my new coworker keeps spouting offensive political views

A reader writes:

I work in a busy office with people from all different backgrounds, and my team is the first port of call when people come into the building. I believe we have a large responsibility to make sure the company looks professional to anyone coming into the building.

My new colleague is a lovely person, a little bit too talkative, but I know how to handle that. However, she believes the things she reads in the tabloids a little too much regarding refugees and asylum seekers and makes very loud and animated comments about refugees and actively blames them for all sort of issues that exist in our society. It has reached the point where someone can’t even complain about the cost of renting a property without her blaming it on asylum seekers “sponging off the state,” being greedy, and “taking things from our country.” Her comments are rude and prejudiced, and I find them pretty racist and unacceptable for a professional workplace.

If people come into the building and hear her saying these things, it looks awful! Not only that, but maintaining a degree of professionalism should involve keeping controversial topics such as politics, immigration, religion, etc. out of the workplace. Not only is it frustrating to hear someone moan incessantly about a group of people in a very rude way, but the ignorance and harsh way of talking about people that usually accompanies these awful statements leaves me a little shell shocked! I find her comments racist and I’ve faced a lot of different people in the workplace but have never encountered anyone that moans about minority groups so extensively on a daily basis. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but in a professional environment, these opinions should be left at the door when you enter your place of work.

How do I handle this situation? I am a colleague on the same level as her, so I don’t know if it would be appropriate for me to say anything. Could I next time say to her that I find her comments offensive when she brings them up? I have tried ignoring her repeatedly over the past three months, but when I ignore them, she just goes on and on and on. Or should I talk to HR? But at the same time I am concerned that might be a bit excessive.

“Jane, I find that really offensive. Please don’t say that sort of thing at work.”

“I hope you’re not saying that to me because you think I agree with you.” (Credit for this goes to a commenter here; I think it’s brilliant.)

“I feel very differently on this subject than you do, and I don’t want to hear this kind of thing at work. Please stop.”

“I really don’t want to hear this sort of thing.”

“Your beliefs about immigrants are disturbing to hear, and I’d like you to stop making these comments around me.”

And yes, this is absolutely something you should tell HR about. It’s not excessive to do that; her comments could create a hostile workplace (legal definition, not colloquial one) and make people feel unwelcome and generally are exactly the sort of thing that a competent HR department will want to shut down.

But please don’t just take it to HR. Say something directly to your coworker too, because she needs to hear that her comments are objectionable and unwelcome.

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. CrazyCatLady

    I actually wrote into Alison last week about similarly offensive comments regularly being made by the boss/owner where I work. It’s so uncomfortable and I never know how to react. I hope you do say something to your coworker and update us!

    1. LawPancake

      Until my racist former boss retired the general strategy was to stay completely silent and change the subject. Due to office politics, he wasn’t going anywhere and had I complained to HR I probably wouldn’t have gotten any worthwhile assignments again plus been trashed to the head of the company. It sucked and I’m sorry you have to deal with it.

    2. matilda

      Agreed! It shouldn’t be this way, but I’ve been in the workforce for about ten years, and I’ve already had three managers who have been openly racist or homophobic or both. I’ve never done much about it (except GTFO), because it’s been my experience that going to HR leads to retaliation or even job loss. I do document each incident in case anyone ever asks me about it. I would love to hear others’ advice on this, though!

      1. thisthisthisthis

        In my past jobs I’ve said nothing. It’s strange that at this day and age this is a common occurrence that I have always had to deal with weird little comments that can be taken as racist or homophobic. When I arrived at my current job I said I would not allow this anymore and it has worked. I work in the construction industry and to say the least they use very colorful language here especially the superintendents and laborers, well really its them and the older they are the more they use it. Just to give you a brief description I am a 1st generation Mexican-American woman, and I look much younger than my age. People always underestimate me. In the past when someone would say something controversial I would just meekly go away and try not to listen. You see if I say something, then I am labeled as a cry baby. I can’t take a joke, etc. It is much easier to just go away and not be there. But sometimes you can’t get away and at my current position I heard a coworker say something like oh, make those “beaners” take and English class. Ok first, “beaners” is a very stupid slur, if it is even a slur, I’m not sure. It’s like saying white bread to me? Yes, I eat beans so? That’s besides the point I think, what I knew is that if I stayed silent at that moment at my new job then the comments would start to snowball and get more and more offensive, so yes I had to nip this in the bud. I wrote an email to the perp right away and told him I heard what he said, and I need him to stop. He said he was just joking and I said well that’s fine, I am sure you are great person and everything but please don’t speak that way when I am around. He got the point and he stopped. Now I hear other females in the office talk about how sexist this same man is to them and complain about him but I THINK its because, they didn’t say anything when he made that first comment. (Yes, he tried that with me too saying I need to wear more dresses, and I told him I don’t wear dresses for you I wear them for me.) He no longer speaks to me that way. I see the difference. Trust me, he wants to make comments but I always tell him to STOP, right now. We get along very well since then and I understand that at home he may say some nasty things, but so long as I don’t hear it I don’t care. Just some food for thought.

        1. Mabel

          I always appreciate hearing about tactics like yours because I’m usually able to do this, but sometimes… I don’t know if it’s that this crap wears me down, or I feel intimidated or whatever, but it’s helpful to have stories like yours to reinforce that this is completely OK to tell people not to say hateful things in my presence. In fact, it’s probably the best thing to do so people will stop with the nasty comments about any groups of people.

          1. thisthisthisthis

            I totally get intimidated, especially in this case because he is the head superintendent in charge of all the other superintendents. So, even though he wasn’t MY boss, he was pretty much up there. That’s why I decided to write him an email instead of talking to him. I was like a few weeks in and I didn’t know how he would react. I have plenty of stories of feeling uncomfortable in the workplace, so I wanted to actually feel ok about coming into work for once. I think it’s sad that I have to fight for it though.

            1. Alison Read

              He’s probably smart enough to realize he better toe the line, that email was documenting illegal behavior and would be evidence that he’d been put on notice. Good for you!

      2. CrazyCatLady

        I get that people can have racist opinions and that’s fine but it just seems crazy to me that otherwise intelligent people think it’s okay to voice these opinions in the workplace.

      3. Felix

        I worked somewhere very hostile for a 5 month contract. The first month I just quietly took what was said to me until I decided I had nothing to loose. I then re-framed my supervisor’s comments for him. An example:

        (Alison I’ve censored this, but if too hostile, please delete)

        Supervisor at 8:00 am while I am taking off my coat and hanging up purse: “Felix, come here I need you to look at this before I go get a** raped by uber-boss”

        Me: “Good morning supervisor, I think what you meant to say was ‘hi Felix, I need you to look at something for me.’ ”

        Supervisor: “oh um … Yeah… I do need you to look at this… Uh, good morning.”

        I literally had to do this 3-5 times a week, but it seemed to work quite well. This didn’t seem to have any negative work repercussions, but I have to say I would have been less comfortable doing this in a permanent position. There was a lot of mental freedom knowing I was going to be gone in 4 months anyway.

    3. OK

      My go to is to say “alrighty then” and raise my eyebrows and walk away. (Ace Ventura ftw lol)

      When I’ve been told I cant take a joke, I’ve replied one of two ways (depends on their position in relation to mine)

      1. “No, you are just being a jerk and trying to hide it in humor. It wasnt funny” (ok, so I’ve said a-hole lol, but that’s for an equal)

      2. “I know funny when I hear it and THAT wasn’t even close.” (Yup, said to a higher up BUT we were also friends)

      One thing I find interesting is that when the complainers are more liberal and are complaining about conservatives or conservative viewpoints, it’s accepted and encouraged. It’s not ok. It’s still offensive and just as crappy to say “I wish all conservatives/pro-life/against whatever people would die” or wish death upon police officers. I am not starting a debate, but the double standards are ridiculous. No one should be saying rude stuff about groups of people in general.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yup. You can find someone using over-the-top rhetoric in any party or movement if you go looking, but I don’t think wishing death on people is in the mainstream for anybody.

        2. OK

          I’ve been seeing it a lot lately on social networks. The blacklivesmatter activists and mizzu protestors have called for it.

          It’s there and it is disturbing.

          1. Lionness

            And I’ve seen plenty of conservatives say that I should be sexually violated, say liberals should be killed, etc.

            You can find horrible people in any party/movement, etc. No one sane supports these people or believes they speak for any larger group.

      1. Sue Wilson

        It is rude and shouldn’t be said in public places but pretending that the context is similar enough for double standards to apply is pretty ignorant.

      2. Anon in AZ

        I’ve been sitting quietly by while folks with opposing viewpoints bash parties, issues and candidates I believe in. I have a secret fantasy that when the pendulum swings the other direction, friends who share my viewpoint start in on BS so I can point out to them that while I share their views, it’s just not classy to speak that way.

