  22. Elizabeth

    I think this meme should be altered to say –

    “2015: The PRESIDENT OF OUR COUNTRY is now right in front”

  23. Laurel Gray

    “Be the person who doesn’t shrug it off.”

    Glad you are speaking up OP!

    This is what is hurting members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon right now! They get busted singing a racist chant at U of Ok, OK State has a Confederate flag hanging in one of the windows of their house and what do they say? That a “cancer” (I guess this is code for racism) infiltrated their frat “a few years ago” (I call decades and decades ago) and this is where the issue has started. They are trying to make this a recent and isolated issue but as the story unfolds the public is learning this is false. And many involved are claiming they are not racists, they were basically just going along with it. That’s the plea they have to give today for not speaking up.

    1. JB

      Exactly. It can be tough to speak up in those kinds of circumstances, but when you don’t, you have to take those consequences, too. You will be judged by the company you keep.

      1. De Minimis

        The flag one is at a different school [Oklahoma State,] but from what I’ve heard it’s based on a student paper that mentions a flag hanging in someone’s room.

        The thing is, racism against black people is very predominant in this state—not just in the small towns or rural areas, but in each of the major cities too, so I think the whole thing is somewhat dishonest. I applaud the university president for wanting to stamp it out, but it’s not this underground thing that just happened to rear its ugly head at this particular frat house.

        1. De Minimis

          Also, in Oklahoma there are a lot of people who are into the whole “Confederate Flag is our heritage, etc..” thing even though the main people in the area who actually have legit involvement in Civil War history are the Indian tribes, and they generally view the war as a painful, divisive time in their history.

      1. De Minimis

        Sadly he would not have been electable in the state’s current political environment. The state has veered way, way off course from its roots.

  24. Doy

    I immediately read it as “those ungrateful, unpatriotic uppity so-and-sos, after all we’ve done for them”. And I’m Canadian.

    1. Stephanie

      “We gave them their own schools and water fountains! And they’re ungrateful.” /sarcasm

    2. Tinker

      Yeah. There’s also a thing that has gotten into my awareness lately (I suspect it has actually been around for quite some time, as I’m not the most perceptive person in this area) where folks are using comparisons to an idealized form of the Civil Rights Era protests to dismiss current efforts as being insufficiently polite and coming from flawed people, and therefore as not raising legitimate issues.

      Most of the time that sort of thing is what prejudice looks like nowadays.

      1. Stephanie

        Ding ding!

        Yeah, I think Civil Rights History gets sanitized in school and the radical nature and strategic planning involved is glossed over. (Rosa Parks had a history of activism and had to go into hiding after the bus incident, Brown v. Board was the culmination of several challenges brought at the higher education level first, etc). MLK’s story ends up being taught as hagiography (Malcolm X, less so, because there is no easy way to explain his early NOI days). I definitely benefited from having parents and grandparents who grew up in or very near that era and were able to explain a lot more of the nuance involved.

        1. Kelly L.

          And the secret is that it never really matters how polite the protesters are. It will never be enough for the bigots. The manners policing is just a smokescreen.

      2. Katie the Fed

        Yes. I have relatives in Ferguson and Florissant (neighboring suburb) who just can’t understand why the protestors are back and why are they making things so miserable for the nice people there.

        1. AndersonDarling

          Not to turn things off topic…I’m in Florissant and there isn’t much leadership with the protesting, so there isn’t a succinct voice or direction, just a lot of anger and a bit of hope.

          To bring it back to topic, if the OP’s email showed up in my office in my town, the sender would be fired immediately. It could not be tolerated here.

      3. J.B.

        Great point. I also think this thread has been a fascinating look at how the same type of image can be perceived completely differently by those on the opposite side of the racial divide. While many of the individuals who don’t see a problem with the image are likely kind and well meaning people, I do wonder how that perception will color specific actions. Not promoting because they perceive someone as not acting appropriately.

        On a different level, but I know many well meaning men who think sexism doesn’t exist. While an awful lot of women who post in these comments gave some version of “OMG me too!” to the post about women being described as abrasive in performance reviews.

        1. Joey

          Let me put it to you this way. For those who have experienced racism or been profoundly affected by it those thoughts sit at the front of our brains all the time analyzing all things we see that are race related. We get little twinges in our throats when we see racial diversity shown in a bad light. Because in our minds we see no moral justification for it.

          If it hasn’t affected you in a profound way you probably don’t have that sort filter that’s attuned to it as well.

