my coworker used a racial slur at our boss’s home

A reader writes:

I work in a solo physician’s office — doctor and 12 employees. We have all worked for him a long time and our office is casual, informal, and friendly. We (the staff) are all friendly outside of work as well. The doctor is quite outgoing and friendly, and his wife is more reserved and quiet (though nice enough when you get to know her, but none of us know her very well).

The doctor had us (staff and spouses) over to a casual dinner at his home. During this dinner, I was in the dining room with the boss’s wife and several of my coworkers, including one I’ll call Jane, who is a young woman in her early 20s. The doctor was in the kitchen with the other half of the guests.

In the course of the conversation, the concept of online dating / Tinder came up. Several of us (including the boss’s wife) were curious — we’ve heard of Tinder, but we’re not in the dating scene — how does it work? So Jane pulled out her phone and demonstrated the app — what you see of someone’s profile, how you swipe, etc. As she swiped, she pulled up a young man who was of Chinese descent and said, “I’d never go out with him. He’s a f****** (racial slur).”

Boss’s wife instantly turned frosty and said firmly and directly, “I’m sorry, but that kind of language is completely unacceptable in my house. Completely. We don’t talk like that about people under my roof.” Jane seemed kind of taken aback and mumbled what seemed to me a half-hearted apology. Boss’s wife then redirected the conversation to a different topic and we all followed suit, but she was noticeably chilly towards Jane the rest of the evening. Later on, boss’s wife said quietly to me, “It is a good thing I don’t work in the office, because Jane is not winning any points with me.” I could tell she was still steamed.

I am quite sure that she told her husband, but knowing my boss, he’s not the kind to say anything to anybody. Boss’s wife has come into the office a few times (which is standard; sometimes she’ll pick up and drop off something for her husband) and she is always appropriately professionally cordial to all of us, but still a little cool to Jane. Nothing you could really call her on, but she greets Jane more perfunctorily and is a little warmer towards the rest of us.

Should I say something to the doctor that his wife is being cool to an employee (though to be honest, she has limited contact with us)? Should I urge the doctor to address the office generally about inappropriate racial slurs and remind entire office that it’s not acceptable? Should I say something to the wife that it’s noticed that she’s being cool? Should I say something to Jane that she might be well served by apologizing again to the wife for her inappropriate behavior? Or should I just keep my nose out of it?

No, no, no, maybe, and maybe.

There’s no reason to say anything to the doctor or his wife about it. His wife reacted entirely appropriately in the moment — she called Jane out on a horrible thing. She’s continuing to react appropriately now; people being chilly to you is a reasonable consequence when you say a horrible racist thing, and Jane will need to live with that consequence. It doesn’t sound like any of it is causing any sort of office issue that the doctor would need to be aware of (and I’d assume his wife filled him on what happened anyway).

He doesn’t need to address the office generally about racist slurs because the office as a whole isn’t the problem. If he’s going to address it, he should address it directly with Jane. (And who knows, maybe he has.)

If you say anything to anyone here, it should be to Jane to suggest that she apologize — not just to the wife, but to everyone who heard her. If you do that, it shouldn’t be in the vein of “here’s how to smooth this over.” It should be “that was a horrible thing to say and I hope you’ll consider apologizing to everyone who heard it.” You don’t have a professional obligation to do that since you’re not her boss, but if you’re friendly with her, it’s hard to imagine continuing that relationship without addressing what she said. And either way, it would be a good thing for Jane to hear that it wasn’t just the boss’s wife who took issue with what she said.

{ 553 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Wow, I’m seriously impressed with the boss’s wife. And I’m appalled that not only did Jane fling a racial slur but she prefaced it with the f-bomb at an occasion in her boss’s home. Jane’s getting off pretty easy, and I hope she learns from this.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*


      That’s exactly how you handle such a situation. Kudos to the boss’s wife for putting a stop to that immediately. I don’t see how she could be expected to treat Jane with anything but cold politeness. Jane was way over the line, and her behavior should not be condoned.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        I’m so impressed. I would have handled it less well and, odds are, kicked Jane out of my house.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely agreed. And perhaps this is unkind, but I’m alarmed that OP thinks that the person demonstrating poor behavior is the boss’s wife. Her behavior is exactly what people should do when someone says something so vile. And given Jane’s half-hearted apology, if I were the wife, I would continue to be frosty/perfunctory to her unless I saw some indication that she understood her statement was vile and absolutely not ok.

      Jane is absolutely getting off easily. Her boss hasn’t reprimanded her, and all she has to endure is someone being polite, perfunctory, and not particularly warm.

      OP, stay out of this. If Jane wants to apologize because she feels terribly or wants to repair her relationship with the boss’s wife, then she should do so. But she shouldn’t offer some mealy-mouthed apology for the sole purpose of avoiding the awkwardness she brought on herself by behaving in a contemptible fashion and completing violating all basic norms related to being a guest in someone’s home.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        Exactly. The wife isn’t being aggressively rude. She’s being frostily polite. That’s not a faux pas at all! No one is owed warmth or enthusiasm from casual acquaintances! I’m kind of baffled by the OP’s reaction to it, and I genuinely hope OP pops into the comments to explain what she finds so upsetting about the wife’s behavior.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          Maybe the OP didn’t think Jane’s behavior was a big deal? Or shouldn’t have had consequences beyond the moment? I dunno. I’m stumped

          1. Emma*

            I don’t think it’s that explicit – I get the impression that the workplace has always been really friendly and casual, and while LW is smart enough to realise that gross racism changes things, they still have that gut reaction of “but harmony! Comfortable, unguarded social relationships!” even though, if they think about it explicitly, they know it’s not a good idea to be unguarded with racists.

        2. Liet-Kynes*

          I especially like Alison’s point that this is a natural, necessary, and unavoidable consequence of being a racist bigot, and I wish more people who insisted on behaving in such a fashion got so treated.

        3. JessaB*

          And it really doesn’t make problems in the office because the wife is rarely there, if she worked there and was frosty to Jane beyond the point that the office all noticed and it made it uncomfortable to work there, that’d be different.

          And I do agree with some of the other posters, the OP is paying way more attention to the wife than to Jane, and one wonders why?

      2. tigerStripes*

        I agree. If I heard someone speak the way Jane did, I don’t think I’d ever be more than civil to them – when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The doctor’s wife is behaving correctly; it bothered me that the LW thinks otherwise.

        1. Anonymoose*

          They’d be lucky if they got civility from me, to be quite frank. *shrug* I think Boss’ wife is being enthusiastically civil, comparatively.

      3. like wow*

        +1! I am absolutely appalled that the OP think her boss’ wife’s behavior is the problem here. The wife has no obligation to be Jane’s BFF. Racial slurs are a Big Deal to tons of people- just because you might not think it is doesn’t give you the right to decide how your boss’ wife(!) should act in the office.

        1. Aunt Margie at Work*

          And the doctor has a private practice. Jane is a representative of what is essentially his company. If a person employed at my husband’s company thought this was OK to say to me and to guests in my home, I’d be concerned about her ability to function in a client (patient) based industry. And if I discovered that another employee thought that I should step back on this for the sake of that employee’s personal comfort, I’d be very concerned about her judgement.

          1. RVA Cat*

            I assume the practice has Asian patients. Think of how Jane’s prejudice could be affecting them.

            1. Cleopatra Jones*

              It doesn’t matter if they have Asian patients or not. As an African American women, I’d avoid this practice if I found out that a staff member was spouting this kind of nonsense. Racism hurts all minorities not just the ones that the racist slurs are being flung at.

              1. Fact & Fiction*

                And those of us who aren’t minorities but also hate slurs would also consider taking our business elsewhere because we wouldn’t want to give money to a business we might reasonably conclude condones such racism. Not only is it just plain wrong, morally and eyhically speaking, the potential economic costs could snowball.

            2. Artemesia*

              This sort of thing is offensive to everyone. I am feeling really stupid though; I don’t know any slurs against Asian people that start with F. Googling didn’t help.

              1. New Bee*

                I was confused too until I read Fposte’s comment. Pretty sure Jane said “effing [racial slur].”

              2. la bella vita*

                Same here! I’m glad I’m not the only one who was confused by what she could have possibly said.

                1. ChickenSuperhero*

                  Ah, thanks, I looked it up and only found one starting with f, and I had never heard of it, and it sounded seriously antiquated so not sure how actually offensive it is. But to say f-ing [slur] would make sense. In which case she’s doubly (triply?) out of line, by seriously profane language at the boss’ house, and the profane and racist term.

                  In all, the LW is weird – “help, my boss’ wife is following Miss Manners and taking the high road, how can I get her husband to force her to hug racists?” Not cool, LW, not cool.

                2. MashaKasha*

                  I did the same, and probably found the same slur. It sounded really antiquated, and hardly a slur.

                  I guess my brain just couldn’t compute it that someone would actually say “he’s a f-ng (real big time slur)” at a dinner party at their boss’s house, in front of their boss’s wife! Jane sounds like a pretty terrible person, TBH. The guy she swiped left on dodged a bullet, but, like several people pointed above, the same cannot be said of her patients, especially those of Asian heritage! They will still have to deal with her. Kind of frightening, honestly.

          2. Anon for this*

            Exactly. I train doctors and their staff on cultural sensitivity, implicit bias, and respect. If I heard that this staff member was using racial slurs in the hearing of any coworker (really, at all) I’d be appalled and setting up mandatory retraining ASAP.

      4. oranges & lemons*

        Yeah, if one of my coworkers did this I would be completely aghast, and grateful to the wife for saying something. I don’t know how I could have anything except a professional-but-chilly relationship with Jane after hearing this. I’d feel differently if she had accidentally used a word that’s not universally known to be offensive and was embarrassed and apologetic afterwards, but from the OP’s account, this sounds like totally blatant racist behaviour.

        1. Sarah*

          I agree — it’s one thing with certain slang words people may have grown up hearing/using and don’t even realize there’s a certain connotation to them (I remember occasionally using the term “gyp” when I was younger honestly not even realizing its connection to anything even possibly offensive, but of course once someone told me I quickly apologized and don’t use it anymore!). There can be cases of true ignorance where someone simply isn’t aware. But the context and reaction would be a lot different than is communicated in this story.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            I still struggle not to use this one sometimes because it was such a part of my childhood lexicon that it slips out sometimes to this day. I honestly always thought it was spelled “jip” and had no idea of its racial background until well into adulthood. That said. the onus is on me now!

            1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              Me too! I thought it was spelled “jipp” and had NO clue about it’s connotation until I was well into adulthood. That said, anytime I hear it now I cringe and let people know it’s not a word I want used around me.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I actually just had to step in and ask a coworker not to use that term yesterday. I think a lot of people don’t realize the racial implications of it – I know I didn’t until someone told me as an adult.

            2. Dweali*

              Me too…and I also thought you could get “jued” out of something. That one was for some reason easier to scrub from my vocabulary than “jipped” has been for me…

            3. la bella vita*

              I had no idea it wasn’t spelled with a J or what the background of the term was until maybe a year or so ago. I would bet that most people who still use that term are in the same boat.

            4. ChickenSuperhero*

              Many of us didn’t realize gypped (gipped? Jipped?) Was racist. Slang pops up full formed and we don’t usually know origin (unless someone is way cooler than I am). Like gnarly and tubular, jipped was just a slang word. To find out, in my 30s, that it referred to Gypsies (or really, Romani) in a derogatory way, I was floored.

              Or Jerry rigged (“jury rigged”? “Gerry rigged”?) meaning haphazardly put together in a hurry, is apparently a racist (nationalist?) war-time insult of Germans… which doesn’t even make sense given German reputation for methodical precision engineering. But war requires dehumanizing in order to kill, so I guess that’s it.

              1. Michelle*

                The “Jerry rigged” one is a myth, caused by confusion between the term “jury rigged” (hastily and shoddily built) and the slur against Germans “Jerry.” The two aren’t actually connected. Then there’s also “Gerry-mandering,” (intentionally drawing political borders in order to benefit one party over another), named after a politician whose last name was Gerry. Again, not a slur against Germans.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I heard “I was gyped,” “That’s retarded,” and “jewing them down” from someone at a former workplace (a black woman, actually), and I got pushback for saying something, even though I tried to do it respectfully, like “FYI, you may not realize this but….” She may not have known the origin of it (or it was a habit), but that doesn’t make it okay. It really annoyed me because otherwise I really liked her. :(

            I will never not call anybody out on this crap though. If you don’t like that, either stop saying it or go away.

            1. LNZ*

              Don’t you know, its worse to be a person accused of racism that for other people to be victims of racism.

            2. Noah*

              Until reading this I never made the association that saying “I was gyped” was in any way racial. I always thought it was spelling jipped and was just a word. Seriously, thanks for pointing that out so I can stop saying it.

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                Yep… there are some slurs that people don’t realise. What makes the difference is how they react. “Shit, really? Sorry, stopping using it” = decent person. “Stop trying to censor my free speech!” = arse.

              2. Liet-Kynes*

                “Gypped” is funny, because it’s still frequently used slang, but given that most Americans don’t have much actual contact with people of Roma descent, I feel like it’s gotten entirely disconnected from its actual meaning.

                1. katinbuffalo*

                  No, it hasn’t. And you might not be aware of it, but there are are around a million of us in the US of Romani descent (in my case, my grandfather, whose family passed as Polish, and others in my hometown who passed as Hungarians). So not funny or disconnected to us at all.

                2. MashaKasha*

                  Ah, thank you, I did not know that. I’ve only seen people of Romani descent in my native country. I did not know there were a million in the US.

            3. napkin seal*

              I had a college correct me on Gypped – which I had always spelled Jipped in my head, and had no idea of the origins. We’re customer facing so I was appalled when I realized the connotations of what I had just said to a customer of all people. Continue to try to gently educate. Some people really just don’t understand!

            4. Althea*

              I haven’t been able to figure out if “having a quick pow-wow” (meaning, let’s meet quickly, in a work context) is okay or not. To be safe I don’t use it, but I have a coworker who does, frequently.

              Unfortunately, I could have asked my step-father-in-law, but he has passed.

              1. Cheryl*

                I’m going to say no on the “pow-wow” reference – just because it’s taking a special ceremony that has religious, social and cultural significance for its members and turning it into a quick power chat.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I also vote no on “pow-wow.” It’s a phrase I used to use in high school—clearly without thinking about what it meant—and then had really close friends who were Native in college who very patiently schooled me. It’s problematic primarily because it’s culturally appropriative and then fails to actually reflect the cultural significance/meaning of a real pow-wow.

              3. Christine*

                Coincidentally, I follow a Native Canadian woman on twitter who very recently gave a strong no to using “pow-wow” in this context. And yes, for the very reasons Cheryl and Banana Hammock gave: it’s appropriative and disrespectful to the real importance of the pow-wow.

          3. VioletEMT*

            Another one that apparently people do not know is racist: “Chinese fire drill.” Please find another way to describe chaos.

            1. Tuesday*

              I’ve only ever heard that phrase used to describe the game that teenagers play where they all jump out of the car at a red light and run around it and get back in their seats before the light changes.

              1. Althea*

                I could never figure out if it was because it was “chaotic” or if it was supposed to imply that certain people were too dumb to realize that you don’t get back IN a burning building… but either way, I can see it’s bad and stopped using it!

                1. DArcy*

                  The etymology I’ve seen for “Chinese fire drill” is this:

                  During World War I, the phrase “one wing low” was a literal reference to bad aircraft landings where the plane crashed because the pilot failed to hold the wings level as he reached the ground. British soldiers decided that “one wing low” sounded like Chinese, and therefore started calling bad landings “Chinese landings”. This spawned a trend of referring to anything done poorly or ineptly, especially to slightly comical effect, as a “Chinese X”.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Same—I’ve only heard it to refer to that game. Although it’s probably still problematic. My friends now call it “clown car!”

          4. RUKiddingMe*

            Thank you for mentioning this. I still see/hear it much more frequently than one would expect in the modern day and age and as a Romani woman it upsets me no end. I am constantly educating people about it —almost none of whom understand how it is a pejorative term. Often times this leads to a “you’re a gypsy (ugh!)?” or “really, you have a PhD (and are a ‘gypsy’ being implied)?” comment requiring further education, but baby steps … I guess.

        2. Emi.*

          A boy I once dated said something not-racist-but-kind-of-weird-and-off about the Chinese, and I said “Hey, you know I’m part Chinese, eh?” To which he responded, “You mean some of your ancestors were Chinamen?” I am a sheltered-boy-magnet, it seems.

          1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

            My grandparents and sometimes my Mum still use that word (she is, for reference, in her 40s) and don’t get why I want them to stop…

            1. CdnAcct*

              I’m almost 40, and trust me, there is no excuse for someone in their 40’s. My own parents are in their 70’s and if I ever heard them say that I’d speak up.

      5. seejay*

        Totally this. Why isn’t the OP also not finding the slur and behaviour appalling as opposed to being concerned with the wife’s treatment of Jane?? I’d be following exactly in the same footsteps as the wife, not questioning her actions! O_O

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I think the OP just hasn’t been exposed to the proper ways to politely indicate great disapproval. An awful lot of people think a situation isn’t resolved until everybody is chummy again, but the reality is that the resolution can of course be “I am going to be polite to you, and I hope you’ll be polite to me, but what you said/did is a severe violation of my code of acceptable conduct, and I am not going to pretend otherwise.”

          That is in fact a perfectly acceptable resolution for a situation like this.

          1. Definitely Anon*

            Some people think that the things they say should not be held against them, especially if they apologize for offending anyone. But the thing is, we don’t have to like everyone and we don’t have to pretend to like people. If someone says something offensive, it is perfectly fair to factor that into our opinion of them, even if they apologize for it later. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from judgement. The wife is being civil, which is all that is required.

            1. Kate*

              Totally. An apology is not an eraser, and a racist slur is not a stray pencil mark. They don’t cancel each other out.

              1. Julia*

                Especially if it’s an apology for offending anyone, and not an apology for having said something horrible.

          2. seejay*

            yeah someone further down suggested that the OP might be misplacing the awkward and trying to smooth that over and not quite putting the awkward where it belongs, which is on the person who created it in the first place (Jane) and instead seeing the wife as the person who’s perpetuating the awkwardness in general (the wife) and just wants that to stop. I can understand that reasoning and see how it might be misplaced. Assigning no ill intent on the letter writer up front, I’ll go with that reasoning as it seems far more likely, without jumping into the “OP thinks racism is ok” for now as there’s no evidence of it. I’d rather assume good intentions initially without direct evidence contrary, at least as much as possible.

            Hopefully this can all be thrown back towards Jane with “sending the awkward right back to her”. :/

          3. SometimesALurker*

            Kathleen Adams, very well said. It’s not necessarily the case that OP condones Jane’s behavior (although OP is accidentally(?) implying condoning it, and would definitely imply condoning it if OP were to bring up the boss’s wife’s behavior to the boss). What is clear is that OP isn’t comfortable with the level of frostiness, and that level is actually very appropriate for the situation. I’m reminded of something Alison linked to on “levels of cool/cold/icy treatment” the other day, on a thread about a LW’s reply to a cheating coworker/neighbor.