  2. TechChick

    I’ve wondered how to deal with things like this. I can handle political differences but I have a coworker who actively posts thing on social media–(we’re a tech company so following colleagues and being engaged on these platforms is common–that I find extremely offensive. Most recently he was commenting on a story on a local teacher who was being reprimanded for dressing in black-face for Halloween. He’s of the belief that its not a big deal and people are just always crying “racist!” for no reason. It has yet to bleed in to the work environment but it unfortunately really taints my opinion of him.

    1. kac

      On facebook, you can be “friends” with someone, but unfollow them, so their posts don’t show up in your feed. Maybe that would be a good solution here?

      1. Robin

        Yes, that’s one good fb feature. Especially during election years. “Unfollow” but don’t un-friend.

        1. Anontoday

          I recently decided to “clean up” my Facebook friends list. I un-friended people who I’m not really friends with – people from work, friends of friends, etc. – and stopped Following some of the pages that I still want to Like but not see all of the updates. And then I noticed that looking at Facebook has become much more boring! Oh well…

          1. MashaKasha

            I did a major cleanup a year ago and nothing but good things came from that. With all the drama, political weirdness etc removed from my feed, I was actually able to see the posts from my more interesting friends. Before, they used to be buried under a pile of dramatic facebooky stuff.

            I hid people from work and hid myself from the work people a few months ago. It’s been pretty liberating. I feel I can post more than I used to allow myself to, and be more open than I’d previously allowed myself to be. Shared a few articles on our state issue 3, for example. I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that if my coworkers could still see my feed, because I’m that paranoid.

          2. VintageLydia USA

            I’m glad I have a ton of artists for friends who never or rarely post political things (and we feel similarly on most issues so when they do, I don’t mind.) Otherwise my feed would just be baby picture after baby picture with a few pups and kitties thrown in for flavor, lol.

      2. Katniss

        Yup. I did that with someone today after he posted a chart about “crazy vs. hot” for women that was both sexist and transphobic. If I remember right I stopped count at 10 things I found in it that were gross generalizations before I decided it just wasn’t worth my time to see more posts from him.

    2. Aglaia761

      I highly recommend a filter like Social Fixer. It’s not perfect and doesn’t work on the mobile version of facebook. But if you mostly look at facebook through a browser, it will stop 99% of anything you don’t want to see. I have had trouble with shared information coming through, but for the most part, it works really well.

      I’m sure there is a filter app for phones, I’m just too lazy to look for one.

  3. Kuroneko

    I don’t think that this is necessarily racist. It COULD be, but being against illegal immigration isn’t racist in and of itself. The OP quotes her as saying ” refugees and asylum seekers”. Which means we have a jump. So, I don’t think this is necessarily a hostile workplace situation.

    That said, that’s at its best scenario. You don’t want constant whining and complaining about political stuff in the workplace regardless.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I posted this below, but I want to put it up here too where people will see it before responding further:

      I think for the purposes of this letter, debating about whether the views are racist is somewhat besides the point, so I’m going to ask that we not derail discussion on that point. Thank you.

        1. M&M

          I agree that debating whether or not the comments are racist is a moot point here. In general, it seems like the general public is overly offended by *everything* these days. From my perspective, I keep my views on politics, sex, and religion out of the workplace, as it should be. There is plenty to discuss at work (movies, music, pop culture, oh and you know, work!) that we don’t need to discuss the three most offensive topics. I hope that people don’t think it’s ONLY okay to tell the coworker she shouldn’t make those comments at work because they offend the OP. This coworker shouldn’t make these comments whether everyone agrees with her or not – this is not the stuff to discuss at work, period. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on – you don’t talk about it at work.

          1. JessaB

            It’s not so much overly offended, people were always offended, they just speak up more now than was usual in the past.

              1. Toriew

                M&M I may have read your comment the wrong way… but I actually think that it’s great that social media has given a voice to many populations that weren’t able to speak up in the past because they were part of the minority and didn’t have an outlet to do so.

      1. Kuroneko

        Everything the the OP says her co-worker is complaining about is an economic reason. So, you have to make a jump to get to Xenophobic.

        I’m not trying to defend the co-worker. I’m trying to separate people being labeled racist (or whatever) when they actually aren’t.

    2. RVA Cat

      I’m assuming that the OP is in Europe and they’re talking about Syrian refugees, so it’s about race and religion.

      Sorry to Godwin this, but let’s imagine the same conversations happening in 1935, but about the Jews. Not so harmless now is it?

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Godwin! Godwin! Heh.

        But you make an excellent point. My stepfather is a bigot in the name of politics, and I always say things to him like, “That’s how they talked about us 70 years ago, you know,” and he says, “No they didn’t! It’s different” before he ignores me. Infuriating.

    3. neverjaunty

      Nobody said it is a “hostile workplace scenario”. This is Jane being a fanatic; can’t change her mind, won’t change the subject.

        1. NotMe

          Shouldn’t she say something to her boss too? As a manager, I would want to know that this is going on before my employee goes to HR.

    4. Kathleen

      Refugees and asylum seekers is an extremely broad group, though.

      First of all – if a person has legal refugee status, it means they were approved already overseas, and are absolutely entering the US lawfully.

      Asylum is almost the same thing, but a person applies for it from within the United States. So yes, they may have entered unlawfully, but they then proceeded to throw themselves on the mercy of immigration court, and if the case is denied they’ll be placed in removal proceeds (though it’s often years before the case is heard).

      As you seem to be aware of already, we get refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world, of every color (including Caucasian). I have to wonder, though, if this person’s comments are focusing on a very accessible group media-wise, which would probably be Middle Eastern/Syrians at the moment.

      Refugee resettlement agency employee here, couldn’t resist.

        1. The IT Manager

          This! The letter itself doesn’t show any grammatical hint of being from outside the US, but frankly “refugees and asylum seekers” impacting a country’s economy is a high-profile European problem. I would expect an American to make similar complaints about immigrants (illegal or otherwise) but use that particular word rather than “refugees and asylum seekers.”

          1. Ad Astra

            For as much as we try to avoid parsing word choice at AAM, it’s hard not to notice the use of “refugee” over “immigrant.” It’s unusual to hear an American describe new arrivals as refugees, even if the term is accurate.

          2. Brisvegan

            It’s very much language you would hear in Australia, too.

            We have some very big political issues around refugees and asylum seekers at the moment. That is very much the phrase that is used here. The discourse is also very racialised here.

      1. Green

        Yes: refugees are typically legal immigrants in the US. I’m continually appalled that anyone could decide to beat up on refugees (pretending they want to live in refugee camps in third countries for a decade before maybe, just maybe, being sent to a country and maybe, just maybe, being sent to the US in order to get… cable television??), but then you listen to presidential candidates…

    5. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

      I’m leaning on the side of racist. Because what I get from the letter is that this coworker isn’t just disagreeing with illegal immigration, she’s blaming a group of people for her country’s ills and attributing different characteristics to them (e.g. “greedy”). Stereotype based on a race = racism.

      1. voyager1

        I don’t think it is racist. Imagine if 1,000,000 Canadians decided to leave Canada to the USA. There would be a burden to the services in those northern states, pointing that out isn’t racist. Now calling them names or some such that would be different.

        (and yes I chose Canada deliberately)

        1. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

          But that’s not all she is doing. She’s not just saying, “It’s really difficult on our Department of Social Services to provide from the recent influx of immigrants.” She’s saying, “Those greedy immigrants are taking from our government and making rent so damn high.”

          1. voyager1

            Actually that’s thing, the immigrants coming from the war torn areas of the Middle East are taxing and at times breaking the infrastructure of some European countries.

            And not to be mean, but many Americans really don’t get how serious this issue is for Europe.

            The governments of some countries are pushing out their own underprivledged citizens to try and house some of these refugees. I am not trying to negate the negative views that the letter writer is having to deal with. But to be frank, we Americans have never seen a humanitarian crisis of this nature on our shores since probably the Great Depression.

            1. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

              Again, that’s not what the co-worker is arguing. She attributing certain characteristic (the LW gave the example of “greedy) to a group of people. Attributing a characteristic to someone based on someone’s race = racism. Racism in the workplace = hostile work environment.

              I’m not here to talk about the reality of the European refugee crisis, I’m just commenting on a workplace problem.

              1. voyager1

                I don’t think greedy is racist. It isn’t much different then the makers vs takers mantra the GOP used in recent elections. I think it terrible messaging and very divisive but not racist.