        2. Jules

          LOL
          My husband woud say that sexism and racism doesn’t exist. I’m like… “So… how many women or colored person are there in your department? Sure, white man….”

  25. AW

    I believe that this sort of communication…would be seriously frowned upon by the overall organization’s CEO…

    That’s from the LW. Why would a CEO who would find that email objectionable fire an employee for bringing it up?* Why would a CEO who would want to be told about these things not protect the people who do?

    I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the LW is naive or uninformed about the office politics or personalities at play. There’s no reason not to believe them when they say that a direct confrontation or attempts at a group effort will not go well. Nor is there any reason to believe that the CEO will explicitly or passively side with the manager.

    The LW’s only concern with going to the CEO is that it would be seen as tattling. I think it’s fair to trust them that this is the only concern with this option. I agree with Allison that going to someone who 1) has the power to do something and 2) the LW is sure will agree this is awful is the way to go.

    *I think in this specific case it’s a moot point, but in general anyone who would fire someone over complaining about a racist email has to know that the email will end up public afterward, right? They have to know that’s the risk they take for retaliating against the employee.

    1. AW

      OK, I posted this without refreshing and seeing the OP’s response. I still think Allison’s advice is good, even if the OP has to make it a phone call instead of an email.

  26. CAinUK

    Sometimes when this stuff comes up on AAM, I want a big disclaimer at the beginning of the comments that says “If OP says they think something is racist, we don’t get to tell them it isn’t”.

    Because it is often moot – the OP finds it racist, and is asking about how to handle it, not whether her reaction is valid.

    I don’t care if you think I’m overreacting to a racist/sexist/homophobic comment because it isn’t “really” or “intended” as racist/sexist/homophobic or is “just a joke”. I get to react, you get to not give me a reason to react in my place of work. That’s why the line exists in the workplace: don’t send out even POTENTIALLY offensive stuff to people. It’s a work e-mail, not Facebook.

    Sorry, #endrant

    1. A Non

      Exactly. We’re not being asked to pass judgement on the offensive thing. We’re being asked how the OP should handle something they find offensive.

      Plus, this is how racism/sexism/homophobia/etc operates in the US right now. It’s all got a veneer of plausible deniability pulled over it. If you are white/male/straight/etc it can be hard to see through. If you’re a minority/female/gay/etc it’s really freaking obvious. If people are arguing about whether something is offensive, stop and look at who’s on which side of the argument, and whether they’re seeing something that you’re blind to because it’s not aimed at you.

        1. sam

          Yeah. Some people seem to be under the impression that unless you’re wearing a white hood, burning a cross, or using the n-word, then it’s not racist. We’re much more likely to see subtle/implicit racism these days, which people can then play dumb about.

          And that’s not even to get started on the entire “systemic oppression/privilege” discussion, that way too many people willfully misinterpret as “I didn’t grow up rich so how dare you say I’m privileged!”.

          1. Blue_eyes

            I think that’s what was so shocking about the recent incident with the SAE fraternity and their “song.” Subtle racism is all around us, but it was almost unbelievable that college educated (or soon to be) people still think it’s okay to voice overtly racist opinions like that.

        2. OhNo

          I’ve never heard it described that way before, but that is so accurate. Thanks for that phrasing, I imagine it will come in handy.

          1. fposte

            It means it’s a way to signal those who can hear on that frequency but without alerting those who don’t–in other words, it’s a way to reach out to your base in a way that’s meaningful to them without overtly saying “We hate this kind of people.” In political discussion, for instance, “crime” gets used as a dog-whistle for racism sometimes, when it’s white politicians talking to white audiences about what they’re afraid of. Sometimes the dog-whistle gets so well known I’d say it’s not really a dog-whistle any more, like “inner city” for “people of color.” (I’m being pretty crude here, because every political affiliation has ways of phrasing that mark a “them” and an “us” to listeners, but the example is a fairly commonly discussed one.)

            Shouldn’t be anything horrible to Google, but I understand your wariness.

            1. Businesslady

              “pants dragging along the ground”/”underwear showing” is another huge, HUGE one. A KKK-affiliated group put up a billboard, visible from the Selma bridge, promoting “War Between the States Historic Sites” using an image of Nathan Bedford Forrest. And the spokesperson’s response was “Does it say anything in the Constitution where a certain faction of people cannot be offended?I’m offended by all these people walking around with their pants hanging around their knees.”

              I’m not putting a source link so this comment doesn’t go to moderation, but if you google “Forrest billboard” (no quotes) you’ll find it.