          4. Liet-Kynes*

            Yeah, I think there’s great pressure in American society to immediately accept an apology and go immediately back to being chummy, and for resolution to be rapid and complete.

      6. TL -*

        Yeah, OP, the boss’ wife is handling this perfectly and nobody needs to speak to her about anything. Jane is reaping the rewards of her own behavior – why do you feel this is something that needs to be smoothed over?

        Racial slurs are *worse* than a little awkwardness at the office. Ignore the frosty and be glad the boss’ wife sets the boundaries she does.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Honestly, even without considering the residual frostiness (which I agree is completely warranted anyway), I’d just have been happy that there was someone in a position of authority who immediately spoke up to shut that behavior down when it happened, in the moment. A+ boundaries, boss’s wife!

          1. Ann O.*

            Yeah, I’m a freezer in these situations, and I’m trying to learn scripts for sending the awkward back. I’ve actually re-read the wife’s response a few times because I want to internalize it and be able to do that!

            1. Rana*

              It helps to say them out loud a few times, too. Then they don’t feel weird in your mouth either.

      7. Princess Eilonwy*

        That was what I was going to say! I’m disturbed that the OP is not more disturbed by Jane’s behavior. I would have a hard time not being cool to a co-worker who expressed such opinions, no matter where she was when she did it.

      8. puffyshirt*

        Totally agree! Props to Boss’s wife for being clear and firm in that situation. I can’t figure out what the slur even was and I’m feeling thankful I’m left in the dark. Sometimes naivete wins out!

        1. Zombii*

          Initially I was confused and thought the slur began with the letter F, but then realized Jane said the eff-word to her boss’s wife, when dining in their home prior to saying the undisclosed racial slur. If it was a swear-y sort of company culture, I think that would have been mentioned, so Jane comes off as especially tone-deaf and/or unrefined here.

      9. aebhel*

        This! I was more than a little baffled by that turn of the story. Frosty politeness is absolutely the appropriate response to such behavior. Boss’s wife is handling this in an A+ manner.

      10. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Seriously! Racist speech is an action. Being called out on it and treated politely, but coldly, are reasonable, extremely mild, consequences of that action.

    3. JamieS*

      I admire her restraint. My reaction would be, and has been, far less diplomatic than the wife’s was.

      1. Hlyssande*

        At the very least the offender would get kicked the heck out of my house, instantly.

    4. Lucy Honeychurch*

      Yeah, boss’ wife rocks.

      And I was trying to figure out what racial slur began with f, so you have now clarified that it was an adjective!

      1. fposte*

        I actually had the same issue and went to the Wikipedia page of racial slurs before I figured it out! (So now I know there is a Wikipedia page of racial slurs.)

        1. LBK*

          Ha, I almost looked that up but thought it might be a weird search to have in my work computer’s browser history.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Same. And my phone’s data plan is small enough I try not to do stuff on it at work, but I was totally going to search “racial slurs starting with F” when I got home, lol.

        2. This Daydreamer*

          One more reason to love Wikipedia.

          I may now have to spend an afternoon going into the beautiful black hole that is the random article button.

        3. Statler von Waldorf*

          I have that same wiki page in my browser history, for the exact same reason. All I could come up with is “frog,” which is not something I would say to someone, but doesn’t quite warrant the reaction described.

          As for the OP, I’d stay out of it. Don’t feed the drama llama.

          1. ChickenSuperhero*

            I found “fortyniner” as a Chinese slur, which I thought just meant one who pans for gold in the great 1849 Gold Rush (“he’s a miner, 49er, oh my darlin Clementine”) but… I mean… there can’t be people alive who find that offensive?

        4. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Ha, I went to the same page for the same reason, and I was learning its existence for the first time, as well.

        5. Allison*

          I went there too, saw nothing that fit, and found another page that does have a longer, Asian-specific (Japanese specific, to get really specific) F-word, but has one more letter than the starred out word.

          But I doubt AAM wants us bickering over what it is . . .

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            OP clarified what word it was downthread. It doesn’t start with “f.”

      2. Lora*

        Same here. I’m glad you said it, because I thought, “oh man, if I ask what racial slur starts with f, I’m going to sound like such an a-hole”.

        On the bright side, the Asian Tinder dude dodged a bullet he didn’t even know about, so, there’s that?

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Me too .. and not even close to the only one from the looks of things.

        1. The Rat-Catcher*

          She did. Some of us thought the slur was a word that started with “f” – me included. Just adds to the inappropriateness of the whole thing!

      3. Mirax*

        I was mulling it over like “I’m Asian too and I don’t remember EVER being called anything that starts with an F…”

        1. Drew*

          Here are a few to get you started: fabulous, fantastic, fenomenal (I know, I know)…

        2. CM*

          Flaneur! (gasp)

          Hilarious that so many of us reacted with, “Hmm, which racial slur was it?” My first reaction too.

          The wife is awesome and I’m memorizing her response. I would like to think I would respond like that in the moment, but it usually doesn’t come out as clear and forceful as that.

          I think the OP should let it go. There isn’t a problem here.

      4. Sfigato*

        Me too. I thought the slur started with “F” and assumed it was “FOB” (as in “fresh off the boat”), which is a rude and unkind thing to say, but not quite at the level of what I’m assuming the woman actually said.
        As soon as I realized the f was an adjective, it all made much more sense.

        1. Zombii*

          Is “fresh off the boat” really incredibly racist? My s/o refers to herself during her first year after moving to the States from out-of-country like that (she’s white but was born in an Asian country and didn’t move here until late 20’s).

          There’s also a TV show about an Asian family titled that, so I didn’t realize it was super-offensive.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s pretty racist but its severity depends on the context and the speaker. Personally, I think it falls under “jokes an in-ground can make, but not the out-group.”

          2. Odge*

            AFAIK it’s not, like, The Worst, but it is offensive. I think it’s one of those phrases that you might see people using to refer to themselves, but that isn’t ok to use to describe anyone else.

          3. Emi.*

            I don’t think it’s racist exactly, but it’s pretty rude, since it basically means “ignorant foreigner.” If she had seen an Asian face and *assumed* that he was “fresh off the boat,” I’d call that racist, though.

      5. Kelly L.*

        Hahaha same! I didn’t realize she’d said “effing” before the slur, I thought the f-thing *was* the slur!

    5. LBK*

      prefaced it with the f-bomb

      I know this isn’t the point but thank you for clarifying this, I thought the starred out word was the racial slur and I was totally at a loss for what racial slur starts with an F (not that I need people to give examples, my crossword puzzle solving brain was just confused).

      1. bridget*

        Honestly, if someone used the F-bomb to describe why they wouldn’t date a total stranger for ANY reason, I’d be a little taken aback by the aggressiveness of it and would probably say something. (“I wouldn’t date him, he’s a f—ing accountant!”). It would seem like a really intense thing to say about some poor soul on the internet. When it’s a racial slur, and the combination is exponentially horrible.

        1. LBK*

          Heh, I think this depends on your profanity tolerance. I don’t think it would ever register to me; I’m in Boston, the f-word is practically our city motto.

        2. ChickenSuperhero*

          Exactly. “Hey, let’s go to the boss ‘ house and instead of being on my best behavior, I’m going to show off an app for casual sex, use an incredibly profane curse word, AND as my piece de resistance, use a terrible racist slur.” Winning at work!

    6. Fabulous*

      HA – I read it as the racial slur began with an F and was so confused about what word she meant… An eff-bomb preceding the word makes much more sense!

    7. Aeryn Sun*

      Seriously. If I was the boss’s wife I’d react a lot more strongly than cold politeness.

    8. Case of the Mondays*

      Oh! The f was an f bomb before the slur. I was racking my brain for what slur started with f. Not that it matters but at the same time, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a word I didn’t know was a slur. Makes a lot more sense now.

    9. Noah*

      I was under the impression she used a racial slur that started with the letter “F”.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP clarified downthread that it was the f-word, then the slur (and the slur does not begin with an “f”).

    10. Bryce*

      Oh is that what the quote meant? I was trying to figure out what racial slur starts with f.

    11. Narrator for bad mimes*

      Ohhh! I read it as if the racial slur started with the letter f. Couldn’t figure out what the world may have been lol

    12. Nieve*

      +1 This lady sounds like someone I’d really look up to! Normally quiet, no unnecessary chitchat but really straight to the point and honest when its needed. Awesome.

    13. ST*

      Ah, that explains it. I thought the racial slur was the f****** and I couldn’t figure it out.

  2. Bea*

    I have no words to express my admiration of the bosses wife for being so quick to squash that behavior in her house. I’m less well spoken when put in that spot and probably would have thrown her out to be honest. She’s lucky she’s just chilly towards her. I agree to just stay out of it. This kind of thing is how Jane hopefully learns to be a better person.


    1. tigerStripes*

      I think I’d have had a hard time knowing what to day, but the boss’s wife sounded very well spoken.

    2. The Expendable Redshirt*

      Bravo Boss Wife. May we all respond the same when faced with racist comments.

      To the OP: Jane was very much in the wrong here, and seems to be facing reasonable consequences.

    3. Badmin*

      I 100% agree and have so much admiration for Boss’s Wife. I wonder if she had more conviction because she was in her own home and the host. I could see myself saying something similar in my own home with the same amount of strength but unfortunately in other social settings if I heard it, I don’t know I would react so forcefully/strongly. Definitely would say something but more of “please don’t say that” or “that is very offensive” – something along those lines. Perfect wording is so difficult when you truly want to be an advocate.

      Boss’s wife’s behavior is behavior I strive for.

      1. TootsNYC*

        The boss’s wife may have also felt more empowered, and found it easier to find the words, because of the age differences.

        The boss’s wife was authoritative–and it’s easier to feel that you have authority when you’re older and the other person is younger. Jane’s early 20s (the doctor’s wife at least mid 30s), so lots of grownups will feel they can “instruct” or “discipline” her. It’s not always appropriate, of course, but if the woman who’d used the slur was older and the host/hostess was younger, the hostess might not have even been able to summon the words, let alone the feeling that she was entitled to chastise someone else.

    4. Jadelyn*

      I think my response would’ve been limited to a dumbfounded “…the FUCK?” and probably some incoherent sputtering. Boss’s wife is a freaking hero for speaking out immediately and strongly while still keeping it professional. I wish I could do that kind of thing.

  3. Girl Alex PR*

    Honestly, I think it’s impressive that the wife didn’t demand Jane be fired, because I think I would.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      It sounds like the boss’s wife has appropriate professional boundaries and doesn’t interfere in her husband’s business. Jane is really lucky this is the case!

      1. Kalamet*

        Honestly, it’s awesome to read a letter where a boss’s spouse behaves appropriately. We hear about so many bad examples that this is a breath of fresh air.

      2. DArcy*

        I would argue that recommending that an employee be fired for grossly inappropriate conduct at a social event is not a breach of appropriate professional boundaries, especially since in this case the social event *was* work related despite being off the clock.

    2. caryatis*

      Of course, we don’t know what kind of conversation the doctor and his wife had in private. If I were Jane, I’d be looking to move on.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Or I would do some introspection and apologize profusely and without qualification. Jane is seriously lucky that the boss’s wife is behaving in a completely appropriate and professional manner.

        1. caryatis*

          This is going to be hard to recover from no matter how much Jane apologizes. All of the coworkers and probably the doctor know what happened. Time for a new job.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It doesn’t seem to be hurting Jane at work, though. But perhaps that’s b/c OP’s letter focuses on the boss’s wife and not the others.

          2. LawBee*

            I wouldn’t be able to separate Jane-the-coworker from Jane-the-racist. And that’s ok, in my book. Jane can gtfo, as far as I’m concerned.

        2. JKP*

          I don’t think any kind of apology would (or should) change someone’s opinion/treatment of someone hurling racial slurs (unless they did so out of ignorance of the fact that it was a slur, which from the context is not the case here). Because even if they never utter another racial slur again for the rest of their lives, you still know that’s how they characterize other people in their heads.

          1. TL -*

            People grow out of and change opinions/usage of words. It’s quite possible Jane starts seriously thinking about her language and the impact it has and what it says about her beliefs and what her beliefs are (this will clearly take a while) and change her mind on quite a few things.

            This doesn’t mean she has to be forgiven or that people have to forget that she used slurs; just that people’s attitudes do legitimately change over time, especially if there’s social pressure on them.

            1. Tina*

              In this situation though, even without the slur what she said was racist. “I won’t even consider dating this guy because he’s Asian” is a racist statement period and would merit an equally frosty reaction. I would hate to think that the coworker comes away from this thinking the sentiment was ok but the word was wrong. It’s like the LW who called her boss’s daughter a whore deciding to stop saying whore but still privately thinking that dating makes you a whore.

              1. long time lurker*

                Not dating someone of a certain race or ethnicity isn’t racist. Differences in background and culture are a thing, not to mention just personal preference when it comes to looks. There are plenty of non-racist reasons for not wanting to date people of certain races.

                Just to be clear, I’m not defending what Jane said as a whole. Obviously the slur was way out of line.

                1. Gaia*

                  Not everyone of a particular race shares the exact same background and culture. Someone of Asian descent whose family has lived in the states for 150 years has the same background and culture that I do. If I wrote him off because I “don’t date Asians” I would be behaving racist. Full stop.

                2. Anna*

                  I’m gonna say no, if you’ve decided you’re not dating a whole group of humans because of perceived cultural differences or fear of perceived cultural differences, that’s nothing but racist. “I don’t date Mexican people because our backgrounds are sooooo different” is racist.

                3. Jadelyn*

                  But it’s still reducing a broad and varied group of people to their race. It’s “they all look the same” in a fancier coat. A blanket statement of “I don’t date [racial group]” is absolutely racist.

                4. AcademiaNut*

                  I would say it is racist to reject a potential partner solely on race, but dating is something where people are free (and even encouraged) to follow prejudices that would be completely unacceptable in a work setting. Lots of people are only interested in dating within their own race. Lots of people are only interested in dating someone with compatible religious views. Age discrimination in dating is standard, even after you take age of consent into consideration. And the vast majority of people reject potential partners based on gender and/or sexual orientation.

                  So I’m not going to judge someone simply for exercising personal judgement about who they want to date. But describing someone as a f****** (racial slur) is well beyond that. (I also think quite poorly of the white guys who go on about how Asian girls make better girlfriends because they’re prettier/skinnier/better groomed/more docile which is a mindset that’s fairly common where I live).

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Please let’s not have this conversation. Someone tried to bring it up downthread, and Emi. shut it down (with Alison’s endorsement).

                6. Julia*

                  I have more in common with my Japanese husband and friends than with some Germans I grew up with. So that’s just not a reason.
                  Saying you won’t date someone based on their ethnicity is judging people by their looks, which is not okay.
                  Of course, those people would probably prefer if you didn’t date them if that’s what you think about them.

                7. Akcipitrokulo*

                  Thing is… yes it is. People might try to weasel out of it “oh it’s just personal preference” or “its like preferring blondes!” … but no. It’s racist.

                8. Linguist Curmudgeon*

                  See, the thing about that is, you get people like me – recently immigrated family, grandparents ran a laundry and a few restaurants, total obsession with child’s academic achievement, etc…sounds like a very particular cultural stereotype, doesn’t it? But we’re eastern European.

                  Stereotypes like this are inherently self-defeating.

                9. cleverhandle*

                  Long time lurker–as others have pointed out, categorically preferring particular races over others is racist (almost by definition). But, I think it’s important to be clear that racism does not require conscious or willful choosing of certain races. Aesthetic preferences, beauty ideals, etc are strongly intertwined with race, so in a society where whiteness is privileged, what people prefer will tend to be influenced by that. You don’t necessarily choose who you love or desire, but you can acknowledge the ways that racism shapes preferences.

              2. Marillenbaum*

                Bingo! Frankly, I’m not interested in trying to give people who engage in bigotry multiple chances to prove they’ve “changed”–most of the time, they haven’t; it’s just learning to hide it better. So as long as someone can behave like a civilized human being, I will behave civilly to them. None of that means that I will consider them trustworthy.

            2. One of the Sarahs*

              I TBH “I didn’t mean it that way” can never be an excuse if you prefacing it with f-ing…

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think it depends. I’ve met people who used casually racist language because they truly didn’t realize how profoundly racist they were being. I am more willing to assume someone can develop/grow if they’re sincere, but I’m not willing to give anyone any credit for apologizing because they don’t like living with the consequences of their racist behavior.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Agreed. We need to be able to recognize a sincere, thinking person’s apology for one thing. And the other half of the story is if we are not willing to recognize that a bad situation has caused a person to grow we could end up not speaking to many people before our time here is up.

      2. Bess*

        I could definitely see this racist attitude (to the point where Jane’d just drop something like that so nonchalantly!!!) being a problem in a doctor’s office. If I were the spouse I’d definitely tell the doctor. Who knows how Jane would act toward any patients who weren’t her own race.

    3. Pup Seal*

      I would too, but again, I’m (part) Asian.

      (Coincidentally, I was just reading an article about unrated Asian actors and actresses seconds before reading this post.)

      1. Emi.*

        “You may not be able to tell, but you’re talking about my family. Would you like to rephrase that?”

    4. Treecat*

      At that point I’d be seriously worried about Jane working in a physician’s office–does she have any contact with patients? Are any of those patients PoC? If so, yeah, I’d definitely bring up having her fired, were I the boss’s wife, and if I were the boss I’d be considering firing her anyway, because I’d be highly doubtful of her ability to treat those patients with respect.

      1. Girl Alex PR*

        Yep, that’s why I would have advocated to my husband for her to be let go. It’s his reputation and his patient’s comfort on the line if she displays this sort of behavior and discrimination in the workplace.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Exactly. This lady is smart, quick on her feet and strong. There is not doubt in my mind that she has discussed this with her husband already. The fact that she continues to be frosty telegraphs to me that her husband understands what she is doing and why.

      2. tigerStripes*

        That would be my concern, too. Also, if she said that right in front of her boss’s wife, what might she say in front of a patient?

      3. Amy*

        I agree. If I were the doctor, assuming I’d heard about this, I’d probably either fire Jane or keep her on very thin ice–not because the wife demanded it, but because that behavior is flat-up unacceptable in any circumstance, and doubly so in a role where Jane may be interacting with PoC.

      4. Lucky*

        I would also be concerned that I could not fairly consider hiring POC into new positions, knowing that I would be bringing them into a potentially hostile environment.

        1. Jessica*

          Wait, what? Having a racist employee would make you want to call and raise her one by starting to discriminate in hiring against the groups she doesn’t like? I’m speechless.

          Besides, I’m pretty sure any PoC you’d be inviting into your “potentially hostile environment” don’t already inhabit some magic wonderland of egalitarian civility that they’d be stepping out of. And if your workplace isn’t good enough for hypothetical employees of color to work in, maybe it’s not a decent place for anyone and you ought to clean it up.