                1. Katniss

                  It is racist when you call an entire group of people of the same ethnic group greedy…

                  In my opinion the makers vs. takers mantra is often a racist dogwhistle in how it’s used but I won’t derail with a whole rant about that.

                2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

                  @Katniss

                  Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to say. Racism is the attribution of a characteristic to a group of people based solely on their race.

                3. Alternative

                  The makers vs. takers mantra of the GOP is completely racist. They are pushing the idea that black people only vote for Democrats because they “give them free stuff.”

                4. Green

                  Alternative is exactly right. The “takers vs. the makers” is code for racial minorities as takers. And nobody should be talking about “takers vs. makers” at work either.

                5. Lionness

                  @Zahra,

                  I really, really hope you realize that the Republicans that were in power in the 1860s were very much not the same party as it stands today. Republicans of the 1860s looked a lot like today’s Democrat party and the Democrats of the 1860s looked far more like today’s Republicans. It was FDR’s time when the great switch began.

            2. RVA Cat

              Good to point out, though we did see a localized version of the same strains — and some of the same prejudiced crap being spewed – in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

              1. nm

                Houstonian too? I loved how it was “THE CRIME RATES!!” and then once the official numbers were in, it turned out that most went down, and a few others rose just slightly – normal behavior for a city.

        2. Anonsie

          The thing is, a million white Canadians aren’t rushing into the US*. Millions of people who are predominantly not white and/or not with the same ethnic background as the majority of white Americans are. So as much as it does not specifically identify race or ethnicity in an overt way, it absolutely is identifying race (and specific ones that are going to vary depending on where you live and the larger immigrant populations there) quite directly.

          *Continuing your example even though I get the feeling the LW is not in the US.

          1. voyager1

            I disagree, take a school in the USA and double the size of a class of 25 kids to 45, heck make all the new arrivals WASPs if that makes you feel better. You don’t think people would complain and then blame the new arrivals for the taxing of services? How often does class size come up and we here in the USA don’t even have a whole bunch of people coming into the country.

            The racist drivel is uncalled for, but people are going to be frustrated no matter what nationality or race or whatever is involved.

            1. Katniss

              I think if a bunch of white students suddenly showed up in a school district, a much smaller percentage of people would complain than if it was an influx of students of color, yes. Hell, white students entering schools where they weren’t already a majority has been greeted as a sign of “obvious improvement” of the school.

                1. Katniss

                  There was a fantastic two-part series about this on This American Life a few months back. Worth checking out!

              1. Not So NewReader

                This does not explain the complaints about the Irish and the Germans and other groups of new arrivals. We have been complaining about groups of people for hundreds of years. We have a loooong habit of looking for someone to blame our problems on, and SOMETIMES that someone can be the person in the mirror. Most people can benefit from a self-check.

            2. neverjaunty

              No, they actually wouldn’t. A number of years so, my school district was overwhelmed with a bulge of kids in a particular age band and went nuts trying to get students in classes.

              But these were all upper-middle-class white kids whose families moved to the suburbs when housing prices were affordable. So there was in fact not a whole lot of grumbling about “all those white kids using our tax dollars”.

              1. Anonsie

                But also, that’s not even remotely relevant to the problem here. This coworker is making seriously shady comments about a specific ethnic group. That’s not acceptable regardless of what economic veneer they want to lay on top of it. “Well they might also make shady comments about other ethnic groups if given the opportunity” is not a particularly compelling defense.

                1. Anonsie

                  … I know? I’m chiming in that even if your point were not true (as some folks here would argue it’s not), this would still not be acceptable.

              2. Not me

                Eh. It happened in my school district, too, and it’s still happening. I’m still a little pissed that we ran out of books and desks in my high school classes. Class sizes have only grown since then, even though new schools are being built as quickly as possible. It’s pretty bad for the students.

            3. Lionness

              You know, I’ve never once heard a peep about the Canadian and European illegal immigrants in the States. And believe me, they are here. Mostly from overstaying visas, but here nonetheless. And yet, shockingly enough, no outcry. I wonder why that might be?

    6. Bend & Snap

      I really don’t think this is defensible behavior. Most controversial immigration issues are also racial issues.

    7. Natalie

      It doesn’t sound like this is the US, so who knows what discrimination laws are in play here. But if it was in the US I believe national origin and immigration status are protected classes, so it has just as much hostile work environment potential as race-based comments would.

      1. Cambridge Comma

        I would bet from the vocabulary that the OP is from the UK. Uk law also has the concept of protected groups.

        1. fposte

          Yes, “asylum seekers” isn’t a big US phrase, but I know it’s big in the UK; might be in other countries, too.

    8. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think for the purposes of this letter, debating about whether the views are racist is somewhat besides the point, so I’m going to ask that we not derail discussion on that point. Thank you.

      1. Green

        At the very least, national origin, ethnicity and religion (often the reasons that the refugees are fleeing in the first place) are included in corporate non-discrimination policies.

    9. LuvzALaugh

      +1 . It isn’t racist to be for immigration reform. It is unprofessional to reveal your political leanings at work however. I wonder if OP may have some political bias of her own that is magnifying the situation. She states that the employee is believing everything she reads in the tabloids, well the issue of immigration reform is not a subject for the tabloids it is actual news and referring to her as a racist just because she is over stating the ramifications of the current problem our country faces kind of makes the OP seem to be showing her political leanings in her reaction.

      1. F.

        I agree that this needs to be approached from the idea of being unprofessional as opposed to the content of the speech. Everyone brings their own opinions and ideas about many subjects to work, and it is most professional to leave talk about them outside the door.

      2. Kelly L.

        Exaggerating, and sometimes even outright inventing, horrors associated with immigration is in fact a thing the tabloids do. Immigration itself is regular news, sure. But, for example, if the OP is in Britain as some have speculated, the Daily Mail is an example of a tabloid that runs spurious stories that have an anti-immigrant agenda.

        (Americans reading the Mail online have been a huge boost to the paper, as not all of us over here realize it’s sketchy, and that it would be like a Brit reposting articles about Batboy from the Weekly World News.)

        1. voyager1

          Kelly,
          Very true, the example about the poor of some of these European countries being pushed out for thr refugees I heard on NPR. To me a pretty fair news source. FWIW.

          1. Kelly L.

            But that was something you brought up, not something the OP said was part of her co-worker’s rant. We don’t know the exact content of the rant, but can we take her word for it that it was offensive and tabloidy? OPs shouldn’t have to repeat gross speech for us to believe that they heard it. AAM is not a court of law.

            1. Kelly L.

              (And it sounds like the rant was more along the lines of “sponging” and “greedy” on the part of the refugees themselves, not what governments are doing.)

            2. voyager1

              Gotcha, I guess my point got lost that really sad humanitarian stories aren’t limited to tabloids unfortunately.

          2. De (Germany)

            I have no idea what that NPR story was about – if it was about the two German cases that some media over here likes to cite as “those poor Germans being forced out of their homes”, that story is a lot more complicated than it usually gets reported… If it wasn’t that, just ignore me…

    10. Katie the Fed

      My read is that this isn’t in the US, but actually in Europe. We don’t use the term “refugees and asylum seekers” here often.

    11. Jackie

      I hope this isn’t off-topic, but I just wanted to point out the seeking asylum is a right that is laid out in the Geneva conventions so refugees and asylum seekers are NOT illegal immigrants. Under international law, anyone has the right to seek asylum, whether they have documents or not. It is in fact illegal for governments to turn away asylum seekers at the border; their requests for asylum must first be processed and if refugee status is not granted, then they may be deported.

      One’s political views on immigration law should stay out of the workplace though. :)

  4. voyager1

    I got in early on this one! Okay I agree with AAM on most of what she said. But I disagree with some of her word choice. You don’t want to engage this woman’s views just tell her that it isn’t appropriate for the workplace. Some of AAM’s responses come across as taking an opinion on the subject, which to me is to be avoided. Granted I am American so I get this is probably a European workplace, and refugees have been in the news a lot in Europe , but my non-engagment is always my advice for anything controversial at the workplace.

    1. Student

      People like you are exactly the reason that a handful of sexist men can tell me to my face, in front of my male colleagues and friends, that I shouldn’t be driving a car / working at my job / engaging in my favorite hobbies. People like you stand there silently while this happens. You know what I assume, when you stand there silently while someone vilifies me based on my gender? I assume that you agree with the person harassing me. So does the harasser, when no one steps up to say otherwise.

      People like you never, ever turn around and even bother saying something to me later that indicates you don’t actually feel that way about me. You certainly don’t stand up for me when people say horrible things about me behind my back. If only a handful of you shut this kind of thing down, or merely went out of your way once in a while to let us, the vilified, know you don’t actually agree with it, it’d go a long way in dissuading folks like this that their views should be kept to themselves or in keeping the moral up of the oppressed.