            2. Case of the Mondays

              Thank you for sharing. I had a googling mishap on my computer yesterday. Had to look up work related gang stuff and ended up on some porn. I think my computer might be getting some extra scrutiny by IT in the next few days so I’m trying to keep it extra clean. :) They are on “avoid viruses” patrol.

            3. A Non

              You know it’s a dog whistle when reactions break down like this:

              1. “Hahaha, so true” (covert racists)
              2. “That’s so offensive!” (minorities, whites who support them)
              3. “That’s not offensive, you’re being over sensitive by dragging race into it” (sneaky bastard racists, lots of overlap with #1)
              4. “I don’t get it.” (whites who aren’t racist but haven’t seen enough to understand the subtext)

              Sometimes people in category #4 try to listen carefully and understand what’s going on, sometimes they get swayed by the people in category #3 and the subtle racism perpetuates itself, without anyone in that group realizing what’s happening.

        3. James M.

          Reading these replies, I learned what the term “dog whistle” means in this context. Thanks all!

  27. Nervous Accountant

    Not to be obtuse and please don’t jump on me–I isually get memes and social Commentary but I’m truly stumped by this one. Why is it offensive?
    (Can delete if inappropriate)

      1. Lily in NYC

        ugh, sorry alison, I posted at about the same time and didn’t see you already wrote the same exact thing.

  28. puddin

    History lessons! Many racist remarks are made because people are so dam ignorant of the past.

    In the first Selma march – as part of the Civil Rights Movement – blacks were attempting to convince the while majority that were not only human beings but US citizens as well. Let that sink in…People were working to establish the thought in other people’s heads that they were, in fact, people. AND they were hard working, family oriented, tax paying citizens.

    Now when you have that hill to climb, you carry a darn flag to prove your human-ness, your patriotism and your desire to vote to count as one full human vote. If black people still have to carry flags to prove that, we are worse off than I thought.

    1. Alma

      Look at the photo of the 2015 march. It is hard to carry flags when everyone is either holding hands, or pushing those who need assistance in wheelchairs. Powerful.

    2. Mephyle

      It’s been mentioned above, but worth noting here to supplement puddin’s explanation: people were holding flags at the event pictured in the second photo, too, but the photo was deliberately cropped to leave out the flags.

  29. Us, Too

    Look at these unpatriotic jerks: https://continentalcongressela702.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/continental-congress.jpg?w=665

    Not only are they NOT displaying the American flag, they are displaying the flag of another government!!!

    Count me as someone who can’t help but notice that the target of this “anti patriotic” meme isn’t a bunch of white men advocating for huge change, but rather minorities who won’t shut up and accept their place in the world.

    1. Katie the Fed

      “minorities who won’t shut up and accept their place in the world.”

      how uppity!

      (I have had to explain to many people why that’s often a racist code word for that very reason)

  30. Macedon

    I have to ask – why is it not inadvisable for OP to directly communicate to the (admittedly prickly) that this particular e-mail made her uncomfortable? I realise that there is an imbalance of power, but shouldn’t it be ‘safe’ to cushion it as, “Hi, a few of my co-workers and I share the concern that this e-mail might end up inadvertently sending the wrong message” ?

  31. Malissa

    I’ve read through all of the comments and the one thing that disturbs me the most is the fact that so many people have a real fear of the potential backlash. It’s a sad comment on society that this is the main fear when there is something so obviously wrong happening.
    This is very ironic considering the subjects of the image are people who faced real threats to their lives when marching across that bridge 50 years ago. While we have come so far, it still isn’t nearly far enough.

    1. Case of the Mondays

      I think a small part of that is the state of the economy. Few people have a savings account to fall back on. I’m one of the lucky few with some type of safety net so I’d be more likely to speak up. If however, I had some kids to take care of and an out of work husband and no savings there is no way in heck I’d risk my job when there are 100 other people that could and haven’t risked theirs. For me, that’s not about race. It could be about any kind of discrimination or illegal/unethical behavior. If it means not paying your rent, most people are in economic duress and they just do what they can to make the job tolerable.

        1. Case of the Mondays

          We are on the same page then! I’ve heard a lot of very privileged people say “why is she just suing now? Why didn’t she complain when it happened? Why didn’t she go to the EEOC?” etc and not understanding the real economic duress.

    2. Snoskred

      I think that many people would have the same concerns about backlash in all kinds of situations with all kinds of issues.

      I’ve been the person reporting issues before, and my experience has in general been mixed. Raising issues in some workplaces gets you branded as a trouble maker.