          1. M*

            Pretty sure Lucky’s point was that Jane should no longer work at the office for that reason – hence cleaning it up.

            And tbh, the world isn’t a magical wonderland, but in my experiences as a Asian-American woman, the bar isn’t so low that working with someone who uses racial slurs is just par for the course. Working there would definitely be a step down.

          2. ChickenSuperhero*

            Your interpretation is, I believe, the opposite of what they meant. They were saying that the doctor should be concerned that this racist lady will create a hostile work environment for any people of color he may hire. Meaning, he should get rid of the racist lady, not that he shouldn’t hire people of color.

    5. Ted Mosby*

      Really? I’m kind of unimpressed with it. I’m sure that doctor’s office must have some asian patients who don’t need Jane in their lives.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        We don’t really know what the wife said to her husband. But I think it would be difficult to demand Jane be fired without crossing boundaries. If I’m unimpressed with anyone, it’s the doctor.

        1. Anna*

          I think it depends. I think the wife can bring it up if she’s concerned Jane is mistreating patients, but only as a suggestion to maybe keep an eye on Jane’s interactions with patients.

    6. Statler von Waldorf*

      As a kinda sad FYI, one racial slur will not qualify as just cause to fire someone in Alberta in Canada. Even if they say it to a minority customer who (fairly) gets offended. At least that’s how the judge ruled in our case at a previous job.

      1. motherofdragons*

        That is sad! Is at-will employment different there, I wonder? Because my first thought was, for at-will employees, one wouldn’t need to have just cause in the first place. Although using a racist slur *in front of a customer* certainly seems like cause enough!!

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Canada does NOT have at-will employment, so yes, it is quite different. You either need just cause to fire, or you need to give notice or severance, depending on the length of their employment. In this case, they guy got fired, lawyered up, and in the end the judge ruled that this one incident was not enough to qualify as just cause, so the company had to pay out severance and the guys lawyer fees.

          1. Chinook*

            Though, if the Albertan employer wanted to get rid of someone who used a racist slur once, all they would have to do is fire them with notice/severance (so two weeks pay). Definitely worth it.

  4. MarCom Professional*

    I think OP should stay out of it altogether. Bringing it back up to Jane again will just make her feel horrible all over again (assuming she was genuinely repentant). Only say something to Jane if Jane specifically asks about it again. She made her bed, she had to lie in it. That’s called “adulting.”

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Is there a reason to try to help Jane avoid feeling horrible, though? Because it seems reasonable and entirely appropriate that she feel horrible. She should feel shame. This does not mean OP should harangue her about what Jane said – but no one other than the boss’s wife has said *anything* to Jane about it, so we are nowhere near haranguing territory at this point. And Jane did not actually apologize. She mumbled a half-a$$ed thing in the moment.

      When you say something blatantly racist, it’s reasonable for people to suggest that you apologize, and there is no need to tiptoe around it to avoid making the person who said horrible thing feel horrible about it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Nope. No reason to avoid her feeling horrible, at all (i.e., I agree with you). Jane gets to wallow in the misery that exists when you say something horrific and don’t feel remorse for the behavior itself (as opposed to feeling bad about how you’re treated when you drop racial slurs).

      2. MarCom Professional*

        I’m just saying that OP has no real reason to bring it up again. OP has no way of knowing what actually has been said to Jane. I have a feeling that a bit of time has passed, which makes bringing it up randomly just seems bizarre. I am certainly not saying OP should avoid the issue, but this is really none of his/her business. I did find it odd that OP seemed to think the real issue to be addressed was the wife’s coolness.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          I’d say she does have a reason to bring it up again: silence in the face of racism will seem, to the racist person, to be acceptance of racism. To say out loud in a group of people a racial slur in such an off-hand way really suggests that Jane probably assumes people think the way she does, that people agree with her. If, since then, no one has said anything to her about it and everyone gets along as usual except the boss’s wife, that will be confirmation to Jane that what she said is fine and that boss’s wife is just weird.

          OP does not HAVE to say anything. But I dont agree that she has no reason to bring it up, if that racism was a thing that bothered her.

          1. paul*

            Except there *wasn’t* silence in the face of racist comments; the comments were called out, and haven’t been repeated.

            1. paul*

              I want an edit button:

              The boss’s wife handled it perfectly, and there’s no need to mollycoddle the offender, but there’s not a need to bring it up at work unless she repeats similar comments.

              1. TL -*

                Eh. I would mention it – either by agreeing with the boss’ wife in the moment + some very strong WTF faces or by mentioning it later, privately. I might say, “Jane, I just want to let you know that your language at boss’ house made me really uncomfortable, too. I didn’t want to pile on, but I also wanted you to know that I agree with her, and if I heard that kind of language at work, I would feel obligated to report it to the boss.”
                If Jane complained about the wife’s coldness to me, I would say, “Well, you said something pretty offensive, so I don’t know why you’re surprised that she’s offended. Frankly, I’m on her side.”

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Oh yes, I know that, but I am saying that one person speaking out while a roomful of people remain quiet, never mention it again, and continue to be just as chummy as before, could lead to the racist person believing that it was the one outlier person who was offended whereas everyone else is cool with it and agrees with Jane.

              Which, hopefully, is not how OP actually feels about it. So, I think there is value in bringing it up. OP doesn’t *have* to, but I disagree that there is no reason to.

            3. neeko*

              If you look further down, the OP thinks that Jane still doesn’t think she did anything wrong. Definitely, a reason to bring it up.

        2. DArcy*

          On the contrary, OP has every reason to bring it up again since Jane has not yet made a public apology to her co-workers for her deplorable, racist conduct. Honestly, everyone in the office should be following the perfect example of the boss’ wife and treating Jane with frosty professionalism until that happens.

    2. K.*

      I really have a problem with the notion that racists shouldn’t feel horrible when they’re called on their racism. The people on the receiving end of their racism feel worse, I can assure you, and the way to change those viewpoints is to have those uncomfortable, painful conversations.

      Jane did a bad thing. She should feel bad.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        “Jane did a bad thing. She should feel bad.” Exactly. And hopefully use that feeling bad as motivation to change her behavior and hopefully reflect on why she thinks it’s ok to use racial slurs.

        1. fposte*

          Though you want to avoid the trap of deliberately making her feel bad to teach her a lesson. The feeling bad is incidental, not the goal.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Idk, maybe I’m just vengeful, but given how -ist behaviors and slurs make the targets feel bad, I think it’s perfectly legit to specifically want the offender to feel bad, *as well as* wanting them to introspect and change their ways.

            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              Guess you and I have the same vengeance daemon. I would want them to feel bad. I’d hope that they would reflect and change their ways, but if they didn’t, I am ok with them continuing to feel bad.

              1. OhNo*

                Same here. If they’re going to change their ways, good for them. I wish them well.

                If they’re not, at the very least I want them to feel bad and embarrassed about what they did – if for no other reason than to give them pause if they ever think of doing it again.

              2. Rana*

                Same. Feeling bad about their actions is part of what’s necessary for someone to make a long-term change to their behavior. Wallowing in a pit of despair is probably unproductive, but “Oh, wow, that thing I did is something other people find terrible? I feel awful; I’d better make sure I don’t do it again” seems like exactly the process you’d want them to go through.

          2. Mookie*

            But no one is responsible for managing or minimizing Jane’s emotions, either. It’s not so much a trap to avoid as it’s something that shouldn’t matter one way or the other. If she can’t handle being corrected, that’s okay. Compassionate, well-meaning people also tend to feel bad when it’s pointed out that they’ve acted like a cruel ass. And Jane’s reaction does, actually, matter, both to her colleagues and her patients. It’s pretty important that she acknowledges the error and knows never to behave like this at work, because nobody should have to put up with this twice.

      2. LKW*

        Racists get away with it because people don’t want to cause drama or don’t want to make anyone feel bad. End result is that racists think everyone thinks the way they do and that racist behavior is acceptable. The boss’ wife did the right thing in the moment. If Jane asks the OP about the boss’ wife’s frostiness, she can lay it out “You said something unbelievably offensive in that woman’s home. If you want to fix this, you can try apologizing again but I don’t see her warming up to you.” Otherwise leave it be. If the OP catches Jane treating patients or co-workers poorly because they are Asian or any other race, religion, whatever, then she should report it to the boss because that should result in immediate dismissal.

      3. Statler von Waldorf*

        I wish it was that simple. My experience is that when you call people on this stuff, they double down as often as not. I totally understand that morally judging people feels great, but in my experience it tends to be counter-productive. I find that the smallest amount of empathy will change more minds than mountains full of scorn.

        1. TL -*

          Outside of family, my experience has been when I tell people not to use certain language around me, they don’t use it.
          Mind you, I don’t get into protracted arguments about why it’s a bad word or who it’s hurting, or anything like that. I use similar language to the boss’ wife and refuse to argue any more than, “that’s offensive; don’t use that language in front of me.”

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            I’m not talking about shutting people up. That’s easy, especially if the power differential is on your side like it was in this case. I’m talking about changing minds, which is a lot harder, and you will never do it by simply declaring something offensive.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You might. Generally empathetic people who see themselves as good actors will take feedback that what they said was offensive and will reflect on it. Some won’t, but I’ve met many people whose minds change once someone flags something as offensive. It depends on how it’s called out and the relationship between the caller and call-ee.

              1. Geoffrey B*

                And even if it has no effect on the call-ee, that doesn’t mean it’s wasted effort. Often the most important part of calling-out is the effect it has on bystanders.

                Some time back I had occasion to tell the stepson’s buddies “we don’t use ‘gay’ as an insult in this house, thanks”. Obligatory “oh I don’t mean it in a homophobic way” response of course.

                I left that interaction feeling like Uncool Dad… and then a few years later I found out I was actually Guy Who Made The Closeted Bi Kid Feel Safe. Not the only time I’ve had that sort of experience, either.

                1. Hrovitnir*

                  Nice. I used to be better at having discussions about these kind of things for bystanders, but these days I just feel so very tired and am much more retiring. *sigh*

              2. AMPG*

                I’ve found it to be the other way around – people who see themselves as good actors will often refuse to admit they’ve done something racist, because racism makes you a bad person, and they’re not bad people, therefore they can’t be racist.

            2. TheMonkey*

              At the same time, I’m not necessarily worried about changing minds. If the offensive behavior/comments are stopped, that’s my initial goal.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I cannot for the life of me remember who said it, but there’s a quote out there to the effect of “A person *wanting* to hurt me because of my race, that’s his own problem. But if he has the *power* to hurt me because of my race, then that’s my problem.”

                1. Zombii*

                  That’s just a more articulate version of “No one can make you feel anything,” “You’re the only one in charge of your own emotions,” etc, which frankly is bullshit. It puts all the onus on the offended party to stop being offended but does nothing to stop the offense.

                  Given, there are valid places for that attitude but responding to -ist comments from -ist people are not the place for it. (Storytime: A guidance counselor in my jr high tried this garbage on a girl who was upset by bullies calling her the n-word. It didn’t go over so well.)

                2. CM*

                  I interpret this differently than Zombii. I’m not sure how it’s intended. But that quote reflects how I feel in our current political climate. I’ve experienced casual racism plenty of times,
                  but since the person yelling at me to go back to my country or whatever rarely had any power over me, I just thought “that person is a jerk” and it didn’t affect me too much. But now that people in authority are saying that people who look like me are criminals and don’t belong in the country, and are enacting policies accordingly, I have a problem.

                  I also agree with Statler von Waldorf. Harping on Jane’s racist comment is not going to help here, assuming it’s not a pattern that needs to be addressed further. Jane will feel like a victim.

                3. Clinical Social Worker*

                  I’m the same. I’m not a race minority but bi. I don’t care about someone’s intentions I care about their actions. The problems start when their actions hurt me.

                  Very unrelated in terms of severity but I had a coworker call me “hon” and “dear” quite a bit. I asked her to stop and it continued. When I mentioned it as something that affects how I interact with the team my boss asked if I thought there was any malintent behind it in a “surely she doesn’t mean to offend you” kind of way.

                  I said “This might sound mean but I don’t care. I’ve asked her to stop and she won’t. I don’t care what she “intends” when she continues to do a behavior I’ve asked her to top doing.”

            3. TL -*

              But on some level, I don’t really care what a person thinks. I just care how they act, especially around me. If I know someone will listen, I will point out that they’re being racist/sexist/ect.. and why and we can talk about it. If I know they won’t listen or I don’t want to deal that discussion anyways, I just shut it down.

              If enough people react like that, most people would start thinking about their behaviors. Cultural norms are enforced by people declaring behaviors, sometimes arbitrary ones, are good or bad and enough people enforcing it that it becomes a social truth. If enough people start calling out racist behavior publicly, every time it happens, it will become a cultural norm not to engage in racism. Eventually, that affects the way an entire society thinks.

              So the way I see it is you can argue until you’re blue in the face (and most of the time get nowhere) or you can set a cultural norm that it’s not acceptable and open a door for conversation if they want.

            4. Mookie*

              It’s not incumbent upon bystanders and listeners to change a racist’s mind. It is the duty of whoever is hosting a group that that group feel safe and unthreatened. The boss’s wife did her job there. It wasn’t just silencing Jane, but communicating something to everyone else around her. Racist actions can be scorned or disciplined; you can’t actually police people’s values and prejudices, beyond insuring that they get no traction where you have a say-so in the matter.

        2. aebhel*

          IME, people are likely to double-down in the moment, but are more likely to examine their behavior later.

          1. fposte*

            That’s a good point–that capitulation on the spot isn’t the only kind of success. I think an approach that doesn’t seek capitulation but instead just tries to plant a seed is often more effective, in fact.

            1. LQ*

              And success isn’t only with the person being responded to. I think that generally the impact is stronger (and I might even say more important) with the people around. That sends a message that this person won’t accept that and that it isn’t acceptable in this space. Your audience (especially when it isn’t 1 on 1) isn’t just the person your are talking to directly.

        3. Marillenbaum*

          Well, it depends on the goal. Sometimes, my goal is to change minds, in which case a bit of gentleness is in order. More often, my goal is to insist upon my own humanity and dignity in the face of a dehumanizing system, so I frankly don’t care about how the bigot feels; I will say exactly how terrible it is and if they double down, that’s their choice to be a trash human being.

    3. Amy*

      If Jane has told everyone who saw this something like, “I really regret having said that. (Boss’ wife) was right, it was absolutely inappropriate. I’m sorry to have done it, and I’m going to work hard to avoid doing it ever again,” then maybe there isn’t much of a point in bringing it up again

      But it doesn’t sound like that’s happened. It sounds like Jane mumbled a half-assed thing in the moment, and hasn’t actually shown much repentance or regret. Even if she did so to the wife directly, she hasn’t to the OP (who also witnessed this). So I don’t see why it would be inappropriate to let her know, “Jane, (boss’ wife) was right, and I hope you’re planning to apologize to everyone for saying something so awful.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Some people may come from an environment where this is so normal that Jane does not really understand something is wrong. HOWEVER. Unless Jane is asking for help, I would not get involved. Hopefully, the reason she says nothing is because she is still too deeply embarrassed to discuss it. Hopefully this is the reason.

        I was the one who called my parents out on their racial remarks. I remember 20 something me, I have done my own missteps in other areas. It took me YEARS to move through that embarrassment. Even though I stopped doing Thing, I had to let it sink in and let it shape me in permanent ways. This is not an instant process.

        1. Amy*

          Yes, Jane really might not understand that this is wrong. And that’s exactly the kind of scenario where it would be appropriate to keep bringing it up until she either gets it, or at least accepts that it is wrong even if she doesn’t fully understand why. We shouldn’t be so afraid of embarrassing people that we let them behave in bigoted ways without bothering to say anything about it–that just pushes the pain of the situation onto the people they’re bigoted against.

    4. Observer*

      I’m not sure why you think it would make her feel horrible – or why you think she felt horrible the first time. The OP’s description of the situation makes it sound like Jane doesn’t see that she did anything so terrible.

  5. Just Answering*

    I was also really impressed with the boss’s wife. She immediately said something. (Which, honestly, is difficult to do.) She said it directly and completely, yet still properly and without breaking etiquette. She changed the subject (so that it didn’t become a topic or a debate). All-in-all, the woman impressed me.

    Other than the OP’s personal relationship with Jane, I don’t think they really ought to do or say anything at all. It has already been handled appropriately.

    1. DrPeteLoomis*

      Yes, this. It can be so jarring when someone just casually throws out a racial slur or offensive stereotype. Jarring to the point that many people wouldn’t have the wherewithal to react. I think the boss’s wife did an incredible job calling it out in the moment. I especially love the framing of “we don’t talk like that in this house” because it doesn’t open up a debate about the language used or why is it/is not appropriate.

      I am also just so flabbergasted that Jane thought it was OK to drop an f-bomb AND a racial slur in mixed company, in front of her boss’s wife. Like, whoa, holy unprofessional behavior, Batman.

  6. HisGirlFriday*

    I am also *very* impressed with the boss’s wife — I am not sure I would have thought that quickly on my feet, TBH.

    OP, this is a whole lot of Not Your Circus, Not Your Monkeys. How the boss’s wife treats Jane — who was unfathomably rude and inappropriate in the boss’s home at a social gathering — is none of your nevermind.

    Actions have consequences — Jane behaved inappropriately, and is now being treated cordially and chilly by someone whom she has wronged.

    The boss doesn’t need to do anything about it because it’s not impacting Jane’s work or the office as a whole.

    If you’re close with Jane — and only if you’re really close to her and she wont’t take it badly — you could say to her, ‘You know, what you said at the boss’s house was seriously out of line, and it change people’s perception of you. You should be aware of that, and if you want to make amends, it would be good to acknowledge what you did, why it was wrong, and how sorry you are.’

    1. fposte*

      That’s a good way to bring it up, if you choose to do it. I was also thinking that if Jane did want to apologize to the boss’s wife, this is a good occasion for a good old-fashioned handwritten note, and Jane presumably has the address to send it to.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      I’m very impressed she was able to say something like that in the moment. My reaction would have been a lot less polished, to say the least. I think I might borrow her phrasing, to be modified slightly depending on where I am (obviously can’t say “in this house” if I’m not in my own home), so that I have something prepared to say in the moment if this kind of thing happens in front of me in a professional setting or similar situation where I have to be careful about phrasing.

    3. LBK*

      I think I’m struggling to see a good way in which that plays out. Either Jane understood exactly how bad it was and has already apologized, or she doesn’t intend to apologize, in which case this conversation will only serve to make things icier between the OP and Jane. I think it’s unlikely she’s genuinely blithely unaware that this is affecting how people perceive her; I guess I just don’t see what good the OP’s intervention will do here that wasn’t already handled by the boss’s wife’s immediate reaction.

      1. fposte*

        I think she had to be somewhat unaware of other people’s perceptions, though; otherwise she wouldn’t have said it in the first place. While her reaction could be a bunch of things, one possibility is that she’s really not used to spending time with people for whom this isn’t okay, so she had to absorb both “I pissed off the boss’s wife” and “Real people I know get mad at casual racism.” A mumbled apology could be resentment, or it could also be panic and humiliation.