      1. F.

        I don’t believe personal attacks are called for, and in fact are actually prohibited by AAM. Pleases see the How to Comment guidelines in the sidebar. Thank you.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        I agree that it’s important to push back against views like this, and I think that you can do that while simultaneously making it clear that it’s not a debate and the conversation needs to stop (and think some of the lines I suggested in the original post will do that).

        But I don’t think the “people like you” framing is helpful here, where we strive to be kind to each other.

        1. voyager1

          Hi AAM,
          I just figured student was a troll, but since you own this site and also seem to take a shot at me.

          Can you specifically state in my original post what needs to be pushed back on?

          Half a dozen frequent posters stated the same thing, yet you single me out? Just curious that is all.

          1. Kelly L.

            Views like the ones the OP’s co-worker is expressing.

            If I read it right, AAM is not talking about your personal views on the topic but about the question of whether to engage with the co-worker.

      3. voyager1

        I really am at a loss of words, you really didn’t read what I wrote. That or you are just trolling.

        1. Ted Mosby

          I don’t think she’s trolling. You said OP should avoid voicing an opinion on the topic, and a lot of people think that people who listen to racism/ sexism/ homophobia etc and don’t actively say “that’s wrong” are part of the problem.

          1. Lionness

            No, voyager1 said they feel one should shut down the conversation without expressing a viewpoint. Expressing a viewpoint can open up a debate whereas shutting it down can make it clear the conversation isn’t acceptable, without starting a debate on the issue.

      4. Ultraviolet

        I agree with F. and Alison, but I’d like to add that you don’t seem to have understood the post you’re responding to correctly. voyager1 isn’t advocating silence, they’re advising against debating the facts with this person. That is, don’t tell her that she’s wrong because of XYZ, just tell her you don’t want to hear about it. Even if you don’t think that’s sound advice, it’s unreasonable to equate it to silence.

        1. Ted Mosby

          You might disagree with her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the post. Voyager didn’t say not to engage in a debate. He said no to state an opinion. Most of Allison’s answers state an opinion without engaging. And again, while you might not agree with it, equating not speaking up against bigotry to silence isn’t unreasonable at all.

          1. Anna

            I don’t understand your last sentence. Nobody is saying don’t speak up. I can make my feelings perfectly clear by using any of Alison’s suggestions and still not get in to a debate with someone who isn’t coming from a position of reason and therefore will not hear reason. Any number of responses will make it clear what you think about bigotry and still not get in to a discussion, starting with the short but effective, “Wow.”

          2. Ultraviolet

            Okay, I reread voyager’s post a few times and it does seem ambiguous to me now. Some parts of their comment support my initial interpretation, but others contradict it in ways I hadn’t appreciated. I should have foreseen that when I claimed someone else had misunderstood! Sorry, Student.

            I do think there’s a significant difference in impact between silence and ending the conversation without explicitly disagreeing, but it is generally less of a difference than the one between silence and ending the conversation with explicit disagreement. So I disagree with anyone who argues that either of those differences is negligible. But I had the latter difference in mind when I used the word “unreasonable,” and not the former.

            1. voyager1

              The fourth sentence specifically stated, tell the offender that the topic is inappropriate and not engage her in her views. Engage to me means debate or discuss. Just shut the conversation down.

              1. Ultraviolet

                Sorry if my lack of understanding has caused any awkwardness for you! In case you’re curious, I wasn’t sure whether you thought OP should tell Jane “it’s inappropriate to discuss this at work, regardless of which opinions you’re expressing” or “your opinions are offensive and have racist undertones, which is definitely inappropriate for work.”

    2. INTP

      Yeah, I agree with you if this is a person you need to maintain a good working relationship with and your only goal is to make the comments stop, not to challenge the beliefs behind them. Engaging this type of person, in my experience, can sometimes result in a lot more comments, or them discounting what you say because they think you’re motivated by disapproval or dislike for your politics. As you say, it puts the focus on the wrong thing – it implies that you think the comments are not okay because they’re incorrect, and if only you knew what she knows (in her mind, not in objective reality!), you’d be okay with them. The reason that they’re not okay is because they’re controversial and potentially hurtful and alienating to some, and comments of that nature are not okay no matter how correct or incorrect they are. (I mean, I refrain from speaking my true thoughts about Trump supporters at work for this reason, even though I certainly think I’m right.)

      Don’t get me wrong, I think that opening yourself up to conflict to stand up to bigoted opinions is a noble thing. But if that’s not the hill the OP wants to die on, and the goal is just to make this person shut up as effectively as possible, I think focusing on potential business impact is the way to go. “Jane, while you are absolutely entitled to your opinions, I’m sure you know that it’s a controversial issue, and I’m afraid that a client might complain and place our department in a bad light/someone who disagrees might report to HR and cause difficulties for our department/whatever might reasonably happen. I think it would be best if you don’t discuss this openly in the workplace.”

    3. Lizzy

      Telling someone that his or her bigoted opinions in the workplace are not tolerated is not engaging their views, unless you choose to enter a long, heated debate. Alison uses succinct wording to as a way to end the conversation, not continue engaging it. If this person continues to keep ranting, you can walk way to further illustrate your point.

      Your use of silence just sidesteps the issue and allows the coworker with the controversial opinion to think he or she can continue to speak so freely.

    4. Elsajeni

      I think this is a good point. It comes down to what your goal is — do you want to change her opinions, or do you just want her to quit sharing them so freely? I think a lot of people tend to err on the side of “No, I can show her the light! If I just explain it well enough, I can convince her of my position!”, which… it’s possible, sure! But it’s very difficult, and it might never happen, and in the meantime you’re letting yourself in for a lot of tedious arguing and listening to opinions that you find offensive and don’t want to hear. Whereas, if you go in with the goal of “I will get her to stop telling me about her opinion on this subject” or “I will get Bob to quit telling me racist jokes” or whatever, that’s a lot easier to achieve, and it may even come with the bonus that the coworker/Bob/whoever will eventually think “Wow, NOBODY likes that joke. Maybe I should stop telling it, like, ever,” or “Huh, a bunch of people I like and respect seem to disapprove of my views on refugees. I wonder if they’re on to something?”

  5. Stephanie

    Oof, yeah. This is uncomfortable. I have a coworker (who’s senior to me) who spouts some kind of extreme views from time to time. I just use “I’m not comfortable discussing that at work.”

  6. neverjaunty

    OP, she will probably try to say things like “but it’s true!” or “I have a right to an opinion!” Do not engage. The discussion should not be about the right or wrongness of her views, but that you don’t want to hear them and the workplace is not an appropriate place to announce these things loudly. Make it clear that 1) you are not going to argue it with her and 2) the discussion topic needs to change.

    “Nevertheless, Jane, I’m changing the subject. So, what did you think of Wakeen’s project summary?”

    “I’d rather not discuss that. Fergus, have you talked to Percival in accounting, I think he has a house for rent?”

    i.e., refuse and redirect. If she still won’t shut up, then walk away from her.

    1. LBK

      I agree that just getting her to stop saying it in the office will be more successful than trying to tell her she’s wrong overall, but damn if that isn’t frustrating. It’s so easy for these kinds of people to find others who reinforce their views (it’s really easy on sites like Reddit or 4chan and, hell, sometimes they just have to listen to our US presidential candidates) that I don’t think “keep it at home” is sufficient. That doesn’t stop people from acting on this in other ways and from passing on that belief to their children or anyone else they have influence over.

      Obviously the workplace isn’t the right place to take this stand most of the time, but I just hate that we have to settle for sweeping racist attitudes under the rug in the name of keeping order in the office.

      1. neverjaunty

        It’s not so much sweeping them under the rug, as realizing that people like Jane are not going to be politely reasoned out of their views at the office, and so the best alternative is to make it clear that nobody else even tolerates her views to the point of wanting to politely listen to them for thirty seconds.

        1. LBK

          Right, I fully understand why that’s what you have to do when you’re in the office, but it’s still frustrating.

        2. Student

          You assume that the reason to stand up to Jane is to change her thoughts. It’s not. It’s for the people she’s attacking, to show THEM that you don’t hate them, to show THEM that you think the Janes of the world are wrong, to show THEM that they don’t deserve harassment at work or in a business.

          1. Rana

            Yes. And to discourage people like Jane to stop expressing her thoughts by making it clear that they are not acceptable for public sharing.

          2. neverjaunty

            Please go back and read the comment I was responding to.

            And please don’t make assumptions about who is or is not one of “them”.

    2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

      Have you heard of the parenting technique called Love and Logic? Because this is what you’re comment reminds me of.