      I once had an issue with a co-worker who was treating me very badly at work, and I raised it with my direct manager. There was much done to solve the situation and when my direct manager did a quiet investigation it came out that I was not the only person she was mistreating. She did not like new people, and she would do everything possible to cause those people not to want to work with her, making for a very uncomfortable work environment.

      My direct manager made it very clear to her that her behaviour was unacceptable, and organised a meeting between that worker and *all* the people she had been treating badly so that we could clear the air and sort it out. And we did sort it out, and the work environment changed for the better as a result. My manager thanked me for raising the issue so it could be resolved.

      A couple of years later when I was in a meeting with the business owner, she outright said that she thought I was difficult to get along with and specifically referenced that situation. She had not been personally involved in the situation and therefore did not know the specifics, but in her mind *I* was the problem, not the person who was actually the problem. I was taken aback by her comment and immediately took the opportunity to educate her as to what really went on with that situation. She had no idea of the real events – she just knew I had an issue and raised it which in her mind made me a trouble maker and someone who is difficult to get along with.

      Me personally, given some other bad experiences in this area, if there is an option to speak up and remain anonymous, that is how I would do it. This situation is a perfect opportunity to do that because many people received that email. Sometimes there are situations where you can’t remain anon.

  32. Colorblind (really)

    What am I missing?
    Sure, it’s not a meme I’d send to others but unless he said something specific, I don’t see where it is “racially-charged” in this. It’s a true statement – their were many flags and many people of many races of many different classes at the Selma March. And it is true that there were very few flags, fewer mix of races and fewer class levels at the anniversary.
    There is no “call to action” for or against, no commentary about whether it’s a good thing or bad thing, it even uses the image where The Bushes are edited out.
    Tell the guy to stop sending you memes and get over it.

    “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.” ― Brigham Young

    1. fposte

      There’s a lot of discussion above that lays it out for you; I think you’ll find it really helpful to read it.

    2. Businesslady

      What fposte said.

      Also, while you may be well-intentioned in calling yourself “colorblind,” that’s tantamount to saying you don’t believe there’s any disparity in the ways that people are treated in this country based on their racial/ethnic background. And if you follow the news at all, then you can surely see that isn’t the case.

      “Now, I don’t see color. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because police officers call me ‘sir.'”–Stephen Colbert

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’ll also add that colorblind isn’t something to strive to be; it’s actually more helpful to strive to recognize people’s diversity of experience so that you will better understand the contexts they’ve living and operating in.

        1. jmkenrick

          Additionally, it’s simply not something you can attest to being.

          Certainly you can be not explicitly or actively racist (I hope none of us are!) but there’s zero evidence to indicate that one can decide to “opt out” of the pervasive messages we get from larger culture. We process and understand markers about people subconsciously, so if we want to understand and better ourselves, we have to be open to the possibility that we’re operating with some undetected (and unintended!) racial prejudice.

        2. colorblind (really)

          or, you know, it could mean that I honestly can’t see colors…
          Color blindness, or color vision deficiency, is the inability or decreased ability to see color, or perceive color differences, under normal lighting conditions.

          Love when people jump to a conclusion.

            1. FiveByFive

              In a culture where people too often say “literally” when they should say “really”, here’s someone who said “really” when they should have said “literally”!

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            Riiiiiight. The inability to distinguish, say, red from green keeps you from being able to see that an entire group of the nation’s population (who are neither red nor green) has been and continues to be discriminated against on so many levels and in so many, pervasive, minute and large ways. Yup, you poor dear, being color blind has obviously made you socially and politically tone deaf, too.

            Please troll elsewhere.

    3. some1

      Maybe don’t quote someone who believed black skin was a punishment from God if you want to be seen as “color blind”.

    4. Katie the Fed

      The Bushes weren’t edited out of this. They were different pictures taken at different angles. Oy!

    5. Observer

      Besides all of the very cogent comments upthread and in response, there is the simple fact that the photo was cropped and then an untrue statement was attached to it (Not a single American flag.) You simply cannot claim good faith under those circumstances.

    6. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)

      That’s an ironic quotation considering how the LDS Church recently addressed the whole issue of black men not allowed to be priesthoodholders until the late 1970s by throwing Brigham Young under the bus.

  33. Little J Jack

    Alison and OP, please let us know how this turns out! Bravo for doing the right thing, even when not easy. That’s the true definition of character.

  34. Belinda Gomez

    I received this from an African-American coworker. (USAF vet and fairly conservative. ) Report him for what? Bad taste?
    There are no flags in the photo, so while it may be some implied slur, it’s also a statement of fact.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Please read the many explanations above about why it’s offensive. There are a number of excellent explanations.