        That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily useful to say something to her, but I can conceive of situations where it could be, especially if the OP had some decent life-experience seniority on Jane or if they’d been friendly. Because I think it can really emphasize a message if somebody you think is cool or knowledgeable says calmly that that thing isn’t okay, and here’s what you’d suggest doing to handle this thing professionally.

        1. LBK*

          That’s fair. I think with “PC speech” being such a divisive topic in our current culture, I’m much more accustomed to people who get called out reacting by doubling down, invoking free speech and/or calling the accuser a snowflake. Maybe I just need to get off Twitter more.

          1. fposte*

            Aw, I remember the day when that would have been “get off of Usenet.”

            I have about eight different Janes in my head, and some of them would do exactly what you’re saying. But if I thought she was one of the other Janes, I might take a different tack. Admittedly, some of this is coming from my academic experience with young people, where I do have seniority and I do meet young people who really haven’t encountered any diversity of thought before. But sometimes they’re in the wild, too :-).

            1. Statler von Waldorf*

              Usenet … now that is a name I have not heard in a long time. I remember having a lot of fun on alt.ensign.wesley.die.die.die back in the day.

              I agree with LBK on the likely reaction. Maybe I need to get off twitter/reddit/facebook more too.

              1. TL -*

                I would argue that real-life interactions play out very, very differently than online ones. Calling someone out online probably isn’t going to do much.
                Calling someone out in person has stopped it dead, every time I’ve tried, and it works especially well if I’ve got the will of the group behind me.

    4. Aunt Margie at Work*

      OP is a peace maker. She wants to defuse situations and have everyone get along. That’s a good quality. But you need to pick your battles. Boss’ wife was appropriate and has no reason to compromise. She should accept a sincere apology if Jane offered one, but that is up to Jane. Jane has some really skewed beliefs/values. You can tell her to apologize, but you’ll also have to tell her why.
      Why are you so invested in this?

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I respectfully disagree that wanting to diffuse all situations and have everyone get along is a good quality.

        Most often, it’s just a sign of someone being conflict adverse and the “everyone get along” desire too usually sacrifices other, more important things -like combating racism or other bad behavior. It’s always the reasonable people who are asked to give in, or let something go, to maintain peace.

        1. Amy*

          There has to be a balance. Sometimes, the source of a conflict truly was a small thing that’s being blown out of proportion, and having someone who can step in and say “Look, I know you’re upset, but we need to focus on work right now–can you let this one slide?” is a huge asset. Other times, it wasn’t so small, and the conflict is an appropriate response; in those cases, trying to smooth things over isn’t a helpful response, because it doesn’t actually address or resolve the problem the way it needs to be resolved. (Personally, I agree that combating racism and other bigotry is pretty much always the not-so-small kind, and shouldn’t be swept under the rug. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t genuinely small things out there.)

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Even if it wasn’t blown out of proportion sometimes conflict resolution instinct is useful anyway if the end result is more immediately crucial. Love the Stand by Me example below.

        2. Aunt Margie at Work*

          I watched Stand By Me over the holiday weekend. I was picturing a Chris Chambers kind of person. But yeah, life isn’t the movies. Wanting people to work out their differences is one thing. Expecting people to “let it go” because it’s uncomfortable for the other person is very different.

        3. Mookie*

          It’s always the reasonable people who are asked to give in, or let something go, to maintain peace.

          This. There’s no peace when there’s cruelty in the mix, only unfair and unequal compromise, even if the cruel person is being shushed. It’s okay to loudly object and make things awkward, particularly on the behalf of the marginalized. The OP has nothing to offer here because the job’s been done.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Adult Child of an Alcoholic here. I did a lot of compulsive peacemaking earlier in my life. Not saying that OP is an ACA nor compulsively making peace. But it is human nature to want to see people get along, especially if we have any sort of relationship with the parties involved.

        The piece to factor in here is that we can’t interfere in other people’s learning experiences. Jane needs to learn. And it sounds like the doc and his wife might be facing some challenges here also that they need to work through.

        OP, there are times to make peace and there are times to let things run their course. This is one of those times where it would be best to let things run their course.

    5. Sfigato*

      I was at a party years ago, and Idiot was telling a story that ended, “and he was being such an f-bomb kike!”
      While I was thinking “oh god, that was terrible, what is the best way to respond to this situation” a friend said, “You know what man, way too many people have died for that to be remotely ok to say.” The idiot stammered and apologized and hopefully thought long and hard about his edgy use of racial slurs. I was so impressed by it.

  7. motherofdragons*

    I’m a little dismayed that the focus of the letter is on the wife’s behavior, and not Jane’s. I really expected the ask to be whether or how to talk to Jane about the horrible thing she said. I agree with Alison that the wife’s response in the moment and since is completely appropriate and a natural consequence of Jane’s appalling behavior. LW, if you said anything to the doctor or his wife about the wife acting differently towards Jane, I think it would read as you being more concerned about the wife’s reaction than Jane’s actions, which would reflect poorly on you.

    1. iseeshiny*

      +1 Yeah, my question here would be for myself, and it would be “What gave Jane the impression that I would be okay with hearing her speak that way at any time, let alone at a social gathering?”

      1. BethRA*

        In fairness, it sounds like there were several other people present at the time, so it probably has more to do with Jane’s brainlessness than anything about her audience.

      2. The OG Anonsie*

        Although to be fair, in my experience the answer to this question is often “being white around someone who assumes that means I will agree with their shitty ideas.”

        Folks like this tend to think we’re secretly all in on this together on the inside, and only pretend not to be in public because of those mean PC culture police will get mad about it.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          White people don’t have a monopoly on being racist, most especially to Asians. I have heard infinite amounts of racist things come out of a white people’s mouths about just about every other demographic, but could probably count on both hand the times I’ve heard something said about an Asian from one of them. (Even among those who served in Viet Nam- or my great uncle who was in the Pacific during WWII) The Asian slurs, just in my personal experience in the Midwest and Bay Area, more often I have heard from other minority demographics. (Or among different Asian racists. That can get downright ugly!)

          “Being around people who look like and seemingly think like me” is the more accurate answer.

          1. fposte*

            And to be fair, we don’t know the race of any of the people involved in the OP’s post except for the possible Tinder date. (Nor do we need to.)

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              No, but in response to examine-why-they-would-think-you’re-safe, I’m talking about my experience specifically. That experience is that my race (which is white) means some people feel comfortable saying racist stuff about people who aren’t (like the guy Jane was talking about), because people like this assume their views are actually totally normal and unless they are insulting your group they can say whatever.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            *meant “other Asian races” not racists, but I guess racists is appropriate too.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think OG Anonsie is bringing up a valid point, though. That if you say nothing, people assume that you condone their behavior, and this is a more frequent/common problem for white folks. That doesn’t mean other groups don’t say racist things—it just means that there are people who perceive it’s “safe” to be racist around people that they think are of their same racial background.

            I will say, having also grown up in the Bay Area, that I have frequently heard (white) people say racist things about Asian-Americans, including slurs. That doesn’t mean PoC aren’t also saying racist things, but I think it’s unfair to cast this as whether one (racial/ethnic) group has a monopoly on inter- or intra-group racism.

            1. Sfigato*

              I’ve lived in the Bay Area my life. No one has a monopoly on being racist towards Asians, although it is primarily anti-Asian racism by people of color that has led me to call shenanigans on this theory that PoC can’t be racist because something something power dynamic.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I don’t think this is the right place to have a comprehensive conversation about institutional and structural racism, but I think folks use “racist” in at least two distinct ways. And one of those ways is to discuss specific acts of racial animus, and another is to discuss a system of inequality that is predicated on skin color/racial identity. In this story, regardless of Jane’s ethnicity, her statement was racist in the “specific act of racial animus” sense.

          4. TL -*

            There is a level of outright racism that I only here when everyone around me is white; there is a level of sexism I only hear when a group of men think I’m not listening. (I’m white.)

            My Chinese-American coworker has a mother who has a level of racism that only comes out when she’s speaking to other Chinese people, so there’s a groupthink mentality there that isn’t limited to white people but in the USA, I think it’s most common and harmful in groups of white people.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Absolutely. I have joked before about how people in “progressive” yet heavily segregated cities only believe they are somehow less racist than everyone else because no one realizes how much of what they say and do is bigoted. They’re all only around other people who look like them all the time, agreeing with each other, assuming everything is totally normal and not knowing what it’s like for anyone else.

              I’m joking but… Also not joking, because that’s absolutely what happens. And when you’re an outsider and you come in and you go, oh uh, no actually, I think it’s illegal to refuse to rent to someone because they’re not the same race as everyone else in the neighborhood, they go whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat no, it’s totally normal for people to just want to be around people like them, that’s what everyone does?

              1. Rana*

                Yeah, I’ve lived and worked in a number of liberal bubbles, and that sort of “none of us are racists, racism is horrible, what do you mean that was racist?!” reaction is something I’ve seen play out a few too many times.

                Which is why I make a point of lurking on a bunch of blogs hosted by and for people not like me. It’s uncomfortable AF sometimes, and the urge to jump in and “but not all white people” can be really strong, but it helps me be less of an ass. (Not expecting ally cookies here – just noting a strategy I’ve found helpful that other people might also find useful.)

            2. One of the Sarahs*

              I have a friend who’s an Egyptian/American Muslim. People don’t think she “looks Muslim”, whatever that means, and she experiences this astonishing level of racism from people who assume she’s white, and one of them, and are horrified when she replies “wow, I’m Muslim, do you think that about me?” – hence the “Oh I’m so sorry, not you of course, I never knew, you don’t *look* Muslim”. It’s abhorrent.

              1. Annabell*

                This happens to me constantly. I’m not religious, but my family is from Lebanon and white folks tend to either assume I’m Latina or a white lady with a tan. It leads to hearing A LOT of Islamophobic comments they probably wouldn’t make if they knew I was an Arab.

          5. Mike C.*

            I think it’s important to note that while anyone can be racist, generally the racism practiced by those in the majority or those in power has the power to cause measurable harm.

          6. The OG Anonsie*

            Well, because I’m white, and said I was talking specifically about my experience, then like I said– “because I’m white and around someone who assumes I agree with their shitty ideas” is the most accurate answer given the parameters of my original comment.

            Also, the volume of “well lots of people can be racist, not just white people” comments that flowed in from that is not amusing. Yeah guys, racial bigotry flows all around. If your response to someone contextualizing that people assume they will be cool with racial slurs because they’re white is to jump up and say “not JUST white people, not ALL white people” please reconsider.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Thank you for saying this. It’s much more eloquent than what I could come up with.

        2. Mints*

          I have a South African friend who says he’s gotten it a lot (especially in the UK, but Americans too) that like almost immediately when a person finds out he’s South African are racist like “Oh you’re South African? Black people, am I right?”

          Sometimes racists feel safe because they’ve just gotten used to it

      3. Red 5*

        Same here, reading the headline I assumed it was going to be something along the lines of “I’m not sure how to process this and act professionally knowing somebody I was friends with was so racist and how do I make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

        Of course, the way the wife reacted is how you make sure it doesn’t happen again. That was perfection.

      4. nnn*

        This comment made me realize that in some situations, a shocked and appalled “What on earth gave you the impression that I’d be okay with you saying such horrible things?” or “I’m appalled that you think I’d be okay with you saying such horrible things” might be a useful reaction to people who say horrible things. So thank you for the idea :)

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Carolyn Hax always advocates the response of “wow” – as in “wow, I don’t know why you think that’s an OK thing to say”, or even just “wow!” in the appropriate horrified tone, for people who want to say something, but have difficulties doing it. (she also advocates practicing responses beforehand, IIRC, to feel more comfortable saying it in the moment. So doing it in front of the mirror/practicing with a friend)

      5. Observer*

        That’s not a really good question. I’ve had some pretty outrageous things said to me by people who I’d just met – clearly it wasn’t something *I* had said or done that made them think I’d be ok with it, because there hadn’t been enough time and interaction for that. They apparently figured that given my demographic, I’d be ok with it.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I agree. If the OP brings up wife’s civil but chilly behavior to Jane to the boss, then the boss will have reason to think a lot less of the OP. Because the problem in the whole mess is not that the wife is cordial but not friendly with Jane, but that Jane said a horribly racist thing.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. It actually kind of made me feel judgmental toward OP (but I’m trying really hard not to be). And I whole-heartedly second your last sentence.

      1. Dee-Nice*

        I 100% agree that the wife’s behavior was spot-on and that Jane’s behavior was despicable, and while I also agree that the LW needs to keep that in the forefront of their mind during all of this, I don’t feel super judgmental because I interpreted the letter as showing the discomfort of someone who is a combo of very sensitive to social discord but NOT very experienced with pushing back against social transgressors. So the LW can’t help focusing on the icy environment created by what happened rather than the catalyst itself. To paraphrase an oft-bandied Captain Awkward quote, they might need to learn to send that awkward right back to the person who created it–Jane. LW, this is making you uncomfortable because you witnessed it and continue to witness the fall out, but it is not YOUR awkward. It is Jane’s. You have minimal if any responsibility here and no reason to feel uncomfortable, unless it’s because you now know something ugly about Jane. If you are tempted to sympathize with Jane at all, remember that this is all her own fault and hope that she learns something from it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Thank you for framing it this way. It’s much more charitable, and it helps me be more understanding/kind and less frustrated.

          1. Dee-Nice*

            I speak as someone who had to learn over many years that “An Uncomfortable Thing is Happening!” didn’t necessarily mean “I, Dee-Nice, Must doooo Something About the Thing!”

        2. motherofdragons*

          This is a great point, and “return awkward to sender” is one of my favorite Captain Awkward maxims. The doctor’s wife didn’t make it awkward, Jane made it awkward by saying something super racist. Being around awkwardness is indeed uncomfortable, and the LW is unfortunately looking at the wrong person as the culprit.

          1. tigerStripes*

            That’s a good point. I was feeling so shocked that LW seems to think the doctor’s wife needs to change, that I didn’t think that maybe LW has been brought up thinking that peacemaking is essential, and so she is focusing on the more reasonable person (not Jane) hoping to get the reasonable person to change.

        3. Kathleen Adams*

          That’s exactly how I interpreted the letter, too, but you said it so well!

      2. like wow*

        LIKEWISE. It makes me wonder of the culture at this doctor’s office is a little…. loose? ” Jane seemed kind of taken aback…” This makes me think that she may have made comments like this in the office and no one has pushed back against it. Same with the OP’s focus on the wife’s reactions rather than the actions of her co-worker.

        1. Definitely Anon*

          It might not be the office. It seems like Jane doesn’t often talk about dating and this type of situation probably hasn’t occurred in the office. Jane probably relaxed because it was a social situation and talked as if she were with her friends. Her coworkers may not have seen this side of her. Most of us surround ourselves with people like us, so her racist comments might be common place among her friends and she didn’t realize that people who are not asian would be offended by a racial slur not directed at them (which is a terrible thing because everyone should be offended).

      3. motherofdragons*

        It caught me off-guard! I had to re-read it a few times to make sure I was understanding correctly.

    4. Jessesgirl72*

      Yes, me too! I don’t understand why the OP thinks there is anything wrong with how the wife is acting.

      Saying anything to the doctor puts her at risk of him thinking she’s condoning Jane’s comment, or at least doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

      The OP could learn a great deal from the wife’s example.

    5. MuseumChick*

      I agree! I’m also kind of amazed that Jane using a racial slur has not, from what I can tell from the tone of the letter, affected Jane’s relationship with the other staff. I assume the LW would mention if other staff members were now being cool to Jane and/or not being friendly with her outside of work anymore. It all seems strange to me.

      LW, Jane said a horribly racist thing yet you choose to focus on the wife’s totally proportional, rational, and understandable behavior. I would meditate on that.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am not sure that telling OP to meditate on that is going to help. If the answers were inside her own head she would not have needed to write Alison.

        The basic question, “an outsider is causing tension in my workplace” is a good question. And there is a general answer for that question. BUT. Then we get into the meat and potatoes of the question and we see what happened. Now that general answer changes because of the seriousness of the problem.

        Unfortunately, we have no idea if the doc gave the employee a strong lecture. This is a key piece of information.
        While I understand why the wife is frosty, I also understand that people do not learn things if they are shunned and isolated. It’s not the wife’s job to reprimand/train the employee. Jane does not work for the wife. But it’s not your job, either, OP.

        OP, some people crash into deal breakers with other people. Racism, sexism, ageism, and so on are all known deal breakers for many, many people. The doc’s wife is done with Jane. This happens, people decide to distance themselves from other people. I have distanced myself from people who were stealing, lacing drinks and other nasty stuff. People do judge others on the basis of a single event or interaction. The reason they do that is because that single interaction is so far removed from being acceptable that it conveys something about the person who said it.

        To me it sounds like you are not involved in this in any manner, except for witnessing it. Your best bet is to stay UNinvolved. If Jane says anything to you, you can explain that her comment was way off the charts to the point of being totally unacceptable. And you can explain when she says things like that people will distance themselves from her. You can also say, that if she does it repeatedly, most places would fire her for it. If she asks. If she does not ask, just focus on doing your own job well.

  8. MommaTRex*

    I think I would let this incident go for now, but be mindful about what Jane says in the future, and call her out for anything that gets near that line of being inappropriate.

  9. k*

    This is a situation that I would stay far, far away from. It doesn’t seem to be causing any impact to OP or the office in general, and saying something to Jane could cause more issues (anything from a little awkwardness to Jane being wildly upset at you). Unless OP is very close with Jane, I don’t see any reason to stir that pot.

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1. OP, Jane isn’t yours to fix. Let her process this on her own time and, one hopes, learn from it.

      The doctor’s wife sounds like a class act.

    2. tigerStripes*

      And if OP is very close with Jane, maybe it would be a good idea to back off.

  10. Here we go again*

    I want to take lessons from the boss’ wife…. Seriously, she is freaking AMAZING.

  11. Fake Eleanor*

    Bad enough that Jane used a slur and was appropriately called out for it. It’s worse that the slur magnifies a larger problem with prejudice — it would’ve icky enough to hear “I’d never date him, he’s Chinese,” with the slur not coming into it.

    To be clear, it’s not anyone else’s business who Jane will or won’t date, but once she volunteers her racist opinions in casual conversation, she’s got to deal with the fact that racism is disgusting and will negatively effect how decent people treat you.

    1. peachie*

      This is a good point. The slur is obviously worse than if she’d just said she wouldn’t date a Chinese person, but they’re both wildly racist.

      I don’t think Jane can come back from this. I’m erring toward “unforgivable in all circumstances,” but there’s a difference, I think, between using a slur because you think it’s cool/because you’re quoting a song/because you didn’t know the word was a slur and what she did. Both are quite bad and would make me think poorly of the person who said it, but I can maaaaaybe see someone in one of the scenarios I described giving an actual sincere apology (“I’m so mortified that that word slipped out–I know it’s inappropriate in all contexts, and I’m working on examining why I felt I could say it at all. I will never use that word again, and I deeply apologize for the hurt I caused.”).