      (1) it’s a lifesaver in my house, and (2) Rule no. 1 is do not engage in an argument. Don’t give them anything to argue with i.e. don’t add fuel to the fire. You use phrasing similar to what you suggested, “I love you too much to argue about this” or “Maybe so, but what did I say?” And of course you say it calmly and with no emotion.

      Anyway, just thought I’d point out that a lot of the parenting techniques I use on my toddler apply to difficult adults.

      1. Sarah

        I used the How to Talk so Kids will listen (and listen so kids will talk) techniques at work all the time. I didn’t realize it until a few years ago when one of my parents pointed it out. I, apparently, was just mimicking how they dealt with me as a kid and applying it to a troubled team.

    3. Golden Yeti

      I would agree with this and with voyager1 above. What the coworker is saying isn’t right, but if you counterattack by really emphasizing that you don’t agree, it’s kind of stoking the fire you’re trying to put out (that being, don’t bring volatile personal opinions into the workplace). I like the approach of:
      -“This isn’t the time or place for that discussion.”
      -“I’m not getting into this at work.”
      -“There are more important things going on here right now that we need to deal with.”
      -“We need to accomplish X right now, not get into this non-work issue.”
      etc.

      I also like the notion of changing the subject to something work-related. Everyone is there to work, after all.

      1. Anna

        Why not emphasize it, though? There’s no way to engage if all you’re saying is, “Hm, I don’t agree and I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it now.”

        1. Golden Yeti

          That could work, too. But as others have pointed out, some people are basically looking to jump into these debates, and they’ll jump on a hair trigger (“Why don’t you agree? This is ruining our society! etc. etc.–basically what INTP said below) . I don’t know how “trigger happy” this coworker is. If the person is reasonable, they’ll take the hint, shut up about it, and get back to work. If not, they’ll launch into an inappropriate diatribe anyway, hence fuelling the fire. It really depends on how “out there” this person is.

          I’m not saying the discussions aren’t important or shouldn’t be had at all, but the work you are there to do shouldn’t get sidelined *because* of them. Either way, HR should know about it, as those kinds of issues are a major component of their role–they could spend an hour meeting with this person, if that’s what it takes. Aside from that, though, if discussion can be either shut down at work or redirected to meeting after work, I see that as the best outcome.

    4. INTP

      Yeah, I agree with this. Engaging this type of person can just turn it into a “But the brainwashed liberal media just doesn’t respect my views! I shall refuse to give in to this persecution and shut up for the comfort of those who don’t respect me!” battle. Especially when you’re implying that the reason she can’t state her views in the office is that they’re incorrect (though I think they are), rather than because they might be subjectively hurtful to some people (rightly so). I think saying that you disagree to her face is a noble thing, but not necessarily the most effective in terms of preserving a working relationship while convincing this person to STFU.

    5. Stranger than fiction

      This is why Alison suggested the additional step of speaking with HR. If the coworker doesn’t believe her or thinks she’s just saying it because she doesn’t agree, it’s HR’s job to set her straight and tell her it’s inappropriate and can get the company in trouble.

  7. Rocket Scientist

    I have a customer like this; I always change the subject or walk off when he’s doing this. Unfortunately, talking to him would result in no change to his behavior.

    I also like the standard answer that Carolyn Hax uses which is to let your jaw drop (because it probably is anyway) and just say “Wow” in a stunned voice.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, I had a customer that used to like to talk about how great Hitler was.

      “OH, MY! LOOK at the time! I have to get this, this and this done in the next hour. Sorry to cut you short but I have got to get working here! You have a great day and take care!”

      I only had to do that a couple times and he stopped coming in to chat.

  8. CoffeeLover

    I really wish I worked in your office. I came to Canada at a very young as a refugee, but you wouldn’t know it unless I told you (non-visible minority with no accent). My family worked hard to become upper middle class tax payers (which seems to be her gripe). I would love to see her reaction if I were to say, “You know my family and I are refugees”.

    1. neverjaunty

      My experience with similar discussions is that people stammer to explain why they didn’t mean YOU, though, and then keep digging until they slink away.

      1. Anna

        Which is A-Okay! I love when a jerk’s radically wrong viewpoints are challenged. It might help them remember to watch what they say and to whom.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          I love it too. I love the deer-in-the-headlights look they get. One of my friends is a college professor, and one of her students made an antisemitic remark, not knowing she’s Jewish. She looked him straight in the eye and said calmly “I’m Jewish. And I’m your professor.” He freaked out. Wish I’d been there.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I have such mixed feelings about this approach. I’ve done stuff like that with anti-semitic remarks, but I worry that the subtext is that the only reason the person has to be mortified is that I turned out to be Jewish — and that if I weren’t, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. I want them to know it’s messed up no matter who they’re talking to.

            1. neverjaunty

              Sure, but on another level, you’re also whacking them with a valuable lesson about making assumptions that, say, you can tell whether or not somebody’s Jewish because how they look and act. If it’s somebody who you can otherwise talk to (like a family member or co-worker), then you can always follow up with “And you know, it’s really not okay to make anti-Semitic remarks, period.” (If it’s not somebody you could say that to, they were probably not worth the effort.)

              1. Anna

                Exactly. The reason people say it in front of someone is because they are assuming you a) agree and b) are just like them. It might be a valuable lesson in making assumptions.

  9. Mike C.

    Wow, this gal really hits two of my biggest pet peeves – an inability to properly evaluate news sources and an inability to discuss politics without being a complete jackass.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I hear ya! And I think that is what murkies the waters here. She should not be discussing this stuff in the first place. The fact that she seems lost and totally confused is hugely distracting from the main goal, which is she needs to stop.

  10. LoFlo

    I work at a university, and our department administrator does a similar thing. A good percentage of our faculty and students are Asian.

    FWIW at my last job because I didn’t object or discuss at work the changes our governor made to state employees’ labor contracts I was branded as an evil Republican. My manager’s wife is a teacher, and to this day, I think he held me not verbalizing my opinion against me. I never got a raise after that.

  11. MashaKasha

    At last ExJob, we had a policy – no talking about politics and religion in the workplace. Worked like a charm. I sat next to two political extremist types, whom I’d both heard talking about politics before the policy was put into place. I guarantee you that, had they been allowed to chat on these subjects amongst themselves all day every day, I’d have had a very hard time getting out of bed and coming in to work every morning! But they knew they couldn’t. At lunch one of them would come sit in the other’s cubicle and they would whisper quietly to each other. Worked for me!! It goes without saying that they probably would’ve found my political views just as repulsive as I did theirs. But I didn’t talk politics in front of them either, which, I presume, worked for them. This would have to come from HR, though, and apply not just to “Jane”, but to everyone in the office.

    1. pony tailed wonder

      I wish medical office visits would be prohibited from discussion in my work place. Twice, I have had two different employees tell me all about their STD status’s and what the symptoms were, etc. One then later asked me out. Ick. They were both nice people but their boundaries are not my boundaries.

    2. SherryD

      No politics or religion talk at work is a great guideline. Thankfully, most people self-enforce, especially when they realize they’re not among like-minds.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Some people get energy from talking about controversial things. Others get energy from talking about gossip. If you watch it becomes clear who is doing what. The common factor is that these people cannot function unless they have something to be angry about or something to be in shock and awe over. I suspect OP’s coworker derives energy from talking about these “hot topics”, it helps her move through her day.

  12. Bowserkitty

    Ah yes, this is one of the things I do not miss about my former workplace. I had a coworker who would frequently use racial and homophobic slurs about other workers, make lewd comments about his boss, and really enjoyed calling people “fatty” – myself included.

    Wish I had done something about it, but maybe it doesn’t matter now that I’m not there anymore, at least not for me. Just one more bad thing about that place.

    1. Not So NewReader

      A marginally helpful thought: Some people only have any sense of self worth if they are tearing others down.

      I am sorry you went through that.

  13. Anonsie

    You know, after reading the example cases from the last legal hostile workplace post a ways back, I’m increasingly doubtful anything counts under the legal definition. There were a lot of cases just like this (but with multiple offending coworkers or managers) where the employee lost the suit on the grounds that the incidents weren’t frequent enough even though each individual one was pretty bad and there were quite enough overall to show it was a pattern.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      This isn’t about proving it in a court of law, though. It’s about whether your average HR department would want to shut it down, and they probably would.

      1. Anonsie

        Oh sure, whether or not an issue would win in court (especially if it went to a jury) is a completely separate issue from how the company itself handles it internally. HR/the company overall should recognize that this is a) not professionally appropriate and b) potentially a legal liability and act accordingly. I’m just musing.

    2. neverjaunty

      But remember that unless you follow professional legal news, you’re not seeing the cases of “And then the company settled before it went to trial”, or “the judge/jury found this was a hostile work environment and then the company paid the verdict”. Outside of that, you tend to only see news on high-profile cases or ones that reporters think are sufficiently weird or outrageous. And of course because it’s a subjective and flexible test, opinions will differ.