      The fact that you received it from someone who is himself African American doesn’t lessen the fact that it’s offensive.

  35. OP

    OP here, with another update in the continuing saga.

    I worked up the courage to call the main office. I’m friendly with the receptionist, who answered the main line. I told her (in a casual tone) that I’d like to speak with the CEO and asked her to forward my call to his assistant. She cheerily informed me that his assistant is on vacation today and tomorrow, so she’d put me right through to his office. Gatekeeper successfully dodged!

    But then he didn’t answer. Because I didn’t want the option to chicken out later, I left a voicemail using the same language I’d planned to using with the gatekeeper.

    I have not yet received a call back.

    I’ll let you all know how it goes.

    1. WorkingFromCafeInCA

      Good for you, OP! I know that saying those first few words can be the toughest part, and that voicemail got you well on your way.

  36. FD

    The thing that completely boggles my mind is that anyone could think something like this was appropriate to send to everyone at their workplace, even if it wasn’t horribly racist. Even if it were something snarky about a political issue that wasn’t so socially charged, it’d be inappropriate and unprofessional to send a political meme around the office.

    The racism takes it from unprofessional to outright asshattery. We’re rooting for you, OP!

  37. Greg

    I’m not going to wage into the politics of this meme, other than to say that my political opinions are probably 180 degrees opposite of the branch manager, and I definitely agree that there is plenty of racial animus behind some (but not all) of the criticism of Obama.

    All that being said, if I were the CEO and was made aware of this, I would absolutely avoid calling the branch manager’s behavior “racist”, for two reasons:

    1. Precisely because it’s subtle, t’s almost impossible to discuss the racial implications of an email like this without getting drawn into a debate where you have to choose sides. As much as I agree with the idea that conservatives are trying to “other-ize” Obama, it is generally the kind of argument you will only hear from an Obama supporter. Even if the CEO is one, he needs to respond to this in an official capacity, not as another partisan. Just look at how divisive this comments section has gotten. If you’re a CEO, do you really want that going on at your organization? (It’s safe to assume that the manager wouldn’t have sent the email if he didn’t think at least some people in the organization shared his beliefs.)

    2. More importantly, the CEO doesn’t have to get into the racial stuff at all, because there’s a perfectly good, non-controversial reason for taking the branch manager to the woodshed: a manager who sends controversial political emails out to his entire staff is exhibiting horrific judgment. As a manager, he should know to steer clear of politics at the office. To force it down everyone’s throats with mass emails is even worse.

    Remember, as Alison said, the whole reason the CEO needs to be concerned about this email is because it could damage the organization. Well, that goes the other way, too. Imagine if the guy gets fired and runs to Fox News, which is suddenly reporting that Chocolate Teapots for Kids is overrun by PC liberal activists and race baiters and is inhospitable to conservatives? Now he has a new headache on his hands. On the other hand, if he tells the guy, “Don’t be an idiot and send around politically charged emails on your work account to the entire office,” that’s a far less controversial stance, and most people will support it regardless of their political leanings.

    (BTW, none of this has anything to do with the OP. If she was personally offended by the email, she has every right to speak up about it. I’m just focusing on how the CEO should handle it in his official capacity.)

      1. De Minimis

        #2 for me is probably the best way to bring it up to the CEO as well….the material is too controversial for a professional environment and several employees are uncomfortable about it.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I don’t know – I would probably say it’s inappropriate, but also point out there there are major racial implications to this email too, and since we’re a company who strives to respect diversity it’s inappropriate and so on…

    2. FD

      Exactly!

      Even if this was something that people could have legitimate, non-jackass opinions about, this wouldn’t be appropriate.

      For example, rational, decent people can have different opinions about the legalization of marijuana. It would still be inappropriate to send a meme around, making a joke about “potheads winning the fight”. It wouldn’t rise to quite the same level of Not OK as this, but it would still be totally inappropriate.

  38. An IT worker

    Wow. That’s incredible. The meme mentions nothing about race, yet the OP chooses to inject race into it. I wonder who’s the real racist here?

    1. Katie the Fed

      “I wonder who’s the real racist here?”

      The person who sent it.

      Did you read any of the comments above explaining why it’s racist? The OP didn’t inject race into it – race was very, very clearly the intended target.

    2. A Non

      Usually the real racist is the person who refuses to listen when other people say ‘hey, that’s offensive, cut it out’.

Comments are closed.