      But in Jane’s case–what could she say? The word she used was racist AND the intent behind it was clearly racist. I don’t think I could accept an apology from her. Even if she ‘behaved,’ I would assume that her prejudices hadn’t changed and that she just decided it was wise not to air them.

    2. Definitely Anon*

      People can choose to date or not date people for any reason they want, but I do judge people who refuse to date people because of race. It does reveal a level of racist thinking that I am not comfortable with.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Yep. People argue that they have certain “types” that they are or aren’t attracted to but ruling out an entire race of people just because of their race is pretty gross, in my opinion. I mean I have admittedly dated mostly within my own race but that’s because a lot of the times I’ve been looking to date, most of the people around me at the time were people of my same race. And I actually don’t have a specific physical type like some people say they do – I tend to just date other geeks like me. ;)

        1. Annabell*

          This is a really important distinction, IMO. There’s a huge difference between “I have a thing for brunettes” and “I don’t date Chinese people.”

    3. The OG Anonsie*

      I’m white and I had a long term partner for many years who was a Chinese man. And boy, do you know how many people like to tell anyone who will listen how they would NEVER date an Asian man? Casually, right after you’ve met them, after they found out your partner was Asian, because they want you to know that they think that’s weird and don’t know how or why you would do it, and also by the way how big is his penis I bet it’s really small?

      A whole god damn lot of people. And they will argue to the ends of the earth that there’s nothing weird at all about how eager they are to tell me that, because dating preferences and whatever.

      1. Julia*

        I am married to a Japanese man (I am German) and the amount of white guys telling me I made a big mistake (‘don’t ever marry an Asian man, they’re sexist’ comes up quite a bit), white women saying they couldn’t deal with Asian guys’ ‘effeminate nature and tiny ****’ (WTF) and Japanese women saying I should have gone for a white guy instead is really sad.

        1. Liane*

          “Japanese women saying I should have gone for a white guy instead is really sad.” Yeah.
          I recall in the 80s when I was in college, my father (we’re white) told me what some of the African-American women he knew through work had said about “their men” dating white women. Wow, was it vicious. College-me was thinking, “Yikes! I thought only KKK members would say something that terrible.” Later, back at school, I heard similar sentiments from an African-American woman, a fellow student, and there was real anger/bitterness in her voice.
          And it must be 1000 times worse to hear when you are in such a relationship, which I wasn’t.

          1. Julia*

            That’s really sad. :(

            What Japanese women usually (I don’t know all of them, of course) mean when they say I should have married a white guy is that “Japanese men are sh!t.” It’s so sad because they’re not all sexist or lazy or mother’s boys. I don’t want to go around telling Japanese women who they can date or not, but a) it bothers me what they say about a group of people that includes someone I love and b) ironically, they often end up with some white guy who came to Japan specifically to pick up a “nice, docile, subservient, sexy” Asian woman instead of “those gross fat white femi-nazis”.

            Sorry, this is already kind of off topic.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Yikes! That’s awful. I’m biracial, and the number of times people seemed unsurprised my parents were divorced (because how could it ever work?) was staggering.

  12. K.*

    Jane got off easy. I’m a person of color and had Jane dropped a slur of any kind in my home, I’d have followed up “that kind of language is unacceptable in my home” with “Please leave.” And Jane didn’t even have the presence of mind to be embarrassed but muttered a mealy-mouthed apology? I’ve written Jane off as a racist.

    Because I’ve written Jane off as a racist, I wouldn’t be inclined to hear an apology from her because I don’t think it would be genuine. I’ve been on the receiving end of the “I’m sorry that my racism brought me unwanted consequences, but not actually sorry for being a racist” apology (and I did not accept it; I called it out for what it was), and it’s BS.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Amen. Jane would be kicked out of my house if I were the boss’s wife.

    2. Treecat*

      Bingo. The fact that Jane wasn’t immediately kicked out of the house is something she should be grateful for, but if she’s racist enough to think that she’s “safe” dropping racial slurs in front of strangers then I doubt she’s smart enough to realize that.

      I too would have followed up the “That kind of language is unacceptable in my home” with “thus you must now leave.” Jane got off SUPER easy.

    3. Kvothe*

      Yeah as I was reading the wife’s reaction I was really expecting it to be followed by a “please leave” and I’m pretty astounded that Jane didn’t get the boot at that moment, the doctor’s wife handled that situation far better than I would have

    4. Parcae*

      Yes, this. I’ve twice done what Boss’s Wife did and received non-apologetic apologies in response. The first time, since the offender was the guest of my roommate, I announced my intention to leave. This shamed my roommate into escorting her guest out herself. The second time, I just asked the person to leave, with an offer to return the gift she’d brought.

      I’m not that brave most of the time, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve let a lot of remarks pass without comment, but when it happens in my HOME? I’m not standing for it.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        The older I get, the more comfortable I get at shutting that expletive down in my own home.

        I had to make it clear to my own father that it wasn’t acceptable in my house. I’m also not usually that brave in public either, but I’m working on that. That’s one of those things I just don’t see any shades of gray about.

        1. seejay*

          I’ve shut my parents down in their own home but maaaaan, that was hard. They had some major excuses for it at first.

          “No, I don’t *CARE* if you’re ‘just quoting Quentin Tarantino movies’, STOP USING THAT WORD PERIOD. EVER.”

          They’ve smartened up somewhat but casual racism still slips out from them. I try to call them out on it when I hear it regardless of where we are. :/

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Luckily? My parents lean more toward homophobia, but even there would never use a slur. They even think they are kind and loving toward LGBTQ (umm, no Dad, telling people they are going to Hell is not loving!!!!) So it’s all more casual stuff in my presence. But I’m not going to listen to it inside my home, regardless.

            They did not only allow, but supported me and joined in on gently (but very firmly!) shutting down racism from my Great Uncle the last time we were both visiting their home. He’s 90, so I don’t even bother to say anything about the use of the word “colored” but I shut down his conversation about the “coloreds” being the source of all the troubles in his neighborhood and the city. My brother subscribes to the area crime sheets, and she got out the latest one and showed him all the white mug shots. LOL

            1. seejay*

              There was definitely the gay bashing 10+ years ago, usually couched within the religious rhetoric from my mom. When she visited me (in SF), we walked past two guys holding hands and she leaned in and whispered to me all aghast “those two guys are GAY!!” Um… yeah? And?? I was kind of incredulous that it was “A THING” that needed some sort of announcement over. But then about a year ago, she said something to me about how she was supportive of gay marriage and that she didn’t think it was worth fighting and arguing against because it didn’t hurt anyone and there were other more important things and what people did in their lives was their own business. When I told her I was impressed with her change of stance, she actually *denied* that she was ever against it or had any opinion (selective memory on being any sort of bigot).

              I just keep my boundaries and guard up for anything that slips out from family and I’ve made a point of not letting them say anything hurtful or hateful around me for the past 8 years or so, even if it means shutting them down in their own house. It’s not the 1950s anymore, you can’t say that crap and think it’s alright.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            Ugh, my dad, who’s just got gay male neighbours (he has a gay daughter in me, you’d think it wouldn’t be a surprise) and he’s really proud of showing off that they’re friends, but his conversations were full of “X is the bender” or “X is the woman”, until I explained that gay men don’t actually (only) have sex with one man bending over, and that all heterosexual couples don’t have sex in the ‘men in charge’ mode. A couple of those conversations and he changed his ways, if only to avoid another one of those conversations!

        2. Red 5*

          I’m definitely at the point of “that doesn’t fly in my house” but I’m working towards “or in my presence.”

          I’ve been practicing “Please don’t use that kind of language around me” and “I don’t want to hear that, please stop.” But I think my reputation proceeds me because even older family members don’t say much around me. I decided after certain recent events that I wasn’t going to do nothing when I saw or heard hatred in any form. Doing something might not always mean getting in the middle of it, but I’ll make sure nobody ever thinks I condone it simply because I didn’t say I didn’t agree.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Daring to ask the for the reference I’m not getting, while trying to keep all other TMBG ear worms out…

        1. Risha*

          “Your Racist Friend”, off of the album ‘Flood’:

          It was the loveliest party that I’ve ever attended
          If anything was broken I’m sure it could be mended
          My head can’t tolerate this bobbing and pretending
          Listen to some bullet-head and the madness that he’s saying

          Out from the kitchen to the bedroom to the hallway
          Your friend apologizes, he could see it my way
          He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
          Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding

          This is where the party ends
          I can’t stand here listening to you
          And your racist friend
          I know politics bore you
          But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
          And your racist friend

        2. NinjaPenguin*

          “This is where the party ends/I can’t stand here listening to you/And your racist friend”

          1. ZucchiniBikini*

            It’s a brand new record, for 1990… (I had a tape – yes, a tape! – of Flood and played it til it distorted).

    5. LSP*

      As someone who isn’t a person of color, I have often found myself in situations where people feel free to say super racist things around me because I one of “us.” They very quickly learn that I don’t want to hear racial slurs and I don’t find bigotry funny. My parents wouldn’t allow that language in their house, and neither do I. Although, I don’t think I’d shut it down and kick the person out. Instead, I have tried to engage with with people to get them to think about what they are saying.

      Most of the time I’ve found people don’t think they *ARE* racist just because they *SAY* racist things, and by talking to them about it, I have actually been able to get them to take notice of how what they say and what they do is all other people have to go on. I can’t read your mind or know what’s in your heart. I only know what you share with me about yourself. Share wisely.

      1. Definitely Anon*

        I have been accused of not having a sense of humor since I don’t find racist and sexist jokes funny. When I told my friend that he wouldn’t find them funny unless he thought there was some truth to them he actually thought about it, agreed with me, and stopped telling those jokes. Sometimes calling people out works. Other times it lets you know that maybe you don’t want to hang out with them anymore.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        My friend was just talking about when her kids were little (4o years ago) she did not allow racist/ethnic remarks of any sort. She even went as far as not allowing blond jokes. I am so glad that I don’t hear blond jokes anymore. We don’t need to stereotype (insult/maim with words) anyone for any reason, ever.

  13. caryatis*

    Yes. The doctor’s wife and Jane don’t even work together, so a little bit of coolness between them is not a work problem. Even if they did work together, I’d say a little bit of coolness is okay. We don’t like all of our coworkers the same amount–even assuming they refrain from using racist slurs–and that’s okay.

  14. FlyWeight*

    Yeah the boss’ wife can be as frosty as she darn well pleases, since someone was being an outright racist (in her home, no less). The OP shouldn’t bring it up to her, lest she come off as being on Jane’s side.

  15. Vanessa*

    I hope this letter serves as a reminder that racism toward Asians is very, very real, but “model minority” status means it’s often overlooked.

    1. K.*

      Very prevalent on dating sites and apps (among other places, of course!) – the two groups that get the least attention when online dating are Black women and Asian men. (As a Black woman doing online dating now, I can attest to this.)

      1. Need to go anon again*

        I don’t know that I agree that having a preference in a race when dating is the same as racism though… To be clear, I think Jane’s comments were 100% racist and unacceptable, but I think people have their own preferences and what they are attracted to and that is different than using racial slurs or looking down upon an entire race of people.

        As for the Asian men getting the least attention…. I believe statistically it’s specifically Indian men who get the least responses and Indian women who are the least likely to respond. As an Indian woman, I totally admit that I don’t respond to Indian guys on dating sites and go to block them right away. I’ve tried to tactfully turn them down, rudely turn them down, ignore them, etc. and no matter what they keep harassing me, so it’s really because of bad experiences that I’ve been forced to do so. :-(

        1. Emi.*

          It’s definitely an interesting question, but I don’t think we should get into it here, because it’ll spiral way off topic.

        2. LNZ*

          i feel like if your preferences just happen to perfectly match up with racist beauty and social norms then you need to do some serious self examination (and expect a lot of side eye from me)

      2. sunny-dee*

        I have not one but two friends who have tried multiple online dating sites where THE FIRST thing that a guy does is ask for a picture of her boobs or send her a picture of his d***. Like, “hey, I’m Bob. Here’s me. [awful pic]” Or “you seem nice; can I have a picture of your boobs?”

        So, on the one hand, being ignored is awful, but there’s a silver lining. O_O

        1. K.*

          Oh yeah, that’s a thing. A gross thing, but a thing. Every woman I know who has been on a dating site,myself included, has received an unwanted pic.

    2. Pup Seal*

      Yep. My father is bi-racial (Asian and Hispanic). He said growing up he heard more racial slurs against Asians than Hispanics.

      1. Jesmlet*

        I’m half Asian, half Italian, and look 100% Hispanic. The slurs and insults that were thrown at me were 90% in reference to the Asian half.

        If a friend jokingly calls me a f****** ch***, I wouldn’t bat an eye because insults are used playfully in my friend circle. This woman used the slur as a reason for why she wouldn’t date the guy. I want to hug the wife as a thank you because that’s so obviously gross and unacceptable that if I’d been in that room, I don’t think I’d have been able to be as measured and calm as she was. I’m assuming there aren’t any Asians that work there but Jane would’ve still been on very thin ice had I been in charge. The wife deserves applause, not for you to tell her husband or confront her about her behavior.

        1. Pup Seal*

          I’m half Irish/English, quarter Asian, and quarter Hispanic. I look more Asian than anything else, though people normally can’t figure out my race. In college, a lot of international Chinese students were in my classes, and we also worked together at one job. The international students immediately noticed that I’m Asian, and I became friends with a lot of them. Every time someone made a racial remark about the international students, I would pointed out I was Asian too. They would respond with a brief look of shock and then a follow up of, “But, um, well, you’re not like them!” Uhhhh, what?

          I’m amazed at the boss’s wife too and love how she responded to the situation. If I were OP, I would be more concern how Jane is treating Asian patients and how that could affect the boss’s reputation rather than his wife’s behavior around Jane, especially since the wife did nothing wrong. It makes me curious how the boss is acting around Jane.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it depends, also, on your local community. But slurs against APIs are common, and people tend not to notice that what they’re saying is abjectly racist because they don’t perceive APIs to be in the same categories as other PoC (see: Bill O’Reilly’s nonsense).

    3. Bess*

      Seriously. My partner is Asian and gets glared at at the farmer’s market or when we go jeans shopping together. He doesn’t like to talk about all his experiences that much, but he’s mentioned enough stuff offhand, and I’ve seen enough, that I can fill in the gaps.

      We were in a gardening store the other day and the cashier was making fun of an Asian person he’d interacted with earlier that week. It made me wonder if the cashier was honestly clueless, or was trying to get us to leave (which we did). And we were in a city that has a significant reputation for being “liberal.”

      Also, two of our friends are Asian but have white-sounding last names. They rented an apartment with no issues, until their landlord met them (same “liberal” city), and then suddenly there were all these issues and the landlord basically harassed them until they moved out.

      Oh and when we first started dating my aunt was like “oh, you’re dating someone like THAT, my daughter did that and it didn’t work out!”

      People are always like, “wow, in this day and age?!” and it’s like…yeah…

      1. 11P*

        My town votes very, very liberal and loves talking about how inclusive it is. Didn’t stop some white woman from losing it in a store and going on a racist rant on video that went viral.

        Cue all the shocked “but we’re so liberal” comments. Yeah, guys, sorry but just because they learned to hide it doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’ve met plenty of people who will talk politely to someone’s face and denounce racism but then do a ton of incredibly racist stuff. “It’s not that he’s black, he just makes me uncomfortable…for some reason…some indefinable reason. But it’s not his race!”

      2. Star*

        Agreed. My partner is Chinese, and some of the stuff he has to deal with is absolutely jaw-dropping. I naively thought that no one would really care that we were an interracial couple, or that he was a Chinese guy specifically, but boy was I wrong. It’s utterly disgusting.

        As to the letter, Jane did a terrible thing, and the boss’s wife reacted completely appropriately. Jane isn’t owed warmth or kindness from someone after she’s said something like that.

    4. Malibu Stacey*

      I notice it even in the sense when it’s just Othering and not necessarily offensive. Like, “My brother-in-law, who is Japanese, went to that college”. Like, why does that need to be pointed out?

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        I mean yeah…unless one is talking about a speech he gave to the student body detailing what it’s like to deal with racism as a Japanese student (or something where race was directly relevant)…just don’t. I see people do these things all the time.

      2. Linguist Curmudgeon*

        I see this as Stage Two recovery from racism in old people. Stage One is when they realize something is wrong with their behavior. Stage Two is when they attempt, usually clumsily, to be overtly accepting, or at least to make the motions of it. It usually does not have the intended effect, sadly.

        Same thing happens with homophobia – “My office invited Steve’s partner to the holiday party, and my word, he was so nice, did you know they’re allowed to get married now?” – Etc. It’s pretty awkward, but as an unaffected ally I generally try to be encouraging and correct any mistaken (good faith) terminology.

  16. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

    The boss’s wife is awesome and I aspire to be her when I grow up.

    OP, I’m a bit concerned that you’ve framed this letter like the boss’s wife is the problem here. Jane is. It would be entirely appropriate for the whole office to be slightly frosty to her.

  17. No, please*

    OP, I would be more concerned with Jane saying inappropriate things to or about patients. Doc’s wife is awesome! I’ve kicked people out of my home for this sort of thing. It is not something I put up with or forget.

    1. WPH*

      Or treating patients differently because of their race. There is a reported empathy gap between health practioners and PoC. If I were OP I’d be more worried that my racist coworker may be providing clients with substandard care because of her racist biases than whether or not the wife of my boss should be nicer to my racist coworker…that may be providing clients with substandard care because of her racist biases.

      1. A Cita*

        And it’s not just a provider issue. This is an issue the permeates the clinical environment, from the front desk staff, to the behind the scenes staff, from staff to provider, all up and down the ladder. Even when they have minimal contact with patients, as the OP described in their updates. It’s an empathy gap, microaggressions, and implicit bias.

        1. Amelia*

          Yes, exactly this. Inappropriate remarks are only part of it; it’s the ingrained beliefs and assumptions that guide the rest of the racist person’s behaviour that I’d be concerned about.

  18. Gelliebean*

    I’m thinking this is really not a work question as such – Jane made an incredibly offensive comment in a social situation, and she is suffering the appropriate social consequences. I don’t see how the hostess is obligated to act as if she could be as friendly to Jane as she is to the other guests who were well-behaved; the fact that they see each other occasionally at Jane’s workplace isn’t really all that relevant. What is relevant is that Jane, at an event where she might be expected to exhibit her best behavior, felt comfortable in what she said, and I think that shows a lot about the kind of person Jane is.

  19. FDCA In Canada*

    So, as a white woman who is married to an Asian man who has been in something close to this scenario (a coworker casually tossing around a racial slur), here’s the thing: it permanently coloured the relationship between us. I knew it and she knew it. While I had been perfectly friendly to her before that, after that I was no longer interested in anything but a cordial coworking relationship. I was no longer interested in socializing at lunchtime, chit-chatting during downtime, anything like that. Working with her was fine, but I have no interest in expending my social energy on people that I know have those attitudes and bring them to the workplace and think everyone else there is OK with it.