  14. thisthisthisthis

    I’d like to share my story which has some similarities to this situation. I am the receptionist at my office and the guy who I sit closest to, loves to talk about politics and controversial news topics. Since he wasn’t around so much I let him talk and I would try not to listen to whatever he said. A couple of months into my new job, he mentioned something about Gays and it did not sit well with me, and even though I was super nervous (he has worked at this company for 15 year plus and is basically my boss’ boss’ boss right hand man) I told him that I found what he said offensive and to please stop speaking that way around me. He was pretty receptive and stopped talking about that particular topic. Later I noticed that some other veteran coworkers would get a kick out of his point of view and would often rouse him with, “Hey did you hear about such and such” and then he would say some ridiculous things that were surely regurgitations of Fox News was saying that particular week. I felt that most of his comments although political in nature where racially charged and very prejudiced against the Gay community. For the most part I tried to ignore but then I finally couldn’t take it anymore. Since I talked to him he did cut down on the comments so I thought this time I would write him and email. I wrote him an email stating that since I last spoke to him about the comments I have been hearing others that also offend me and that I could take this to HR if we cannot come to an agreement. I am happy to say that after that we talked, (I do not do well with confrontation so I was a little shaky) but the difference is tremendous. I no longer feel dread when he comes into work. Maybe putting something in paper helps because then they can read what exactly is going on and there is a record of you talking to them about it.

    1. AW

      I like the idea of following up with an email if just saying something doesn’t work. Bonus: You can show HR that you already tried to deal with it yourself. It also prevents the offender from trying to claim that, “No one’s ever complained to me about it!”.

  15. Jady

    As another option to be less confrontational (if you choose so):

    “It’s inappropriate to discuss these kinds of topics in the workplace. You could offend a customer or coworker, and that’s would reflect badly if they complained to management.”

    If you want to be confrontational then that’s fine, but not everyone wants to go that route.

    1. Not So NewReader

      This is where I go to in my mind. IF the coworker ever changes her point of view it will take a long time and it will be a huge amount of energy. As an employee it’s not my job to make sure that people have a particular point of view. I am there to do what the company needs me to do.

      I would like to think that by shutting it down, over time the coworker will start to think this through. It could take years. But after years of not being able to make these remarks willy-nilly, the coworker might turn introspective and reconsider her views entirely. It’s a long shot, but it is a thought that throws some hope into the situation for me.

      I have a friend that makes racist remarks from time to time. He does not see the remarks as racist. So the best I can do is go one incident at a time. “Please do not use that word around me.” Or, “Not all X’s have Y trait. Please don’t say that around me.” He IS sincerely baffled by this process. BUT, he does as I request. No microwave answers here, it’s all going into a crock pot and simmering for a while.
      Conversely, I will say my friend has his own basis to be protected under the law. People of his heritage have been treated horribly for hundreds of years. My friend is equally baffled when I point out that people should not be talking about people of his heritage in that manner, either. He will relate stories from his life (horrible stuff) and I will say. “This is WRONG. No one should be doing this to you.” And judging from the puzzled look on his face, not too many people have taken the time to talk with him about this stuff.

      I could not sink this amount of time/energy into a coworker during a work day.

    2. SimonTheGrey

      I have to use this tactic (a version of it) on my dad. I love him very much but he has some views I disagree with and has become more rigid in those views as I grew older. I recognize that it is who he is. I also understand (from long and bitter experience) that me arguing with him just leads to us fighting, as he also hates to be “proven” wrong. So when he starts, I disengage. “Love you, Dad, but I am not going to talk about this. Let’s talk about Sherlock/Dr. Who/NCIS instead.” “Dad, let’s not; we’ll just get worked up.” “Dad, this isn’t a conversation for Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s table it.”

  16. Juniperloki

    Reminds me of a quote from Sense and Sensibility – we should restrict our remarks to the weather.

    1. Noah

      Pretty much. Isn’t there a saying about not discussing sex, politics, or religion in certain scenarios?

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      Ha! I used to work at a kid’s program where sex, religion and politics were off-limits topics with kids. People would complain that they couldn’t have natural conversation (really, you wanted to talk to that 7 year old about your sex life?). It’s not that hard. I like “who’s lost a tooth lately?”

    3. Kelly L.

      My go-to is pets. It seems like it’s the one topic I can happily discuss with people of any political persuasion.

      1. Juniperloki

        I always like movies as a topic – there’s always suggesting a movie someone hasn’t seen. But pets definitely never fails.

  17. Chai Chocolate

    I am having the exact same problem! Except my co-worker will not stop talking about the Missou event. Multiple coworkers have asked her to stop talking about it, but other coworkers egg her on/bring it up. It’s been hours a day every day since the news broke. I haven’t talked to management or HR thought because I am new and I already struggle having good relationships with coworkers.

  18. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

    You know, I am not a hateful person and don’t generally go around saying things that might be perceived as such. But there have been plenty of times in my life when someone who loved me said “hey, I don’t know if you realize how that comes across, but…”. I learned something from these interactions (not necessarily about racism, etc. – even just a lack of diplomacy). While it might seem obvious from where we are standing that someone’s comment is objectionable, there could be any number of reasons why they don’t realize it is.

    Recently, one of my parents made what I felt like was a super-duper offensive comment about a person with mental illness. But you know what? I work in a mental-health related field, and I think about the nuances of this stuff a lot. For whatever reason, they don’t have mental illness at the front of their mind and are basically just repeating what they’ve heard or read. Part of me wanted to say “well, I’m glad I’m an adult and we don’t need to agree on how to think!”. But that doesn’t help anything.

    It’s almost always worth trying to point this stuff out to someone – they might appreciate knowing how they are coming across.

    1. LBK

      I agree that if you’re up for it, education can sometimes be powerful in these situations. I think the one caveat is that especially if you’re a member of the group that’s being spoken against, you’re never under any obligation to educate people. You absolutely can if you’re up for it, but I hate when people say “Well why don’t you just explain why it’s offensive instead of getting all mad?” as if it’s the responsibility of every minority to serve as a representative for their demographic.

      (I’m not at all saying that’s what you’re implying, either, just chiming in with my 2 cents on the overall concept of responding to ignorance with education.)

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Absolutely. And frankly, it might depend on how much you care about that person. If your investment is low, taking the rest of a negative reaction might not be worth it to you. But I do think that good things happen in the world when we kindly challenge offensive or hateful speech.

        This is indirect vs. direct feedback, but I know that I’ve learned a lot about racism and privilege from what others have posted on Facebook lately. Even if I haven’t replied or engaged in a conversation, I have realized that I haven’t really understood some of the nuance and depth of these topics.
        .

        1. Not So NewReader

          Many people will say our society is going to hell in a hand basket. But I feel that we have grown in a few areas, and one is what you are talking about here, Ashley. We do have the “conversations” on the net, we have articles that explain the many layers of an issue and we have a higher awareness of our actions/words. These are good changes that I have seen in my life time. Do we have a long way to go? Yep. But we have roads to get there,that we did not have before.

        2. LBK

          That’s a good point – it’s probably not worth it with random one-off people, but might be more worth the investment if you have an established relationship (and will probably be more likely to work).

          Twitter has been my main resource for this kind of information. It’s so easy for a good discussion or a link to a good article to get signal boosted there and make its way on to your feed. Social media is such a double-edged sword – it’s so easy for it to harbor all kinds of awful hate speech and harassment (just read any of the replies to Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn or anyone else who’s been a target of GamerGate) but it can also provide a wonderful forum for conversations and promotion of powerful insights.

        3. Formica Dinette

          I don’t do Facebook, but I have had the same experience with Twitter. I still have a lot to learn, but I have gained so much knowledge that I could never get through traditional media or people I know IRL.

    2. Ad Astra

      I agree that it’s usually worth bringing up at least once. Sometimes people are more receptive to feedback — especially diplomatically delivered feedback — than you’d expect. There are plenty of people whose minds just can’t be changed, but they’re not always the people you expect. After all, many of us were once really, painfully, maybe even offensively wrong about an issue.

    3. Not So NewReader

      I love how your loved one addressed this with you.

      Times change and the meanings of words change.

      When my aunt was growing up in the 1920s the expression “deaf and dumb” was used to describe a medical condition where a person could not hear/talk. It was the norm for the time. Fast forward in the 80s and 90s my aunt was still using that term. My cousin and I had a chat with her. It took a bit of persuading, but we finally convinced her not to use the term any more. In the end my aunt did understand that we were helping her.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Yes. Still trying to get a loved one to stop calling people “invalid”. They are an invalid person? No.