    Your boss’s wife has done nothing wrong. She is not the problem. Jane is the problem by tossing around racial slurs like that at a social event of any kind, involving coworkers or no, and I’m confused what you would even say to the boss’s wife, at any point–“hey, we’ve noticed you aren’t as friendly to Jane anymore”–so what? Even if she was employed there she’s not obligated to be anything other than professionally courteous to her, and she’s not. Ultimately, this is a none-of-your-business tack. Jane feels bad? Maybe she learned a lesson.

    1. Risha*

      Does Jane even feel bad? The apology was “perfunctory” and the OP is the one noting the continued coolness, not Jane. For all we know, Jane is perfectly happy to continue being scum and hasn’t noticed (or cared) that boss’ wife doesn’t like her.

      1. fposte*

        It’s the boss’s wife who’s being perfunctory, not Jane. The OP assessed her apology as “half-hearted,” but I don’t know whether that was because she was hugely embarrassed or didn’t feel she’d done anything wrong. I think Jane’s feelings will remain a mystery to us forever, and maybe to the OP.

    2. Too Many Details*

      I’m a white woman who’s been in a relationship with an Asian man for 5+ years now. My dad (who has leaned more liberally lately) used a slur watching a TV show once in which the villain of the scene was Asian. My uncle, who fought in Vietnam and is very conservative, has also used the slur in front of me (S/O and I had been together a year or so at the time, though I don’t think Uncle had met him — not that it really matters; what’s wrong is wrong). In neither scenario was S/O present. I was shocked and, frankly, the relationship I have with these two men are such that saying something truly would not have made a difference and Dad later apologized unprompted, saying he had just gotten really into the story and blurted it out (I still don’t feel that’s an appropriate excuse, but I guess it’s better than nothing).

      I’m curious about the ages of the people involved in LW’s scenario. I shared my bit in part because I do feel you’re more likely to hear this sort of thing from baby boomers who grew up in a time/place where this kind of language and attitude toward POC tended to be more “acceptable” and those things haven’t been unlearned in my experience. Still doesn’t make it right.*

      *And I want to emphasize before the fires start that, of course not all baby boomers and of course some Millennials.

      1. pnw*

        As we have been asked not to generalize about Millenials, I would like to ask that you also not generalize about Baby Boomers. I am a baby boomer and would have handled this in a very similar manner to the doctor’s wife. Every one of my close friends, all of a similar age, would do the same thing. The non-profit at which I work would probably terminate employment of someone who spoke out like that. At the very least, they would be suspended and sent to diversity training. I am horrified that you think this type of behavior is common to my generation.

  20. Liane*

    Judith “Miss Manners” Martin would adore her, as do I. OP, the *only* thing about Mrs. Doctor that you should concern yourself with is striving to emulate her classiness.
    You all don’t know how much I wish I felt I could behave so well in that situtation–but I fear my reaction would be more like (in spirit, not literally!) Dilbert’s colleague Engineer Alice–Must. Control. Fist. Of. Death!!

  21. Lora*

    I don’t think you should say anything to Jane other than, perhaps, note that the wife was not the only person who found her language unacceptable. I am originally from a very rural state and people tend to assume that I have a certain kind of politics / religion / attitude which I emphatically do NOT, and as a result people frequently think that I will be happy to commiserate with their woes of living in a notoriously liberal area, and they are shocked as all heck that I tell them, “actually, no, I totally disagree”. But I know other folks in similar situations just kinda “ummm” and excuse themselves rather than confront the person.

  22. Bikirl*

    Young people who are dating and using dating web sites are in a somewhat vulnerable position in many cases. I feel she was taken advantage of somewhat by her colleagues egging her on to discuss the Tinder app from the comfortable vantage point of “not being in the dating scene.” Then she blurted out a racial slur. Of course she should not say such a thing. But why bring up the subject of dating AT ALL with a group of people from work??? This is my go-to subject NOT to discuss with colleagues, except perhaps one on one with those who are also my very close friends. This is certainly not a subject for group discussion at the bosses house! Perhaps there can be a benefit in that she got some feedback on her racist comment. But what about the rest of these folks who think it’s OK to ask a young colleague for a Tinder demo at the bosses house??? They should check out their own decorum (and kindness) toward younger people especially in the mirror. The young woman may have brought up the subject of dating, but even so, it’s up to the group (especially those that are older) to create a protective environment, and steer the conversation to subjects that are work appropriate and affirming for all.

    1. fposte*

      Sure, dating can be a tricky conversation, but it’s really not up to adults to create a “protective environment” for other adults.

      1. Mints*

        It would have been an entirely different letter if “My coworker was pressured into a tinder demo at our bosses house and now his wife is being chilly”
        vs racism that actually happened, and the justified response

    2. Amber Rose*

      You must work in some very formal offices. I have no idea how avoiding the topic of dating, a normal human behavior, is protective, but it’s pretty normal talk in every small, close knit company I’ve ever worked for. It’s not like it’s a super uncomfortable or revealing topic. Sex would be, but dating is just dating.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I can understand talking about danger putting the coworker in a difficult or vulnerable situation. But I cannot get behind the idea that that makes it ok for someone’s reaction to a potential person to be a racial slur, even if it were blurted out.

      But I can’t get behind the idea that asking/talking about online dating is somehow putting this coworker in a vulnerable position or a non-“protective environment.” It’s pretty normal in a social setting—even work-related—to discuss items that are not “work appropriate and affirming for all.” Certainly some issues cross boundaries (like Jane’s comment), but I don’t think it’s realistic to only talk about topics that are “affirming” at a social function. And there are a lot of ways the coworker could have described what online dating entails without enlisting people in her swipe lefts/rights and offering an obscene racial epithet.

    4. K.*

      I am rather baffled by this. I’m dating, I’m on dating apps (it’s very hard not to be in this day and age, particularly since more of my friends are coupled than not), and I don’t see anything particularly vulnerable about my position. It’s just a thing I happen to be doing at the moment. My friends who coupled up before dating apps were as prevalent as they are now have asked me about what apps I’m on and how they work, and I tell them. If I didn’t want to show them my profile, I wouldn’t (I probably wouldn’t show coworkers), but that’s a very easy boundary to draw. And it’s very easy to get on the topic of dating in a group conversation. “Has anyone tried the new restaurant on 2nd Street?” “Yeah, I went there with a guy I’m seeing.” “Oh, how’d you meet him?” “Tinder.”

      Also, not everyone on dating apps is young. I have a fairly broad age range set on my profiles, and there are lots of people over 45 on them (and probably older than that!).

      Asking someone about their dating habits is not akin to using a racial slur.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I got married when the internet was dial-up, and ‘computer dating’ meant you went to a warehouse and watched a bunch of videotapes of possible matches made by an alleged actual computer somewhere in the building. So I could see an organic conversation arising because while I know where the phrases “swipe left” and “swipe right” come from and that one means “I would consider texting with you” and one means “nope,” I can never remember which is which.

      2. Sylvia*

        Using dating apps can be “vulnerable,” I guess, if it would out some aspect of your life you don’t want to share? But then you wouldn’t bring it up with your coworkers in the first place.

        And like Amelia says, the dating app isn’t the part of this that’s troublesome!

      1. WPH*

        Plus a million. It seems like an attempt to make the young racist coworker a victim as opposed to focusing on her racism.

    5. Luce21*

      As a ‘younger person’, this is ridiculous. They didn’t ask her for a demo, they asked how it worked. And they definitely did not ask for her racist(!!!!) commentary. She was totally open with giving a pretty generic explanation on the mechanics of the app without having to go into details about what a horrible person she is.

      She isn’t twelve.

    6. Fictional Butt*

      I (a young Tinder user who is generally super private at work) wholly disagree with everything you said. Also, it’s not really relevant to the letter at all.

    7. Badmin*

      eh I’m sorry but no. It sounds like Jane volunteered to show off the app which is fine if that is what she is comfortable with. Like any personal aspect of our lives, Jane could have not volunteered that information or been coy about her dating life. I am on dating apps and I don’t broadcast it/really talk about it with colleagues, if it came up I would offer up my opinion without volunteering I am on it. I don’t need to disclose everything.

      I think it was out of genuine curiosity and overall a non-issue compared to what Jane said which is where the focus should really be.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        Yeah. I’ve found myself in conversations with colleagues and they’ve shown Tindr. However, they were not pressured to do so and we wouldn’t even have known they were on Tindr if they hadn’t admitted to using it.

    8. Gloucesterina*

      How difficult is it to choose not to voice a racial slur when discussing any topic among colleagues/supervisors? How much “protection” does this young worker need from her own impulses or assumptions?

      1. esra (also a Canadian)*

        I don’t understand the ‘accidental racist’ defense. Like we get frazzled and start saying bigoted things? No.

        1. Annabell*

          Yeah, I don’t get this either. Perhaps it’s because I’m a WOC, but I don’t react to social discomfort by blurting out slurs.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, I usually call b.s. on this excuse. It’s really bizarre and falls in the “sorry not sorry” category of excuses for me.

        3. fposte*

          There’s a hilarious Calvin Trillin essay from the 1980s about a Reagan panel person who described his slur against Puerto Ricans as an “oratorical mistake.” (Trillin follows the guy through hypothetical youth and debate teams where he keeps making the same oratorical mistake.)

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            What’s the essay called? I really want to read it and couldn’t find it by googling those key terms!

        4. oranges & lemons*

          Yeah, exactly. This kind of reminds me of the recent letter from someone who called her boss’s teenage daughter a “whore”–using that kind of language so casually (and with co-workers!) is obviously a sign of that person’s deeper mindset. No one gets in the habit of saying this kind of stuff by accident.

          1. HB*

            This is such a good comparison as that LW even came back to say that such language was common in her upbringing.

        5. BeautifulVoid*

          This, exactly. I’ve been in plenty of of awkward, uncomfortable situations in my lifetime. You know the number of times I’ve used a racial slur as a result of being stressed out? Zero.

          What’s next? What if the doctor, Jane’s actual boss, has a problem with her work and calls her in for a meeting to discuss it? If she feels “vulnerable” because she’s being put on the spot by someone older than her, she’d get a pass for saying something completely inappropriate?

    9. Amy*

      I don’t care HOW vulnerable someone is, if their response to the situation is to spew racism and bigotry, that says something about them. Under no circumstances is using racial slurs a natural consequence of talking about dating.

      1. tigerStripes*

        Maybe someone who was brought up in a racist home but had learned how wrong it was might accidentally say something racist in a stressed moment, because of growing up with it, but someone like that would be mortified, right? Because the person would know that wasn’t an OK thing to say. My baby boomer parents have always been against racism, so I don’t know that for sure.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yeah, and there’s a difference between casually using SLUR and being mortified when you realised (eg the people upthread who didn’t know “gyp” is a slur) and saying f-ing SLUR – there’s not way to frame that outside of racism.

    10. aebhel*

      It’s not up to a group of colleagues to create a ‘protective environment’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean) for another adult lest that adult accidentally let slip a racial slur. I mean, how do you even get there from here?

      1. Sylvia*


        (Is it everyone’s job to be a caregiver for everyone who’s younger than them? This is an attitude I’ve seen sometimes. Maybe I’ll bring it up in an open thread.)

    11. neeko*

      Why are you jumping through hoops to excuse someone saying a racial slur? How horrible.

    12. neverjaunty*

      I was wondering how someone would find a way to excuse Jane and make it all about the boss’s wife being horrible, but I admit I hadn’t thought of this angle. Kudos!

    13. Observer*

      Seriously?! I’m not a huge fan of talking about dating at work, and even in a social work occasion Tinder might not be the best topic of conversation. But what does that have to do with using racial slurs? If this had been a TMI type of situation, then sure – it’s reasonable to expect that a younger or less experienced person might overshare in that situation. But why on earth would you think that talking about dating would lead to someone blurting out a racial slur?

      1. Bikirl*

        I’m not excusing her racist statement in any way. However, I saw some other potentially problematic aspects to this than only Jane’s racial slur. The general topic of dating in general can very easily turn into my personal dating experiences, so that’s why I steer clear of this subject at work if possible. Jane was “vulnerable” in the sense that this line conversation could lead to her exposing her personal information, and ideally, we don’t want ourselves or our to colleagues get into this position if at all possible. Sorry if this makes me sound insensitive to Jane’s comment.

        1. Observer*

          What does that have to do with the situation, though. The problem is that Jane blurted out a racial slur – and when you preface a word with f*** there is no doubt that it’s meant as a slur. How on earth does that follow from discussing dating? And why would the possible potential for problems in terms of over-sharing be relevant to the appropriate reaction to it?

          Also, are you really equating not protecting an adult from themselves to actually using that kind of language? If not why do you think that BossWife and all responders need to “check out their own decorum (and kindness) toward younger people”

          1. Bikirl*

            Jane apparently made a racist comment, but that doesn’t make everyone else perfect in this exchange. The group conversation was already heading in a direction that had a lot of potential to become inappropriate, it seems to me. By decorum and kindness, I mean striving for a higher level of discourse. I wish everyone well and hope that Jane got some useful feedback.

  23. Amber Rose*

    Boss’s wife is basically the Hero of Awesome Professionalism here, as far as I’m concerned. Addressed the issue calmly, didn’t bring it up again or turn it into A Thing, and has employed a textbook example of Icy Professionalism. She is behaving basically the way Alison has advised people to behave towards awful coworkers.

    Jane, on the other hand, is an issue, and your reaction to her as well. You are trying to not be confrontational and maintain the status quo of comfortable friendliness I’m assuming, but you’re indirectly letting Jane know that her words are OK. Are you really OK with that? Judging by her reaction, Jane has probably never had anyone call her out on her crap before. It would be very, very good for her to hear it from more than just one person that her behavior that night has soured her relationship with others and she should apologize.

    But I think first you have to question your own reactions here and your own attitudes about race.

  24. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, you should strongly suggest to Jane that she must apologize. You should confront her about what she said, and make it clear how cruel and demeaning her words were that night. This is not really something that you can soften when talking with Jane, and, yes, you might burn bridges or ruin a casual friendship you had with her (if one existed), but if you do this, you will be standing up for what is right.

    The doctor’s wife did absolutely nothing wrong that night, and her new attitude towards Jane is 100% justified.

    1. Observer*

      I think you are putting way too much on the OP. This is not her job. Sure, Doctor’s Wife did nothing wrong – everything right. And, the OP certainly shouldn’t be trying to change that, nor should she try to smooth the awkwardness over. But, it’s not really her job to confront people. Of Jane pulls something like that at work, that becomes a whole different issue.

  25. NW Mossy*

    OP, I think you’ve fallen into a very common trap about what professionalism is and isn’t. It doesn’t mean treating everyone the same; instead, it means treating everyone appropriately based on a range of factors, one of which is their past behavior.

    Your boss’s wife (and really your boss, and you yourself) is under no obligation to treat Jane exactly the same as everyone else in the office simply because Jane shares “my husband’s employee” status with them. Through her behavior, Jane has put herself into a new category of “casual racist,” and she’s the only person that happens to live in the overlap of these two categories.

    It’s no different than an employee with attendance problems drawing closer scrutiny for timeliness than an employee who’s normally earlier. Different behavior means different responses from others.

  26. This Daydreamer*

    “Should I say something to the wife that it’s noticed that she’s being cool?”

    Definitely! She deserves recognition for being a rock star in the way she’s dealing with this! Her immediate reaction was the very essence of how to be a cool person.

    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      Based on her prior awesomeness, I would be prepared for her to answer something along the lines of “Excellent, then things are going exactly as I planned.” Boss’s wife is my favorite kind of person – one who clearly states their boundaries and follows up with appropriate behavior and consequences.

  27. Electric Hedgehog*

    It makes me happy in my heart that I have literally no idea what the slur actually was even with all the information given in the letter. I’m either completely oblivious to racial slurs being thrown around in my vicinity, or there’s not much being thrown, which is a nice thing. Stuff like that is totally gross and unacceptable.

    1. Electric Hedgehog*

      And then I read the thread above with the f-bomb clarification, and my happy bubble went away. Dang.

      1. sunny-dee*

        ME TOO. I thought the f thing was the slur and I was totally lost but in a good way. Sigh.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Whoaaaaaa… I actually googled racial slurs trying to find one that started with F. So Jane actually said “he’s a effing (slur)”???? Somehow that seems so much worse than just a slur?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It shows intent to be mean, just in case the listener did not get “meanness” out of the slur itself. I guess?

  28. MiaRose*

    So, as a person who is of Asian descent who has experienced racism to my face, in addition to being told that it as a joke and I shouldn’t make a big deal of it, I’m pretty put off that the OP thought the doctor’s wife was in the wrong in any way, and I feel that any bit if defense of Jane’s behavior to be too much defense. The doctor’s wife is my hero; I wish more people would be like this in the face of such blatant racist remarks. Most people look away or titter in embarrassment, or someone may say, “Wow, that’s an awful thing to say”, but then let it go after that. No real consequences.

    The doctor’s wife has absolutely impeccable behavior in face of all this. I would suggest to you, OP, to think why your overall reaction seems to excuse Jane’s behavior and condemn the doctor’s wife for hers. Because, to me, this is also very telling.

  29. Roker Moose*

    Mrs Doctor sounds amazing! She handled that situation brilliantly, and with far more grace than I might’ve done.

  30. Cringing 24/7*

    Okay, so I don’t know what racial slur was said, but I’ve been looking through the racial slur database (and simultaneously learning all types of horrible ways that people hate others), and I’ve got to say that whatever word she used, I probably would only have been able to tell it was offensive contextually because I’ve never heard so many of these words. Kudos to the boss’s wife for shutting that down. She’s who I want to emulate in every/any discriminatory situation at work or home.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      At my first real job when I was 20, I got a real “education” of the vast number of racial slurs that exist. It’s a privilege to never have been forced to learn them, but I’m also proud that I never heard them until that point, even in a Midwestern town! I’m also proud that unlike the one California politician who made headlines a few years ago, I can figure out a slur when I hear one, and never have had to make excuses for using one by claiming I thought it was normal or affectionate!

    2. peachie*

      Some commenters above pointed out that the ‘f*****’ is actually ‘f***ing’ and the racial slur was omitted totally. But I initially thought the same thing as you!

    3. HisGirlFriday*

      A PP pointed out that what was said was F****** and then *racial slur* — so the F-bomb used an an adjective before the noun that’s a racial slur for Asian people.

      I had to read the letter twice, then i saw the comment, then I re-read the letter, THEN I got the linguistics.

  31. LNZ*

    The odd thing for me here is the op using the phrase “inappropriate racial slur”. Like is there ever such a thing as an appropriate racial slur?

    1. Bookworm*

      I tend to agree. But I supposed there are some that might fall into a more ambiguous category. Like, when I saw the ‘f’, I immediately assumed she’d used the acronym for fresh off the boat. Which is considered discriminatory in many cases (and would be in this one, since she’s justifying not dating the person). But I also know Asians who use that word pretty casually. I suppose I could imagine a situation in which someone was genuinely confused about whether a certain word was offensive or not.

      Now that I think of it, I can also remember a conversation in college in which I got confused by the meaning of a sentence because it used a racial slur I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t treat the word gingerly, the way I would have if I’d realized the implications.

      On the other hand, there are some slurs that are broadly known. Perhaps OP was trying to convey it was the latter.

      1. LNZ*

        I mean there probably is a debate to be had about if a word is still a slur if its being used in a reclaimed manner by that community.

        And yeah I get what you mean, but i feel like if someone uses a word they didn’t know was a slur they are usually mortified. While reading To Kill a Mocking Bird we got a new student in the class who s family had just moved from Latvia to the US and she had literally never heard the N word before. She used it once when talking about the book, not directly quoting anything, and the whole class just froze. I had to explain the situation to her, she was utterly horrified to find out what she had said meant and the class was very understanding and no one held it against her because again, she legit didn’t know.

        1. LaSalleUGirl*

          I worked at a university Writing Center when I was in grad school, and we encountered a situation like this. We had a reciprocal agreement with a university in Korea, so we had a lot of international students whose spoken English fluency was still developing. The students often used handheld translators to help them with conversational English, but the devices were made in Korea, and didn’t always handle idiomatic English and cultural appropriateness well. One student came in for a session and asked the tutor for guidance about an experience she’d had at a grocery store. I can’t remember exactly what she’d been trying to ask for, but she had plugged a sentence into her translator, and it spit back an English “translation” that contained a racial slur, which she then said aloud to a store employee, who angrily threw her out. The student could tell that she’d done something wrong, but didn’t have the fluency or cultural familiarity to know what it was, so she shared the story with the tutor, who explained and emphasized that she should definitely not use that word again. The student was mortified. (And our staff was appalled that so many of our students were unknowingly running the risk of having the same sort of thing happen. I hope translation software has improved since then!)

          Clearly, Jane was not in this sort of position, though.

      2. e*

        Just wanted to say – I had a moment where I thought it had to be “fresh off the boat” as well, and as an Asian American woman I can absolutely see someone Asian American saying that. There are cultural reasons people would cite and I’m not sure I’d consider it strictly racist, but it’s certainly not polite.

        Of course, OP says below what slur it actually was, so this discussion is a bit moot.

    2. seejay*

      After reading the comments to your comment, I can think of a word that might be considered appropriate versus inappropriate…. different countries treat certain words as pejorative while others don’t. I’m from Canada and the word “Eskimo” is definitely not a word we use when speaking of First Nations and Inuit people, and it was ingrained in us from the time we were kids that we don’t use that word. When I moved to the US, I had a hard time even using the word “Eskimo pie” without cringing. Then while watching “American Ninja Warrior”, they had a competitor from Alaska who was nicknamed the Eskimo Ninja, as he was Native and every time they called him that, I inwardly squirmed, despite the word being acceptable in the US, as opposed to where I’m from.

      So maybe that’s another example of acceptable versus not?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think some words are derogatory in some contexts, and reclaimed in others. But it always varies extremely heavily based on the identity of the speaker and the context in which they use those words. I generally think all slurs are inappropriate, but smarter people than me have argued otherwise.

        From what I can tell, no one I know has “reclaimed” or subverted the racial-slur-that-rhymes-with-“pink.” But a good example of the tension over an (in)appropriate slur would be The Slants, an Asian-American rock band whose dispute with the USPTO is pending before the Supreme Court. USPTO denied the trademark request, stating that it does not allow people to trademark racial slurs (but interestingly, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association submitted an amicus opposing the band’s trademark request, arguing that the name is a slur and dismissing the “reclamation” argument).

      2. Coraggio*

        In NZ we have Eskimo lollies . . . the manufacturer got called out about it a while ago but has no plans to change . . .

        1. Chinook*

          The irony of calling something “Eskimo lollies” is that Eskimo is a Cree slur meaning “raw meat eaters.” Don’t know if I would want that type of candy.

      3. Chinook*

        I agree on “Eskimo” being cringe worthy. The only acceptable use in Canada is when referring to one CFL team and no where do they have any symbols/mascots that refer to the Inuit people (and haven’t for decades). In fact, if there are references to people dressed in furs/parkas at a CFL game, they are referring to fans brave enough to go to a game in October during a snowstorm.

      4. ChickenSuperhero*

        In the US – here educated/liberal people are starting to say Inuit as a default instead of Eskimo, but it’s just less immediate in our lives as opposed to up north, so I wouldn’t be surprised if less-educated people had no clue about the change in terms. I generally say something like “Inuit – what people used to call Eskimo but that’s apparently pretty offensive”.

        1. Mike*

          That’s very Canadian of them. In fact, “Eskimo” is often used as the general term in Alaska because the Yupiks and Aleuts are not Inupiat and prefer not to be called that. (It’s similar to the way many educated westerners think it’s more culturally sensitive to call the Persian language “Farsi,” inadvertently irritating the speakers of Dari and Tajiki who prefer “Persian” for the language in general and “Farsi” for its proper referent, the Persian dialect of Iran, since they assuredly do not speak Farsi. It’s also similar to the supposedly educated graduate students in Latin American studies who lecture people who pronounce “Ginastera,” the name of one of the greatest Argentinian composers, with the soft g sound of French ge and insist they use the Castilian pronunciation with gleeful bourgeois-jabbing glee in total ignorance of the fact that he was of Catalan descent, pronounced his name in Catalan fashion, and didn’t like it when people assumed that because he was Argentinian, he was automatically Castilian–and these are the same people who lecture you on the ethnic diversity of Latin America. Same with Joan Miro, same with Heitor Villa-Lobos.) Also, the etymology of the word “Eskimo” is unclear, but its likely source is probably a Montagnais word assimew meaning “snowshoe-netter.”

    3. Regular commentator, anonymous actuary*

      Well, I’m happy to be called a rosbif by a Frenchman, a Pom by an Australian or a sassenach by a Scotsman. Do they count as inoffensive racial slurs?

      This is just in response to LNZ’s question – I’m 100% with the boss’s wife on this one.

    4. neeko*

      I think you are being nitpicky here. I don’t think the OP meant that there are appropriate racial slurs. Just overclarifying that was Jane said was terrible.

    5. Linguist Curmudgeon*

      The adjective just reinforces that it’s not okay, I think. Repetition for effect, kind of thing.

  32. The OP*

    Hi, OP here.
    To clarify, the slur was a word that rhymes with pink and the f-bomb was thrown in front of it.

    I guess I am a peacemaker at heart so it does bother me when people don’t get along.

    I think that Jane doesn’t really think what she said is THAT big of a deal. And to be honest. I suspect some of my coworkers think the same way and probably see boss’ wife as having a stick up her behind to react the way she did.

    Jane has minimal patient contact and I’ve not seen any evidence of inappropriate behavior towards Asian patients.

    You all have given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

    1. peachie*

      Thank you for chiming in, OP!

      I understand the peacemaker thing–I absolutely have that tendency as well. In this case, though, only one person did something wrong. Plus, as long as Boss’s Wife is still being professional (which it sounds like she is), there’s really nothing more to do. You can’t make BW like Jane or accept her apology (and I wouldn’t expect her to).

      If your coworkers are seeing BW as on the ‘wrong side’ here…. Well, that’s troubling to me. If you look at the responses here, you’ll notice that they’re pretty much universally condemning what Jane said and agreeing that the wife is behaving entirely appropriately. If multiple people in your office think such a horrendous statement is “not a big deal,” well… I don’t know if I have advice, but that sounds like a pretty serious work culture problem.

    2. esra (also a Canadian)*

      Thanks for coming back to clarify. That’s dismaying to hear about your coworkers.

      I think with the peacemaking tendencies, it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t up to the person wronged to make peace. In this particular instance, the only person working to smooth things over should be Jane (who seriously needs to reflect on her attitudes and actions).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I was going to say exactly this. I think peacemakers are important and play a vital role in social groups and relationships! But it’s important to focus on the person who broke the peace—Jane—, not the person harmed. And I’m really sad/sorry that your coworkers don’t understand how deeply racist Jane’s statement was. I guess I’d hoped for better from them and Jane.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Right – it’s natural and appropriate to want people to get along!

          But unfortunately, OP, that instinct has to take a back seat to reality. People ought to get along when they are behaving well, and are willing to own up to and fix their mistakes.

          That urge to smooth over and make excuses for bad behavior? That’s wishing for a false peace.

    3. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      Boss’s wife has done Jane and hopefully your other co-workers a solid here then. She has made it very clear that no matter what you may be used to hearing around your own friends and family, you should operate with an awareness that there are people in this world (thank goodness) who find slurs of any kind vile and unacceptable, make judgements about the character of people who use them, and deliver appropriate consequences as they see fit. It’s a good lesson for people who apparently don’t know any better to learn.

      1. BeautifulVoid*

        Agreed. I’m not going to say that Jane should be fired (because I could be swayed either way), but I will say that if she were fired over what happened, I wouldn’t consider it unfair. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for her, and even if she doesn’t reexamine her way of thinking, she’ll at least learn when it’s a good idea to hold back on expressing certain thoughts.

    4. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      Thank for chiming in.

      I hope Alison’s response and the comments here have shown you that your boss’ wife is absolutely in the right and Jane and some of your coworkers (and possibly even you, depending on where you lean in this situation) are the ones that need to rethink the situation. Glossing over casual racism as “not a big deal” is how institutionalized racism persists.

      Nothing should be done to save Jane from the boss’ wife’s frost. And if someone says something about it, reaffirming that the boss’ wife is in the right and Jane was in the wrong in more ways than 1 is the only proper response.

      Do not talk to your boss. Do not talk to his wife. I honestly wouldn’t talk to Jane either, unless she mentions that the wife is being icy. In which case the proper response is “well what did you expect after your behavior and lack of apology?”

    5. Amy*

      OP, do YOU consider what Jane said to be a problem?

      I’m going to gently suggest that you probably should. And if you do, I’m going to suggest that if you still feel a need to peacemake in this situation, you do so by addressing Jane’s behavior with her, to help her understand why it is actually that big a deal, and guide her into an appropriate apology and change in behavior.

      If you don’t think you can do that, I suggest staying out of it. And if you’re also not sure why it’s a big deal, maybe it’s time to do some reading on why the word she used is considered a slur, and how that specific word impacts people it’s used against?

      1. Pup Seal*

        To add to this, think about how the whole situation would’ve turned out differently had an Asian person been there when she said the slur.

        1. Disappointed*

          I think the only difference would have been that the comment might not have been made at all. If the comment HAD been made and the Asian person shut it down, I have afeeling that most of the people in this office would have thought the Asian person had a “stick up her behind”

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        I gather from the OP’s reply that she doesn’t agree with the comment, but since it was made outside of the office and this small team has to work together, she feels like the boss’s wife might have been unnecessarily harsh.

        To be clear: I am in full agreement with Alison. I’m with the others who think firing is not too severe a consequence (note: I’m not saying “punishment” — I mean a natural consequence of being a person whom good people don’t want to be around).

        And just because OP hasn’t seen her behave inappropriately in front of an Asian patient doesn’t mean her racism might not come out in front of a non-Asian patient who would (properly) be appalled.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think this is right (especially in light of OP’s follow-up comment). It sounds like she was aware this was an inappropriate slur, but because her coworkers don’t perceive it to be a serious problem, she saw this as an overreaction on the part of the boss’s wife. It’s helpful to learn that this was indeed gravely serious, and that the reaction was restrained and proportional.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes. Do not go through life assuming that if no one visibly in Group X is in earshot, then you can slam Group X with impunity and everyone is going to nod along and say “Yeah, Group X, their existence sure is annoying to everyone here.” Some people will react like the boss’s wife; some will silently write you off. In this case, by deciding to switch to another doctor’s office, probably without taking the effort to explain exactly what precipitated this move.

          1. Izzy*

            Today, in fact, I came out of the bathroom at the hair salon to find my stylist and the stylist one chair over throwing around a lot of transphobic bullshit of the “they’re not women, what if sixteen-year-olds want to ‘identify’ as twenty-one and drink in bars, everyone is too PC” variety. Told the booking lady that I have several transgender friends and I didn’t think this was the right establishment for me, then left.
            The owner called me ten minutes later to apologize profusely–she was in the front of the salon and hadn’t heard any of the conversation, has trans clients herself, was appalled and read both stylists the riot act, etc, so it was productive, but also highlights a couple things worth noting for managers etc in cases like this:
            1) The owner/manager/etc of a place doesn’t see everything that clients or co-workers might, even when not said to them specifically.
            2) Just because someone’s not visibly a member of a particular group doesn’t mean they don’t have friends or loved ones who *are*. (Or meet minimum human decency standards, yeah. I like to think I’d have spoken up anyhow, but eh, I don’t want to flatter myself.)
            3) I was considering not saying anything, just…not making another appointment there. Ten years and less practice with confrontation ago, that’s probably the route I would’ve gone–and I might well have given my reasons to, say, my friends. Or social media. Does the OP’s office want to get a reputation as That Doctor’s Office With Racist Staff without knowing about it? Because that’s a very real possibility if Jane sticks around.
            *I have, however, stated that I and my fairly-expensive six-week dye jobs and twenty-five percent tip will never use either of the bigoted stylists again. To quote the one scene I like in Pretty Woman: big mistake. *Huge*.

    6. Malibu Stacey*

      “I guess I am a peacemaker at heart so it does bother me when people don’t get along.”

      Racism isn’t, and shouldn’t be, something that gets voted on by the herd to decide how to tolerate it. Your boss’s wife is the right here and is allowed to treat Jane differently whether or not the rest of the office was bothered.

      1. K.*

        Co-sign. It is asking too much to expect someone who doesn’t tolerate racism to get along with a racist. I would interpret such a request as an endorsement of the racism. Racism is Jane’s problem, not Boss’s Wife’s.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Yep. I play MMOs (multiplayer PC games online) and the sheer amount of people who casually throw out the f** slur (rhymes with bag) and n**** slur is mind-boggling. I currently game with a group of mostly gay men so we take pleasure in reporting everyone who does. I would anyway but we make a game out of smoking the other team and reporting their racist/homophobic team members.

          I personally believe a lot of the people in MMOs who do this are trolls trying to get a rise out of people, not that it excuses it in any way; but this is why we rarely engage with them directly because that would be giving them the attention they want.

          Now I do admit I have engaged s few times when people have said particularly heinous things but I was probably only feeding the internet trolls.

          In real life I call out those comments but sometimes when it’s been older family members I’ve done it in a softer manner than I otherwise would. The older I get, however, the more confident I am not to soften even with them.

    7. Disappointed in OP*

      Perhaps you/your colleagues don’t think it’s “THAT big of a deal” because you’re focused on the word itself rather than the implications of the entire statement and its tone. Some people (rightly or wrongly) throw that particular slur around as though it is innocuous (to be clear: it is not innocuous).

      But the context here is important. The slur was used in an objectively hateful way, not in an accidental, off-the-cuff way. Jane used it to demonstrate that the person in question was racially inferior to her, and therefore not worth her time. It wasn’t simply about dating “preference” as some have suggested. She didn’t simply use an unfortunate adjective for “Chinese.” The sentence was structured in a way that clearly revealed her contempt of a particular class of people, and her superiority to that class. That makes her, at best, deeply ignorant. Furthermore, in no context did her comment meet any standard of professionalism.

      OP, I hope you read these comments and seriously reconsider your own thinking on this matter. If it helps, reread your own post and replace the slur Jane used with a word that refers to a group to which you belong.

      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        I’d have reacted the same way as the boss’ wife I’d heard the same sentence without the racial slur. Jane displayed a horrifying racist attitude regardless of her word choice.

        1. LadyPhoenix*

          I’m surprised by how calmly the wife treated this situation. I would have thrown her out of the house and locked the door behind her.

    8. Amelia*

      You may want to think about the difference between being a peacemaker and being an appeaser, and why the “not getting along” aspect was what you wanted to solve as opposed to the “working with someone who has outed herself as a horrible racist” issue.

      1. Carrie*

        Yeah, this. Being frosty to someone who’s outed herself as a racist isn’t “not getting along,” it’s treating someone how they deserve to be treated. Racial slurs and racist language aren’t just things to be swept under the rug for the sake of keeping peace–honestly, that means tacitly being okay with them.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Consider why you figured the route to peace was to get the person offended by the racism to change her behavior, rather than appealing to the person who figures you’re all comfortable with her racism.

    9. Katie the Fed*

      I’m a peacemaker (INFP all the way) but I have to tell you I find it concerning that you consider this an issue of people not getting along. This isn’t an interpersonal spat – someone did something DEEPLY offensive that is so wrong I would be unable to respect them again. Jane hasn’t even properly apologized!

      The boss’s wife wasn’t out of line at all, and frankly Jane deserves all the frostiness after what she did. It’s on her to fix it.

    10. TootsNYC*

      ” it’s noticed” that the boss’s wife is being cool

      Does this mean that the boss’s coolness has been discussed among workers?

      I might suggest two things, if that’s true.
      1) when it comes up, say, “Well, that was a pretty awful thing for anyone to say, and for a guest to be that coarse and racist in their host’s home is pretty bad”

      2) when it comes up, say, “Well, Wife is entitled to choose who she wants to be friendly with. She’s never rude, but she’s entitled to not want to associate with Jane very much.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        Oh, forgot to add this one:

        (3) when it comes up, say, “I don’t think it helps us to comment on this. I suggest we stop talking about it, and simply let it be.” Whether it’s a convo w/ Jane, or whether it’s one of the other employees commenting when Jane’s not there.

    11. Student*

      Your “peacemaker” is other people’s “enabling and accepting racism”. It’s not peace. It’s keeping you, personally, comfortable at a real and negative cost to minorities.

      Real peace would mean that people aren’t hated due to factors that are both entirely outside their control and meaningless by any reasonable standard. Like race – which is just some minor genetic physical attributes. Like sex and gender identity. Like which country one was born in. Like eye color. Like disabilities.

      Your “peace” hurts people, just to avoid having difficult conversations in front of you, to avoid defending people who have done no wrong in front of you. Your “peace” keeps you comfortable in your bubble while other people suffer from real physical violence out of your line of sight, while other people are denied equal opportunities out of your line of sight, while other people suffer indignity out of your line of sight. Think for one moment how you’d feel if someone made a similar slur against you – then would you want your “peace” of nobody disagreeing with the slur? Or would that suddenly not be “peaceful” anymore when you’re on the receiving end?

      1. Not So NewReader*


        It used to be you were a peacemaker if you put up and shut up. Now peacemakers take on more than that. Perhaps you want to make peace by talking with her. But first you need to get a good handle on the seriousness of the situation. She could be fired. It’s serious.