  19. Mena

    You are her peer and really are not in a position to tell her what to say (or not) so “Please don’t say that sort of thing at work” isn’t a viable option.

    But you can tell her how you feel: “I don’t like that; please don’t say that around me” or “I find that offensive” and walk away will send her the hint that you don’t agree with her and she doesn’t have a warm audience with you. You can only control how you respond to her when she says these things.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I actually disagree with that. It might be an organizational culture thing, but I really want all of my people to be willing to say “that’s not how we do things here” when something’s not right. I love overhearing people do this. It means that those who call out inappropriate behavior are invested in our culture and professionalism. Often, these interactions put an immediate stop to the behavior (inappropriate jokes, barefoot interns, rudeness to a client, etc.) and it never needs to become a larger issue.

      If it doesn’t stop, or if it’s particularly bad, this might not be the right approach, but peers holding each other accountable is generally a good thing in my book.

      1. Anna

        I agree. It doesn’t matter if it’s a peer or not. If you refrained from speaking up simply because you’re a peer, there would be a lot of redirection and professional pointers that would never get passed along. In most cases you can pull the “I’ve found this helpful” method. That doesn’t necessarily work in this particular situation.

      2. Not So NewReader

        I agree. While there are some things that I would never mention to a peer, this is one of those things that I would have no problem.

      3. AW

        Yes, this. I can’t think of a company that wouldn’t want co-workers telling a peer not to do something that’s expressly forbidden by policy and/or is a liability to the company in some way. In the time it takes to get someone higher up to speak to the offending employee, the damage may already be done. The company isn’t going to fire someone for *preventing* a scandal, accident, damage to reputation, etc. (If they did, you don’t want to work some place that protects that sort of behavior anyway.)

        In fact, I can think of several areas where employees are explicitly told they can or are even required to hold peers accountable. Ethics and safety issues come to mind.

  20. Dr. Pepper Addict

    I worked with a girl once, who on voting day, asked every customer she came in contact with, who they were voting for. So I know how uncomfortable that can make you OP, I definitely sympathize.

    1. Anon for this 1

      A quote from my awesome boss when he was asked that question: “Oh, I’m going to write myself in.”

      Knowing him, pretty sure he and I canceled each other out that day, but I LOVED his answer!

      1. Ad Astra

        Some people just have a gift for diplomatically avoiding nosy questions. Your boss is an inspiration.

  21. Suzanne

    I worked in this kind of environment for a while. It had multiple other problems as well, so I eventually quit and moved on, but I did learn that people like this woman live in a bubble and don’t get that saying things like this could be inappropriate for work. To them, they are just speaking the truth, truth no different than stating that it’s raining or that traffic was bad this morning. The way this woman talks about refugees is, to her, factual information not open to any interpretation or a differing opinion.
    Yes, mention to her that these comments are inappropriate for work, but don’t be surprised if she mystified why.

  22. Elena Walch

    In all fairness, most of you are not in Europe, so you do not understand. I have had friends and boyfriends of all backgrounds; it is not xenofobic to not want to have these refugees in your country (of whist most of are not Syrian, as Germany has snapped up all of the Syrians as they tend to be doctors, professors, etc – high quality immigrants) but are africans or bangladeshi, whom I have talked to personally and which state that they hate our country and are just here for the money.

    When you are afraid to go to your home, which several years ago was secure and fine, but now is full of people whose culture treats women like objects, who try to touch your body while you walk by – trust me, by American standards, you become racist pretty fast.

    Food for thought.

    1. The Bimmer Guy

      Whether or not you believe those things, here in the United States, it’s unprofessional and unwelcome to spout them in the workplace, especially if you work with people outside the company.

      1. blackcat

        To be snapped up! Like the sheets on sale!

        I do think that there may be a point to saying that, perhaps a policy has favored “highly skilled” or “highly educated” immigrants in a way that is not productive overall. But I know a lot of “highly skilled” people whom I would not call “high quality.” There are quite a few educated assholes out there.

        1. De (Germany)

          Yeah, I wonder how we managed to do that (snap them up).

          You know, people in Germany are actually saying the same thing ‘but we got 1 million and they are not even the good ones! And they hate Germany!” Funny how that works…

      2. MashaKasha

        So, as an immigrant, how do I go about having my quality assessed? I want a certified organic stamp… it will appeal to my hipster friends.

        1. Formica Dinette

          Like a tramp stamp? No–wait! A full sleeve tat would probably be more likely to appeal to your hipster friends. ;)

          1. MashaKasha

            Hah! Good idea! On second thought, I think I’ll have it say “rated 99 on Metacritic. With subtitles”!

    2. Shannon

      Am I the only old fashioned person who doesn’t talk politics with people who aren’t family or super close friends? And given how my politics differ from many of my family members, I don’t even talk politics with most of my family. To paraphrase Miss Manners, you do not talk about politics, sex or religion at the dinner table.

      It doesn’t matter if the offender is pro or anti immigrant. It doesn’t matter if the offender is constantly harping on about how much she hates the color orange. It’s having a detrimental effect on their working relationship and needs to stop.

      1. MashaKasha

        When my dad was alive, I had to institute a rule, “no politics at dinner table”. Otherwise, he’d ruin every holiday dinner by spouting stuff that would make Donald Trump embarrassed, and yelling at and/or insulting any of us who’d object. My dad was a great guy, but his political views, that he felt very strongly about, shifted WAY to the right in the last 5-10 years of his life; and, as he confessed once, he was hoping he’d be able to convert us too if he talked about those issues in front of us often enough, and sent me enough forward emails. I just wrote it off as part of dad being in his 70s. But I didn’t want to hear him carry on about it anyway.

        I came up with that policy after, in 2004, he compared us to “the Jews that lived in Germany in the 1930s that voted for Hitler”… all because we told him we were voting for Kerry… My whole side of our family is Jewish (my ex-husband isn’t, but he was as appalled as I was.) It was the last freakin straw. Sometimes dad would forget and slip into a political conversation during a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and my kids would remind him, “no politics at dinner, grandpa.”

        So, no, you are not the only old-fashioned one. There are so many other subjects to talk about. Why does it have to be politics? Geez.

    3. Anna

      If that’s what can push a person in to racism, they probably were not that far from racist to start with. It’s not an excuse.

      1. Alison Read

        Wait a minute! She said she’s dealing with being sexually harassed and physically assaulted. I think if I encountered the same treatment I would certainly have my guard up a little more for self preservation. All of the PC babble will not change the fact that some cultures find it acceptable to treat women in a manner that is completely unacceptable in other (my) cultures.

        1. LBK

          It may be more blatant in other cultures, but I really don’t think there’s many countries (or any, really) that don’t have some level of objectification and subjugation of women built into their culture. We absolutely have an undercurrent of it in the US; that’s what a lot of feminist discussion is around here, because we’re realizing that just changing the laws and getting people to stop openly saying that women are sex objects doesn’t mean people stopped thinking that way and acting accordingly. It’s not like sexual harassment and rape have magically disappeared from every country that doesn’t have a high immigrant population.

        2. Kelly L.

          But sexual harassment happens in all cultures. Like I said below, I’ve had to deal with a pretty sizable amount of it…from American white guys. The problem of misogyny is bigger than any one culture.

        3. MashaKasha

          There’s a huge difference between not wanting to be sexually harassed and physically assaulted, and assuming that all people of X origin are going to do that, so if they’re moving in, then “there goes the neighborhood”.

          There were a TON of Syrian students living in my college dorm, for example. Some treated women like objects. Others didn’t. It’s not a genetic thing that one ethnicity is born with and the other is not.

    4. Anna

      Also, if you think that in the United States there isn’t currently a HUGE conversation around immigrants because we aren’t talking about Syrians here, you are misinformed.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yup. Elena’s comment actually…could almost be paraphrased into something one of our public figures said not that long ago, about a totally different group. Because no matter who’s being racist against whom, the fears always seem to be the same–what if They take our jobs? What if They are sexually deviant?

            1. LBK

              If you’re trying to assert that Trump was misquoted or that he didn’t say that, you are mistaken. Go watch the speech – his single caveat is “I’m sure there are some good ones”.

              1. Anna

                Yeah, the difference between Palin and Trump is that Palin’s was a joke comedians started. Trump didn’t need to have words put in his mouth; he’s actually said it. On camera. That can be seen easily on YouTube. And has been actually quoted. And he’s defended saying it. So…*shrug*

    5. Tea

      The message that I got from your post is: “I make all sorts of assumptions about immigrants (who I can conveniently rate on a quality scale of low to high quality, like sashimi grade fish or leather couches), and think that the statements of a few can speak for an entire ethnic identity.”

      I don’t think the problem is that “you become racist pretty fast,” it’s that you were already racist to begin with.

    6. Not So NewReader

      Going the opposite direction, let’s say that everything that you wrote here is true, just for the sake of clarity. Then that is a subject for communities to discuss and work at as a group. It is not an appropriate topic for a work place where one should be focused on one’s work.
      My bias is that if we are going to complain about anything then we have a responsibility to try to help find solutions. Complaining and fixing go hand-in-hand. Work places are not the proper form to fix society’s concerns. If the complaints are legit then that needs to be discussed during non-work hours.

      For the company’s part, in what you describe, the company can make sure that all people have a safe work environment.

      1. Wanna-Alp

        Same here. Nothing to do with whether it’s Europe or not.

        Anti-refugee sentiments are absolutely not welcome in many workplaces in Europe. Also see the many “Refugees Welcome” campaigns that have been happening in many cities in Europe and grass-roots attemps to help people.

        Whatever the source of your views and how events have shaped your opinions, it is a highly inflammatory topic to discuss in the workplace and has no business there; just the existence of such conversations marginalises refugees/immigrants and makes them feel very unwelcome. That does absolutely nothing to make human existence more positive as a whole.

    7. Kat M2

      To be fair, most cultures treat women like objects, including so called “enlightened” Western ones. And you would hate a country too if they treated you like a burden and a drain, but you had to be there because it was your only chance to give your kids something better. Not at all a justification for being racist.

      1. Kelly L.

        Heh, yeah. Anyone who thinks cornfed Midwestern white guys don’t sexually harass should have tried going to school with me. :/

  23. The Bimmer Guy

    I’ve dealt with these kinds of people too. Expect the worst-case scenario when you tell her you’re offended and that you’d like it to stop, which is for her to blame your discomfort on you (“I just say things; it’s not my fault if people take them the wrong way”), and just don’t respond after she does this.

    1. Not So NewReader

      “But it is under your control not to say these things. And that is what you need to do.”

      If a person starts sounding like a five year old child, then we have to remind them that they are adults.

  24. Pointy Haired Boss

    Those responses seem a little adversarial to me — I mean, what if she had been talking about marijuana legalization or another topic that some find offensive but you wouldn’t personally? If you heard someone say, “Your beliefs about marijuana are disturbing to hear, and I’d like you to stop making these comments around me.” would that seem reasonable, or a little excessive?

    I would go for, “We tackle pretty complex problems here at work, and often everyone is under pressure; talking about topics people have strong opinions about like this just encourages us to argue, which distracts us from the real work at hand and makes us look bad in front of our customers. Maybe we can save that topic for drinks after work or something.”

      1. Green

        Except OP has zero interest in hearing this person’s offensive thoughts on refugees at drinks after work and has no need to pretend that she does.

          1. Green

            Why say that though? There are about a thousand other suggestions here that you could say that much more accurately capture what OP means without (a) implying that she’d like to discuss this further, (b) implying she would like to hang out with this colleague after work, when she has no interest in or intention of doing so and (c) further mixing the boundaries with this person about friendship vs. professional colleagues.

          2. Anna

            I agree with Green. It’s best to just shut the door on the conversation and not offer any sort of opening. Any time you disagree with someone it can be seen as adversarial, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be firm, polite, and give no quarter.

    1. Kelly L.

      To me, I think the line is that marijuana is not a person, and if you say something for or against marijuana, you’re not directly insulting people. (There are racial issues in the history and enforcement of drug laws, but not everyone knows that.) The argument could be made more personal, but it’s not inherently so.

      This co-worker is not just discussing immigration policy in the abstract or debating what the government should do. She’s saying “Group X is (character traits).” That’s bashing huge numbers of people based on race or religion or nationality. That’s where it goes beyond “politics” and into something nastier.

      1. voyager1

        But people have strong views on marijuana though. It is also a political topic. That was what the example was conveying.

    2. techfool

      Mentioning marijuana every day would be a problem. It seems that the LW is saying these comments are frequent.
      I’ve pulled people up for saying things that are racist or homophobic. I say “that’s racist!” or “no-one cares about that anymore!” but only when it’s a repeat offender. If someone says a one-off thing I let it go. I’m not the thought police.

  25. Middle Name Jane

    It goes both ways. I consider myself an Independent, but tend to vote Republican. *I* get offended when liberal co-workers spout off at work and assume that everyone is enamored of President Obama and eager to vote for Hillary Clinton.

    Bottom line? Political talk doesn’t belong at work. I keep my mouth shut about this at work, and I think others should do the same.

    1. Anna

      Still not the same thing. People are saying things about a public figure whose policies you may not agree with. And you’re absolutely right, it still doesn’t belong at work BUT it’s not at the level of saying something racist. I imagine that if someone had a problem with the president because of something racist, you would approach it differently than if it were just a policy matter. I know I would because one can be discussed rationally and one cannot.

  26. UK HR bod

    The wording in the letter sounds like it could be a UK workplace – although I guess it would also fit for a lot of European countries at the moment. If that’s the case though, if she is making remarks that are racist (I’m not making a judgement either way), this usually comes under gross misconduct in most workplaces. That’s without even considering the reputational damage that an organisation could suffer from having someone who is customer-facing behave like this – also possible GM. You’ve got some really good suggestions for ways to shut her down that might succeed here. If they don’t, then tell someone. It doesn’t have to be HR (although frankly I’d want to know so I could make sure her manager was dealing with it), it could be her supervisor. You say she’s new, and I think there are few companies that would want to let her employment get much older. She’s as entitled to her opinions as anyone else, but not necessarily to express them in a public / professional environment. You’re also entitled not to have to listen to views that you find offensive, and your company is entitled to know that someone is exercising very poor professional judgement.

  27. Formica Dinette

    I am so grateful to everyone who has spoken out against bigotry in the workplace, or who is trying to figure out how to do it. It can be really hard, but it does make a difference. For those who can’t because it would make for unsafe working conditions or jeopardize their job, I hope things improve for you–and soon!

  28. Lindsay J

    Ugh.

    I am a very political, very liberal person. My Facebook is probably 60% political posts at this point. I don’t talk politics at work because it’s not a work topic.

    It pains me when my one coworker does. Because I so want to tell him that I don’t agree with him at all and that his views are offensive. But I don’t. I just try to redirect.

    One time he claimed that our city’s roads are terrible because fixing pot-holes is not part of the gay agenda. I really wanted to ask what is part of the gay agenda, but I refrained.

    I hope I get out of here before I eventually snap. If I do, some of these responses are at least more professional than the ones I would use.

  29. SallyForth

    I have tried “Oh, please stop. I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded.” And then if they say they did, I think it’s okay to walk away without comment.

  30. BookishMiss

    I know I’m s a bit late, but I have a manager who does this – just goes off on political rants with zero provocation. My response is always a weary Look and the reply, ‘it’s too early for this.’ Because, really, it’s always too early for that crap at work.

    If that doesn’t work, I calmly state ‘I’m walking away,’ then I walk away. Works wonders.

  31. Chaperon Rouge

    I had an interviewer make racist remarks to me once – he suggested he understood that I wanted to move away from the city I was living in at the time, given the ethnic diversity of said city. Needless to say, I withdrew my application as soon as got home, citing “fit”. Looking back, I really wish I’d said something like what Alison suggests! I later found out that the company was dysfunctional in many ways.

  32. Leigh Harwood

    As Ben Shapiro once said: ‘We all have our prejudices, we all have our politics, we all have our bias’. This is true of each and everyone one of us.

    Whether you are ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ – makes no difference. These are just words which represent your political thoughts and beliefs. Strip away the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and all you’re really talking about is the difference between individualism and collectivism.

    Individualism is based on the philosophy of SMALL GOVERNMENT, BIG PEOPLE. It favors GREATER individual freedom, LESS Government. For example, the ‘Texans’ tend to be largely ‘Conservative’ and favor the philosophy of individualism. They have a very small, scaled back Government. They tend to be very independent, self-reliant and believe that people should be left alone to pursue their own life.

    Collectivism is based on the philosophy of BIG GOVERNMENT, SMALL PEOPLE. It favors GREATER Government involvement, interference and intrusion, LESS freedom for the individual to live their own life as they wish. For example, California tends to be a very LIBERAL state run by a very big Government. It has been described as a ‘nanny state’ because the liberals there think that they know what is best for everyone else. The Government there is always poking it’s nose into every crevice of life trying to regulate it in some way, tax it in some way, improve it in some way according to their vision, etc. This is COLLECTIVISM, defined!

    These two different ideological strains of thought are completely incompatible on all fronts – because both systems of thought value a different metric and this can never be resolved.

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