        I do understand that some places are so caustic, so toxic that talking about racial slurs is not going to help all. the. problems. It’s not safe . We get numb in order to survive paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps you have had a crappy job or two like this. Discrimination will probably end only when each individual in our society decides it must end. That is how deeply entrenched the problem is.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        This is really well said. I was sitting here all afternoon yesterday struggling to come up with a way to say exactly this (without losing my temper)

      3. Linguist Curmudgeon*

        This reminds me of Theoden telling Saruman his peace conditions. Damn good writing.

      4. Faith in internet comments - restored*

        Yes. This absolutely this. The entire idea that the LW thinks the problem is that the boss’ wife and her behavior is the real problem is so troubling – as many other commenters have already stated. Thank you for spelling out the real problem with this kind of behavior so well.

    12. A Cita*

      Jane has minimal patient contact and I’ve not seen any evidence of inappropriate behavior towards Asian patients.

      Please know that implicit (unconscious) bias in healthcare settings is a real thing, even with minimal contact, and has real adverse health consequences for individuals in disparity populations (ethnic/racial minorities, LGBTQI+, women, non-binary and transgender individuals, persons living with disabilities, persons living with obesity, etc). Discrimination based on implicit bias in healthcare settings has been shown to be significantly associated with, for example, low cancer screening rates, low adherence rates, low overall satisfaction rates, and delays in seeking needed healthcare.

      People pick up on implicit bias and microaggressions, which is invisible to you and those it’s not directed towards, very handily. You can not say with absolute certainty patients have never been on the receiving end of her racism.

      1. MegaAnon*

        This. And implicit biases and microagressions are something you, OP, might not pick up on but trust and believe the PoC on the other end of it feel it.

    13. Rana*

      She said WHAT?!

      OP, with or without the f-bomb at the beginning, that is a TERRIBLE thing to call another human. Seriously. That’s a word on a par with n—– for offensiveness. There is NO excuse for it, none.

      How you can even look Jane in the eye after she said something like that baffles me, peacemaker or no.

  33. The Mighty Thor*

    Now I’ve never been a manager, but I wouldn’t want anyone who uses that language to work for me. My gut instinct if I was the boss in this situation would be to fire Jane. Is that too drastic?

    1. Jesmlet*

      Nope. Odds are there’s at least going to be one Asian person going through there so she’d at least be on final warning for me.

      I’m half Asian though so maybe it’s my bias showing

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I mean, even if there were zero Asian patients, I would strongly consider firing her. People who use racial slurs casually create uncomfortable and bad work environments, even if the “target” of their slur isn’t physically present. But given her lack of remorse, in particular, I would absolutely consider firing. If she had said it at work, I would have fired her that day.

        1. NW Mossy*

          It certainly implies heavily that Jane is seriously lacking in judgment about word choice and why it matters, and that’s a big black mark. I suppose there’s a hypothetical scenario where I might not fire someone for a slur, but it’s a lot less likely than the scenario where I view it as a red line.

        2. neverjaunty*

          I would absolutely fire her. This wasn’t simply an ignorant or outdated word choice; the context and the f-bomb made it abundantly clear that Jane despises a particular group of people because of their perceived race.

        3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I would probably fire her, despite her not saying this at work. That is one of the (few) benefits of at-will employment. As the boss I can fire anyone I don’t like and I don’t like racists

  34. Allison*

    Oh man, if someone had said that in my apartment, I can’t say I would have reacted so calmly. We play Cards Against Humanity with no problem, but actual, casual use of slurs like that demonstrates such a blatant disrespect for people of those ethnic groups, I wouldn’t want someone like that in my living space, even if it’s just until the end of the party. Even if they backpedal and go “oh sorry, I didn’t know that would offend you” or “oops, I forgot that was a bad word.” There’s no excuse for that, and I’d be in no mood to “engage in a civil discussion” or humor her in a “spirited debate” about the topic should she choose the “come now, we’re all logical adults, this is an opportunity to broaden both our horizons! Won’t you educate me?” defense some douchecopters like to use when they’re called out on their garbage.

    This is one of those times where no, we don’t need to “put our beliefs aside, come together, and just get along.” People are allowed to be mad about this.

  35. animaniactoo*

    OP, people are required to be civil to each other in social and professional environments. Not friendly. It sounds like you’re equating the two – but really, it’s just fine to not particularly like somebody and let it show by being civil and not friendly/warm.

    The only time this would NOT be okay is when you’re essentially singling someone out and isolating them for nothing in particular, just your own particular bias towards people who are “blond” or “tall” or “not athletic”, etc. Because then you’d be taking your bias out on them rather than trying to keep from inflicting it on them.

    Jane deserves every bit of the civility without friendliness that she’s getting from BW, and you need to be aware that this IS an appropriate way for them to interact.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think SeptemberGrrl is saying that it’s not OP’s business to tell her boss that his wife is being cold to Jane.

  36. PhillyRedhead*

    Why on earth would the letter writer say anything to the boss’ wife about her frosty behavior?? Does the letter writer think Jane did nothing wrong?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s a common line of reasoning that goes:
      A does something uncivil.
      B responds with cool disapproval.
      C doesn’t like that things are now awkward, and because A is a jerk figures they can’t appeal to them, and instead will just appeal to C to make the extra effort to smooth things over and make everything feel not awkward. Or appeal to someone they think can get C to change their behavior (here the doctor).

      All of which of course just reinforces A’s jerkish behavior, as they can rely on people like C to try to smooth out all the awkwardness they leave in their wake because it’s C’s job. (All the ‘awkward’ is why people keep evoking Captain Awkward’s return the awkward to sender rule, which is the far better but also more difficult response to the awkward generated by the As of the world.)

  37. LadyPhoenix*

    Op, they fact you think the WIFE is being out of line here says a whole lot about you… and none of it is good. Jane was being racist and racists SHOULD be treated with as much ice as possible. Not treating Jane’s remark as a big deal is how bigotry still remains in flippin 2017.

    If Jane wants to mend fences with the wife, she is going to have to make a huge attitude adjustment. That is something that can only be done when more than enough people tell her, “Wow. That is an awful thing to say.”

    So tell us, OP, do you REALLY want to be on the side of the racist? Because calling out the wife for being rightfully cold to this person means that you do condone racism, period, and she will now have 2 people to ostracize.

    Tread carefully OP.

    1. angelscritic*

      Yeah, Jane is stupid, she didn’t have to state her preference, and using a slur in front of coworkers takes the cake. But I doubt you, the wife, any of the coworkers, or anyone here is perfect.

      See, this is what annoyed me: throw her out of your house, sure. But to continually talk down to someone at their job is problematic, and doesn’t change her opinion. I get the feeling if Wife is abusing her position of Bosses Wife to intimidate Jane, which in the end exacerbates racial and ethnic problems. I get the feeling Data Entry Clerk’s Wife doesn’t get away with this.

      Revenge is sweet but it’s not a long-term solution.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Sounds to me that the wife is sabotauging Jane in any way. She’s just treating Jane coldly, which is quite fine considering Jane out herself as a racist.

        And there is a WORLD of difference between me accidentally saying something wrong, and Jane outright stating that Asian people disgust her.

        So no, I don’t agree with you at all.

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          Is not sabotauging*

          Either way, the point is Jane is a racist, period. Racist SHOULD be treated with disdain, along with other bigots, until they get it theough their heads that their bullshit is not going to be tolerated.

          Reducing her clearly terrible remark as a “mistake” is yet another way to excuse racism. Nah, she knew EXACTLY what she was saying when she said it, that was no mistake.

          1. angelscritic*

            Like I said earlier, nobody is perfect. Everyone has some sort of bias, and will make mistakes on all levels at some point in their lives. Full admission: while I’ve never let a slur slip out of my mouth, there were some ignorant or naive things I’ve said or questions I’ve asked about ethnicities and social classes that made some people say woah.

            And I’d like to emphasize that there are social class factors at play here.

            Acceptance works both ways. If you don’t accept someone, you can’t expect that person to accept you or anyone else in particular. BTW, I don’t think Jane is working towards acceptance. But for you, Wife, or anyone else to demand acceptance from everyone, you have to practice what you preach and accept everyone. “Do as I say and not as I do”: is that what we’re going for here?

            If this happened in my office, both Jane and Wife would get a talking-to. If you can’t treat everyone equally, you can’t be here.

            And no, not wanting to fire someone for being a stupid racist doesn’t make me or OP on the side of the racist. FWIW, both OP and I did call Jane and/or her comments stupid. There is a middle ground. Ok, maybe not ‘middle’.

              1. LadyPhoenix*

                Pretty much. Such bullshit too.

                If Jane can’t get that her behavior is gonna burn some bridges, that is ALL on her. No one owes her an explanation or courtesy beyond making sure the job is then (and even then, she can be fired and doesn’t need a courtesy). The wife is in the right, period.

      2. BW is right*

        Jane is a racist. BW is acting completely appropriately. Even the OP stated that BW treats Jane coldly but professionally. Don’t make excuses for racism.

        1. angelscritic*

          I never made one excuse for racism, and I haven’t read one here. All I’m saying is that Wife is adding fuel to the fire. Passive aggressiveness is not a constructive way of dealing with problems.

          1. Tiger Snake*

            Except the wife has, at no point, been passive aggressive. She was very explicit in that Jane’s behaviour was inappropriate to her.

            She’s allowed to act cool to Jane. She’s allowed to not like the woman, and treat her politely-but-not-friendly. You don’t have to be friendly with people whose valances you find distasteful, just courteous- and everything the OP has told us makes it seem clear that is how the wife is acting.

            None of that is passive aggressive.

        1. angelscritic*

          Passive-aggressive behavior has solved, I’ll guesstimate, nothing. What it does instead is make the other person think the passive-aggressive person is petty, and they’ll think even lesser of your opinion. As well as any facts you bring to the discuss. Is it rational? No, but that’s the way too many people think. Realize that racists and more tolerant people, to put it the best way I can, have different trains of thought.

          One constructive way of dealing with bigots is to cut them off. Failing that possibility one thing you can say: “I’m not going to try to change your opinion*, but what you said is wrong because we’re all humans and we need to maintain a level of respect for one another. (I’m sure your ancestors didn’t appreciate being the victim of this.) You cannot do this here again. The consequences of doing this are: ___________.” This statement needs to be completely rational, not based on personal preference or opinion, or nothing will get solved.

          *trying to change someone’s opinion is an exercise in futility at best.

          Though, for all we know, Wife’s behavior could possibly be the attention Jane is looking for. Some racists are like that.

          1. Brittasaurus Rex*

            In no way has the BW acted passive-aggressively. She’s been forthright and justified in her behavior.

  38. Marissa*

    I’m potentially making an unfair assumption, but just want to state for the record that not all Asian people are Chinese. Having a hard time imagining OP has the cultural awareness to distinguish between Northeast Asian ethnic groups from a Tinder profile and the cultural ignorance to be more concerned about the wife’s behavior than the racial slur.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Agreed… I think Jane had no idea of the actual ethnicity of the East Asian person, but she used a slur meaning Chones person.

    2. Emi.*

      Ehh, Tinder profiles have names on them, though, right? I don’t think you have to be that culturally aware to tell a Tagomi from a Zhou.

      1. Observer*

        Most people would have no clue, to be honest. Furthermore, lots of people have no idea whatsoever that not only are there real, significant differences, but that that the history can make lumping the groups together a MAJOR sore spot.

      2. seejay*

        If you’re white? Ha. My mom lumps *every* person that looks Asian as “Chinese”. They can be Japanese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese…. you name it, as long as someone looks like they’re from one of the countries in that general area or their name is even remotely foreign from that area, it automatically just defaults to Chinese. She genuinely doesn’t see the difference or understand how rude it is, despite how I’ve tried to explain it to her.

        I’ve learned the differences between some of the countries and ethnicities that I’m more familiar with, for coworkers and friends and can recognize some of the more obvious names but I definitely wouldn’t get the more subtle differences since I’m not from there nor have I studied it. I’ve also put in a lot of effort to understand some of the history between a few of the countries that have confusing intertwined histories once I found out from a friend that mixing them up can be really insulting, namely the connections between Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, as I have friends from all three and I found out (after tripping over my own tongue) that saying someone’s from the wrong country is a bit of a no-no. (I also find the history really interesting since I find my own country’s history of fur trappers pretty boring).

  39. Bend & Snap*

    I gasped when I read OP’s update. I have never heard such a thing said in real life, especially so casually.

    OP, the boss’s wife is a good role model here. Jane is not.

  40. Engineer Woman*

    OP, I see you’ve further explained and I hope the comments, as well as mine, lead you to think further on why you didn’t think Jane’s comments are as big of a deal as a great many others do (including your boss’ absolutely awesome wife).

    If there’s anything to be mentioned to Boss’ wife it would be something along the lines of: “I’m so glad you spoke up to Jane the way you did. I only hope I would be able to react in such a graceful and dignified manner if I were ever unlucky enough to come in contact with such horrible racist language again.”

  41. Hoorah*

    As an Asian immigrant I’m fully aware racism is alive and strong. But for Jane to make an openly racist comment at her boss’s house, around multiple colleagues? Wow. I seriously question her professional judgment and even basic common sense.

    I also want to add that not all Asians are Chinese. So unless the Tinder profile made a clear reference to his Chinese heritage, please don’t assume he is one. This kind of ignorance is on the lower end of the scale of racism, but it’s offensive nonetheless.

    1. WPH*

      I noticed the Asian = Chinese as well. I think the OP would do well to make some personal assessments of their own biased and racist thinking and ask themselves why Jane felt so comfortable making such a racist statement in his/her presence.

      1. neeko*

        “ask themselves why Jane felt so comfortable making such a racist statement in his/her presence.”

        I don’t think that is completely fair. I have a friend that identifies as Black but has very fair skin and often people assume that she is white. People make racist comments in front of her all the time just based on that assumption. She certainly isn’t putting any racist vibes out.

        1. LawBee*

          Same same same same same. My particular friend has a father with vitiligo, so you can imagine the wonderful racist shit they both hear – often with the assumption that they’ll agree. Because racists, homophobes, and bigots all somehow assume that we’ll agree with them, which is baffling to me.

      2. Observer*

        That last sentence is really not fair at all. Lots of people say things based on their own issues rather than the reality around them. Essentially, the make the assumption that “all people of demographic X must think as I do about demographic Y, even if they are too PC to SAY it.” That’s not on the OP.

        Think about this – the BossWife certainly found Jane’s comment to be totally out of line and strongly called her out over it. Yet Jane thought it would be OK to say that in front of her.

        1. WPH*

          I think you’re all making an unintended extrapolation. My comment was directed towards YOUR friends or people you know personally. My comment was directed towards OP a person who might think all Asian people are Chinese, thinks BW’s frostiness towards a racist is out of line, and seems to place a higher importance on pleasing people than on calling out racism. My comment was directed to that person and my comment stands.

          1. Observer*

            Except you are making a lot of assumptions. Thinking that all Asian people are Chinese may be ignorant, but does not imply in the least bit that they are racist or open to racism. To assume otherwise is at least as ignorant as not knowing the difference, and less excusable.

            Furthermore, the OP doesn’t seem to think that the BW’s frostiness is “out of line”. She is just finding an atmosphere of “not getting along” uncomfortable, and can’t figure out how to deal with it. That’s not racism or an invitation to racism. And, again, given where and when this happened, clearly this was not about what Jane thought about the OP – what the BW would think would be far more important, and Jeane CLEARLY got that one wrong.

  42. Nieve*

    OP, if you think your boss’ wife’s comment and actions are a problem, rather than Jane’s, then you are a problem in this society. Please take a step back and take a good look at yourself, and try think about why you think racially offensive and culturally insensitive/uneducated comments are OK in any unprovoked situation, especially in the workplace.

    1. LCL*

      Boundaries, people, boundaries. I don’t see anything in OPs questions where she thinks Jane’s remarks were OK. I believe OP is trying to smooth everything over because that is what one does in families, and this workplace is much more family-like than I would be comfortable with. If your role is the peacemaker in the family, you will be inclined to bring this approach to the job, and may have to be told to stop it. Which is what Alison said.

      Calling OP the problem in this society because she asked questions about race is a leap. It’s also one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk about race in this society-when someone asks a question they don’t know the answer to, others will go straight to accusations of racism or being a supporter of racism.

      1. Nieve*

        While reading the letter I got a weird off feeling.. And I realised while reading others’ comments that it was because the LW focused more / sounded more concerned with Jane not getting the same treatment as others, rather than the fact that she made a terrible mistake/showed her true colours in a socially unacceptable way.
        I dont think you comparing this to ‘one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk about race in this society’ because everyone knows what a racial slur is. Its not comparable to having a civil, normal discussion about race. Racial slur is exactly what it is. A racial slur, used to refer to certain race of people in an extremely demeaning and alienating way. If people cant distinguish between the usage of racial slurs and a normal discussion about race, they are just ignorant and undeniably dumb to be honest. I stand by my first comment :)

        1. Brittasaurus Rex*

          The OP’s update made me less inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. I’m with you.

  43. Rachael*

    I’ve been subject to a white person assuming that because I’m also white will agree with whatever BS they say. My children are biracial (half vietnamese) and I thing that racists really need to realize that because someone is white doesn’t mean that they aren’t personally affected by racist crap. Jane was way out of line. Especially since she has no idea about the background of the people she is spounting the crap in front of. People should always stand up for their beliefs and let racists know that what they said is unacceptable. If people don’t then the racist thinks that what they are saying is agreed upon by the people in the room. Kudos to the bosses wife. If it were my son’s picture that she was talking about I would be grateful to her for showing Jane whats what.

    OP, Jane deserves any “cool” reception that the bosses wife gives her. Do not get involved.

  44. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

    And even if it is causing some drama in the office, it’s not your drama. It’s between Jane and the wife. As the saying goes, you have freedom of speech, and freedom to suffer the consequences of that speech. Let Jane suffer for a while, maybe the message will start to seep in.

    And I hope the rest of you have reevaluated your relationship with Jane…

  45. Rachel*

    I don’t understand why the boss’s wife thinks her opinion matters. Jane doesn’t work for her. If the matter is that serious then report it to her boss.

    1. Nieve*

      What makes you think that the boss’ wife thinks that her opinion matters? All she is doing is not being friendly to someone she doesnt want to be friendly with. Everyone has a right to do that, regardless whether it ‘matters’ to anyone or not, its their own choice. And if youre referring to her speaking up in her home, well its her own home and she has a right to have a strong opinion / voice there.

    2. Brittasaurus Rex*

      Her opinion certainly matters in her house. Why do you think Jane’s racism shouldn’t be called out?

  46. Rachel*

    And I’m black btw. I’m going to assume that everyone in this story is white. What I don’t like about this story is how everyone is acting like this is the first time they’ve heard a racist comment. Like, Jane is a racist and she needs to be dealt with. But let’s not act like this goody-two-shoes OP and the boss’s wife don’t have family and friends who do it, or maybe even they themselves make racist comments when no one is looking.

Comments are closed.